It's the early 1900s and, in Paris, the SuràtÇ's Inspector Gautier (Death Off Stage, 1992, etc.) is once again enmeshed in the affairspublic and privateof the upper classes. Here, Armand de Perigord, wealthy man about town living at the elegant Hìtel Meurice, has been killed by a bomb explosion in his carriage. In what may have been a warning, a cobra concealed in his hotel bed had previously killed a maid while she was turning down the sheets. Meanwhile, de Perigord's servant Lucien has disappeared, and Gautier soon realizes that de Perigord himself, although rumored to be homosexual, had been involved with several rich, aristocratic womenand in his safe deposit box are the pictures to prove it. Scotswoman Catriona Becker, on the verge of marriage to a wealthy American, and the Comtesse de Chartres, with a hot-tempered husband, are two of de Perigord's blackmail targets. When word arrives that Eugene Deslandes, ambassador to London, has committed suicide there, his widow Elizabeth, another of de Perigord's amours, joins the list of suspects, along with their volatile son Luc. But could there be another motiveperhaps in the undercover government role de Perigord was rumored to have played? Gautier intuits the answers, with melodramatic results, in the midst of a Wild West show imported from America at which all participants are present. The story is overburdened with minor characters and minor incidents, but Grayson's lively evocation of the streets, cafÇs, and boudoirs of belle Çpoque Paris can't be faulted.
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