THE THIRD LION by Floyd Kemske


Email this review


Kemske, best known for his quirky takes on latter-day organization men (Human Resources, 1995, etc.), smoothly shifts gears to deliver a wryly engrossing historical novel featuring the duplicitous French statesman Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Pârigord. Cast in the form of a deathbed memoir, the deadpan narrative has Talleyrand looking back without evident regret on the high points of his long and eventful life. Although the elder son of a count, he is disinherited in favor of a younger brother (because of a club foot) and trained for a career in the church. While at the seminary, the unfailingly polite Talleyrand has an instructive affair with an actress, which stands him in good stead when his family summons him to court for the coronation of Louis XVI. Having made an enduring impression on the distaff side of the nobility and having met Voltaire, he secures a benefice that ensures him of financial independence. Come the revolution, the adaptable cleric turns on his masters and is subsequently excommunicated. Undaunted, he goes on to survive an extended exile in England and America, returning to Paris to be appointed the Directoire's foreign minister in 1797. With a weather eye on the main chance, the cynical Talleyrand recognizes Napoleon's talents early on and provides behind-the-scenes support for his bid to become emperor. Eventually, he turns on the Corsican usurper and plots his ouster, albeit not before capitalizing on an insider's knowledge of likely administrative actions to make several killings on the bourse. In Paris during the spring of 1814, the unprincipled old poi heads the provisional government welcoming the coalition that has finally bested Bonaparte on the battlefield. An offbeat account of a world-class rogue from yesteryear, whose ingratiating civility and utter lack of scruples helped him leave large footprints on the sands of time.

Pub Date: Oct. 15th, 1997
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Catbird