A 17th century story that takes place in Paris, with the Jesuit order and contending religious currents providing the backdrop to an otherwise relatively undistinguished murder mystery. A leading Jesuit school is financially hard-pressed and news of a possible bequest that could alleviate some of their privations and help expand their influence brings excitement to the school. A young woman challenges the Jesuit claim to the bequest while searching for the papers to prove her own, but she is murdered before they can be found. This triggers a violent anti-Jesuit backlash, as it is the Jesuits who “benefit” from her death and the end of her challenge. Anti-Jesuit sentiment is fanned by “unknowns,” and the King –whose religious advisor is a Jesuit—orders an immediate resolution to the mystery before the religious riots get out of hand.
Our leading protagonist is Charles de Luc, a Jesuit teacher of rhetoric at the school who had only recently given up his love interest and turned in his soldier’s raiments for the robes of this Catholic order. We are to presume from this that Charles is continuing to struggle with the lures of the material world, and indeed, he savors his coffee overmuch when he gets the chance to drink it. But the head of his school trusts Charles’ worldly instincts enough to have him investigate the murder in parallel with the local police chief, who is an intriguing but opaque character with mysterious connections to the Parisian underworld. More and more characters are brought into the story, whose motivations are too often hidden in swirls of fog and angst.
Cook’s second novel in this series excels in creating an atmosphere of mystery and tension, and her presentation of the day-to-day lives of the Jesuit order of the time, and of both the poor and wealthy of 17th century Paris, is quite evocative, but there is nonetheless something seriously lacking that would take this book from merely adequate to good. The Jesuits are presented as more interested in singing, dancing and putting on farces for their own amusement, than they are as the powerful political manipulators they are known to have been throughout history. And yet we are offered nothing of this side of things to explain the virulence of the anti-Jesuit hostilities that are stirred up, and by whom. By the time I had finished this novel, I couldn’t help but feel that either the author had done inadequate research preparation for her book, or—more likely—had deliberately dumbed down the story to make it easier to write, thereby omitting what would have given it depth and breadth.
After reading the book, I discovered that the author was a dancer for many years, which would explain her not altogether explicable inclusion of highly detailed dance scenes in the book. Yawn.