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 Suspense writer Byrd (Target of Opportunity, Finders Weepers, etc.) shifts from familiar turf for a well-founded but listless historical saga about Thomas Jefferson in Paris during the French Revolution, depicting the author of the Declaration of Independence as a man whose actions ran counter to his principles. William Short, Jefferson's secretary in Paris while he served there as ambassador from 1784-89, is a devoted assistant to his fellow Virginian, already an American hero. Taken on because of his linguistic abilities, Short encounters and is awed by luminaries such as Ben Franklin and John Adams, but his way with French ladies gives him more to handle than notes and correspondence. He witnesses aghast, however, as Jefferson--chaste and correct after the death of his beloved wife several years earlier--falls like a ton of bricks for a blond beauty in the company of her prominent artist husband. For Maria Cosway, the attraction is mutual, and their liaison sets Parisian tongues wagging, but the consequences are far more severe when Short also forms an attachment with the young wife of an aging French duke. The Ambassador, who espouses emancipation while retaining slaves himself, disapproves of Short's affair even as he pursues Maria; as the Revolution self-destructs, Jefferson manages to disentangle himself from scandal, while his assistant remains mired in it. Finally, with blood running in the streets, Jefferson returns home, assured of greater glories to come, but leaving Short to fend for himself without any hope of succeeding him. A pivotal historical moment, but feebly reenacted, with an unfortunate tendency to substitute posturing for plotting--even the illicit relationships are more tepid than torrid.

Pub Date: Oct. 15th, 1993
ISBN: 0-553-09470-X
Page count: 432pp
Publisher: Bantam
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 1993


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