Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars
During the Reign of Terror, Paris was worse than a nightmare. People were being denounced and executed without trial, neighbors turned against one another, and the guillotine claimed the lives of thousands. The king and queen were already dead, and Robespierre and his cronies were ruling the country. Counter-revolutionary conspirators and foreign spies also operated in the shadows, but William Knowles was only there to find more information about the Star of Versailles, a diamond of incredible worth once owned by Marie Antoinette, now disappeared. William masqueraded as Yves Morel, notorious torturer from the south, and lived in the house of Philippe Plamondon, whose wife Claudine was rumored to have been the last to possess the Star when she fled Paris. Also living in the house was Vincent Tessier, the Butcher of Orleans, who was also obsessively seeking the diamond.
Alexandre Gaudet was a playwright who was living in luxury in London, darling of the English court and toast of the English theater, to whom the terror of the Revolution was only an annoyance across the Channel. Until his sister Claudine disappeared, and he came to Paris to find and rescue her. While both men were searching the Plamondon house for clues to her location, William ran into Gaudet, which led to Tessier apprehending Gaudet and taking him off to the dungeons to torture information from him. William rescued Gaudet, but in doing so blew his own cover and then they both needed to flee the city. Professor Dee, the notorious spymaster who was behind the whole scheme, tasked William with sticking close to Gaudet as they fled to Le Havre, as he also wanted the diamond and knew that following Gaudet was the best way to find it.
So this was a very complicated plot, with a lot of back story that wasn’t very clearly defined, and characters were introduced as though the reader should already know about them – for instance, the spymaster Dee (there was a real John Dee who was possibly a spymaster for Queen Elizabeth I of England, but that was 100 years earlier, so I was confused). The reasons that William became a spy, and one that spoke French like a native and was given such an important post, were also never really adequately explained. I got the impression that the authors assumed their readers had a fair amount of knowledge about this period in French history – I don’t – and perhaps if I had I would have appreciated the story more. William initially seemed to be a consummate undercover spy, but later on in the book he turned into an ordinary man who foolishly stumbled into things. Dee was a shadowy figure with connections and informants all over the country who operates more as a puppet master instead of getting directly involved, until he accompanies William and Gaudet and they met up with Dee’s daughter in a French village and suddenly he was neither mysterious nor powerful, and it was unclear what he was even doing in France other than looking for the Star. And finally, Gaudet – he was ridiculous. While supposedly scared for his life and fleeing Paris, he stops to pick up his poodle and his powder and rouge, and acts like a complete idiot – selfish and over-the-top flamboyant – and unnecessarily puts all of them in danger. William supposedly fell in love with him during this period, but I would have wanted to kick his ass, so I lost respect for William at this point. And within 24 hours of their first kiss, William, who has never been attracted to men before in his life, is enjoying his first time bottoming with only spit to ease the way. Ummm, no.
The book dragged as the party moved through the countryside to Le Havre, relentlessly pursued by Tessier who was probably the most consistent character in the book (even though it made no sense to me that he hung back for so long before confronting them). Think Javert from Les Miserables. And in the end, they find the diamond, but what happens to it after that is kind of murky, and it really dropped out of the plot altogether. The Star of Versailles turned out not to be the diamond after all, and that was a surprising plot twist, but it was not really followed up with more explanation, or resolution, which I found unsatisfying since it was the whole point of the story.
I do love a good historical, but this whole book seemed like an ambitious goal that was never realized.
Cover art by Posh Gosh showed a lovely picture of a diamond, but the bare-chested men didn’t really match the setting of the book
ebook, 270 pages
Published February 7th 2017 by Pride Publishing