The Song Peddler Of The Pont Neuf
September 4, 2018
at Settecento Press
I have been thoroughly enjoying Laura Lebow’s historical mysteries around the world of operas, see for instance Sent to the Devil. Then she got the great idea to start a new series set in France! I’m thrilled to present to you The Song Peddler of the Pont Neuf and her private detective Paul Gastebois, in this first adventure set in Paris on the eve of the French Revolution.
Paul is actually a confidential inquirer, as was called at the time. On the side, he also works a bit for the police, mostly following foreign diplomats, just in case they would be up to no good.
One day, a man called Montigny comes to get Paul’s help to find his friend Gaspard. Gaspard is a song peddler on the Pont Neuf, but he has disappeared.
The beginning of the plot is quite straight forward, but what’s fascinating about the book is how Paul’s investigation will take him deeply into what’s going on then in the French capital, at the social, economical, and political level.
Lebow did a fantastic job of research – the bibliography listed at the end of the novel is a good hint. She was for instance very careful at using street names as they were named at the time. It’s not that easy, as many of these streets were destroyed later at the time of Napoleon in order to build larger streets.
As Paul goes along from clue to clue, he’s led to the world of bouquinistes and political pamphlets. Some were written in code, even seemingly given the appearance of erotic texts, in order to hide strong opposition to the monarchy.
The description of the streets, the poverty, the dirt, the smells makes you feel you are really there in Paris back in that time – far from the glamorous life of the City of lights…
And of course, there is plenty of fascinating information on the tough winter, the rise of the price of bread, and all combined elements that will make the time ripe for a revolution, when the people have had enough and can’t bear it any longer.
In these conditions, some dishonest people are ready to try anything to make money. Corruption is well depicted here among seamstresses and even the police.
And the reader meets people from all walks of life, including shopkeepers, actors, prostitutes, and monks.
The whole political situation is in fact connected to broader international issues, involving Austria of course (the land of origin of queen Marie-Antoinette), but also Prussia, Poland, etc.
Definitely a novel to recommend to anyone wanting to study the conditions and situations leading to the French Revolution, with serious historical research, details, plus the fun of a suspenseful plot. I’m looking forward to more adventures with Paul.
VERDICT: Fascinating historical mystery on the eve of the French Revolution in Paris. Excellent integration of serious historical research into a clever and suspenseful plot.
Paul Gastebois, a confidential inquirer, isn’t interested in politics. He’s busy with the daily tedium of detective work—following foreign diplomats for the Parisian police and helping artisanal guilds enforce their rules. He’d like to make a name for himself solving crimes, but few cases have come his way. Then Paul is hired to find a song peddler who sang bawdy songs to crowds on the Pont Neuf. The missing man had seen someone from his past on the bridge, and had vanished a few weeks later.
As Paul searches Paris for the song peddler, his investigation leads him into the world of underground publishing, where anonymous writers attack King Louis and his queen, Marie-Antoinette, and foreign governments manipulate public opinion for their own purposes. When a ruthless killer strikes, Paul must unravel the mystery of the song peddler’s disappearance, or risk losing everything he holds most dear.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
holds a degree in European History from Brandeis University
and a Master in City Planning from MIT.
A long-time mystery reader and history buff, she lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Her previous fascinating historical mysteries include
The Figaro Murders and Sent to the Devil,
both published by Minotaur Press.
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