In Flanders’ gripping historical novel, a Boston businessman searches for his missing brother in 1793 Paris as France teeters on the verge of implosion.
Twenty-nine-year-old merchant trader Calvin Tarkington arrives in the French capital during the turbulent summer after King Louis XVI’s execution. The country’s revolutionaries are breaking into rival factions, with distrust and paranoia settling into their ranks. Calvin is in the city to resolve some business matters with his older brother, Alexander, following their father’s death. But Alexander, who normally runs the Tarkingtons’ Paris trade, is nowhere to be found. Calvin quickly learns that his brother has come under suspicion of local authorities, who believe that Alexander was spying at the behest of England. Confident that his brother is innocent, Calvin enlists the help of the city’s American expatriate community to help locate him. In the process, he becomes enamored with Sarah Gomez Hays, the daring, dark-haired daughter of a Jewish-American businessman. However, due to their different faiths, Calvin’s prospects of a match with her seem as bleak as his chances of finding his brother. This novel is populated by a roster of well-researched and finely sketched historical figures, including boozy Thomas Paine, whose 1776 pamphlet Common Sense helped inspire the American Revolution and who had a hand in France’s uprising; Peter Ostiquette, an Oneida Native American brought to France by the Marquis de Lafayette; and the author and women’s rights advocate Mary Wollstonecraft. Calvin feels a touch flat in comparison to the vibrant characters that surround him; he’s a dusty scholar who’s forced to act the hero rather than a compelling hero in his own right. Flanders makes up for it, however, with his skillful narrative, striking a delicate balance between authentic, antique flavor and easy-to-read prose. As a result, he sets a fine 18th-century scene that won’t trip up 21st-century readers.
A well-crafted page-turner for history buffs, Francophiles, and casual fiction fans alike.