Delors’ second fictional chronicle of post-revolutionary Paris (Mistress of the Revolution, 2008) involves a manhunt for would-be assassins of Napoléon Bonaparte.
Roch Miquel, who has risen from humble peasant beginnings to the post of Chief Inspector of the Paris police, owes his success to his fellow Jacobin Minister Fouché. Recently, however, the Jacobins’ republican ideals have fallen out of favor. Napoléon, now Chief Consul, is growing increasingly despotic, and when an “infernal machine” is detonated on Rue Nicaise in the path of Bonaparte’s carriage, Jacobin plotters are immediately suspect. Prefect Dubois, Roch’s supervisor, sees an opportunity to discredit Roch, whom he’s always resented. He arrests Roch’s father, Old Miquel, proprietor of a popular Paris tavern. Roch has a month to apprehend the Rue Nicaise conspirators or Fouché will be toppled, Roch will be disgraced and Old Miquel will be deported to a penal colony in Guiana. Both Roch and Dubois know that the real culprits are royalists, ci-devant (former) aristocrats who want to depose Napoléon and restore the Bourbon monarchy. Amid the chaos and carnage left by the explosion, Roch uncovers his first leads—the body of a street peddler, the carcass of a mare and the remnants of a cart. Apparently the conspirators placed explosives in the cart, handed the horse’s reins to the peddler to hold and lit a fuse before fleeing. The investigation hones in on monarchists Saint-Régent, his valet Short Francis and a mysterious man with gold-rimmed spectacles. All are in hiding, and they have an accomplice, known only as “For the King.” Roch’s investigative zeal is threatened by romantic debacles—he’s learned his mistress’ wealthy husband is actually her father. His childhood sweetheart, Alexandrine, is managing Old Miquel’s tavern—but Roch’s obsession with Blanche has blinded him to Alexandrine’s less racy appeal. Meanwhile, the conspirators continue to elude Roch’s grasp. Is he overlooking something obvious?
Authentic period detail compensates for what this overly methodical police procedural lacks in suspense.