This is the fifth book in Lise McClendon’s series about the five Bennett sisters. Merle, our Elizabeth equivalent, is the main character, and out of the five impressive sisters she’s probably the strongest. But her strength is tested in this book.
She works for a legal aid company and is about to take a long break in France in order to get busy on the gothic novel that is floating in her head. Unexpectedly her steely boss announces that she’s planning to retire and wants Merle to take over her role. This brings prestige and salary but Merle resists this temptation. Her mettle is tested again when, on arriving in France having been reunited with her French detective boyfriend Pascal, she finds her beloved little house has been vandalised. And a man with a scarred face is making her nervous. She’s not through yet. Pascal disappears. Has he given up on her, or is he in trouble?
Merle has a busy and anxious time in France. Despite all the distractions, her novel begins to take shape, and it’s woven through the book. It’s set in the French Revolution, and also throughout the book there’s an ingenious theme of references to that troubled time – to events that took place then, and people, real and imagined.
It’s an absorbing story. It doesn’t give a twee, rose-coloured view of life in France, such as appears rather too frequently in cozies and chick lit, but presents it warts and all. Insurance assessors can be mean and moody, dropouts can cause trouble, sons don’t necessarily relish time with their mother, life doesn’t go as planned. It’s all very human and convincing.
My only niggle is about the title. There are a lot of books with The Frenchman as the title, or in it, and I always advocate a distinctive, unique title for discoverability’s sake, especially for a book as unique as this one.
Do read this, and the rest of the series too! Be sure to enter the giveaway below.
In this 5th installment of the Bennett Sisters Mysteries (beginning with Blackbird Fly), attorney Merle Bennett goes to France for an extended stay to drink in the essence of ‘la France Profonde’ and write her own novel.
But the countryside is not as tranquil as she hoped. A missing Frenchman, a sinister one, an elderly one, a thieving one, and a vandalizing one: all conspire to turn Merle’s sojourn of reflection into a nightmare of worry. Where is Pascal, her French boyfriend? Who is the man with the terrible scar? Why is someone spray-painting her little stone house in the Dordogne? And will her novel about the French Revolution – snippets of which are included – give her a soupçon of delight or a frisson of danger?
Works fine as a stand-alone
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Lise McClendon is the author of fifteen novels of mystery, suspense,
and general mayhem plus short stories.
Her bestselling Bennett Sisters mystery series
began with ‘Blackbird Fly.’
She also writes thrillers as Rory Tate,
the latest of which is ‘PLAN X.’
Her short story is included in this fall’s noir anthology, ‘The Obama Inheritance.’
She lives in Montana.
I’m delighted to be hosting Will Bashor today as he sets out on his virtual book tour with this truly absorbing and meticulously researched book.
Marie Antoinette’s Darkest Days: Prisoner No. 280 in the Conciergerie by Will Bashor
This compelling book begins on the 2nd of August 1793, the day Marie Antoinette was torn from her family’s arms and escorted from the Temple to the Conciergerie, a thick-walled fortress turned prison. It was also known as the waiting room for the guillotine because prisoners only spent a day or two here before their conviction and subsequent execution. The ex-queen surely knew her days were numbered, but she could never have known that two and a half months would pass before she would finally stand trial and be convicted of the most ungodly charges.
Will Bashor traces the final days of the prisoner registered only as Widow Capet, No. 280, a time that was a cruel mixture of grandeur, humiliation, and terror. Marie Antoinette’s reign amidst the splendors of the court of Versailles is a familiar story, but her final imprisonment in a fetid, dank dungeon is a little-known coda to a once-charmed life. Her seventy-six days in this terrifying prison can only be described as the darkest and most horrific of the fallen queen’s life, vividly recaptured in this richly researched history.
I was riveted by this book from start to tragic finish.
Marie Antoinette must be one of the best known-about historical figures of all time, but not the best known. We’ve all heard the famous statement, “Let them eat cake,” Qu’ils mangent de la brioche, although it’s not certain she ever actually did give this tactless response to the claim that the poor people had no bread, and we also know that she was executed by guillotine during the aftermath of the French Revolution. And for most of us that’s just about it.
But there was so much more to her than that. In Marie Antoinette’s Darkest Days, historian and author Will Bashor recounts the dreadful experiences she went through between the beginning of August 1793 until her death in mid-October. Her husband already dead, separated from her sister-in-law and children she languished in a filthy prison. Yet she showed resilience and dignity in the face of hatred and enemies baying for her blood.
The book reads, I think, more like a novel rather than a history book, in that while the authors shares a tremendous amount of painstaking research with us, we’re never overwhelmed and the pace is crisp. Our tragic heroine develops before our eyes and we feel empathy for her in her wretched circumstances. She stops being a figurehead and becomes a very real person to us. Yes, she had been one of the royal family who knew no restraint in flaunting their wealth and acting insensitively and unsympathetically towards their subjects, but that was how life was then. There was a chasm between the haves and have-nots. You can understand why the people wanted to redress the balance somewhat, or at least attempt to. With the forthcoming elections here in France, it is somewhat ironic to realise that once again there is a widening gap between the people and those that govern them – there are many millionaires in the government these days. Did poor Marie Antoinette die in vain?
If you’re interested in French history then this without doubt is the book for you. It is completely absorbing and absolutely fascinating.
Security tightened in the Conciergerie as the public uproar increased. The guards searched through the queen’s laundry, and she was only allowed a change of clothing every ten days. At the same time, the queen’s health was faltering. She complained of pain in one of her legs, covering it with her cushion to keep it warm. The queen also suffered from insomnia, anxiety, dizziness, weakness, and frequent bouts of vaginal bleeding. Rosalie attributed the hemorrhaging to the “crushing sorrows, the foul air in her cell, and lack of exercise.”
These miseries were perhaps every bit as disturbing as the presence of the guards, who violated her modesty as they watched her change clothes. When the queen discretely removed the bloody dressings, Rosalie disposed of them secretly but with great difficulty; the inspections were multiplying at all hours of the day and night. And the noise became unbearable, with the locks continuously clanking and the door of the queen’s dungeon screeching as deputies entered and exited.
On October 3, Deputy Jean-Baptiste-André Amar of the Committee of General Security decreed that 129 deputies of the Gironde party be denounced as outlaws, arrested, and brought to trial. The Girondins had campaigned for the end of the monarchy but came into conflict with the more radical Jacobins. On the same day, a large number of the Girondins were imprisoned in the Conciergerie, the same prison that housed the fallen queen of France. That these Girondins would be tried and most likely face the guillotine before the queen sparked another public controversy.
They argued that the queen was the “guiltiest of all” and “her head should be the first to fall.” The committees, clubs, and cafés of Paris were all calling for a speedy trial of the Agrippina, a reference to the ruthless, domineering, and violent mother of Nero.
“I rang my alarm bell to all French ears on the infamous Antoinette,” wrote lawyer and politician Armand-Joseph Guffroy in his journal. “Keep Marie Antoinette in prison to make peace, you say drearily, and I say to you, ‘Make her jump like a carp with its hands tied behind its back.’”
“We aim to judge the Austrian tigress from twelve until two o’clock in the afternoon,” the deputy Louis Marie Prudhomme wrote, “and we demand the offenses to condemn her; if justice is served, she will be hacked up like mincemeat in a pâté.”
About the Author
earned his M.A. degree in French literature
from Ohio University
and his Ph.D. in International Studies
from the American Graduate School in Paris
where he gathered letters, newspapers, and journals
during his research for the award-winning Marie Antoinette’s Head: The Royal Hairdresser, the Queen, and the Revolution.
Now living in Albi, France,
and a member of the Society for French Historical Studies,
his latest work, Marie Antoinette’s Darkest Days: Prisoner No. 280 in the Conciergerie,
was released in December 2016.
He is currently working on the final part of his historical trilogy, Marie Antoinette’s World: The Labyrinth to the Queen’s Psyche.
The First Apostle by Katherine Pym is gripping historical fiction. Set in Paris, it relates the story of journalist and pamphleteer Camille Desmoulins during the period of the French Revolution. He was an active and outspoken revolutionary, a close friend of Robespierre and other influential politicians. From verging on starvation and being forced to live on maggoty bread and wine more often than he’d like, as his fame as a controversial writer grew, so did his fortune. He was finally able to marry his beloved Lucile and enjoy domestic happiness with her and their son Henri for a short while. However, he walked a dangerous line. He made powerful enemies and eventually he ends up on the wrong side of a farcical trial. It was a risk he took by choosing his path. But his unpopularity leaves his wife at great risk too, and Camille would not have her harmed for the world.
This is a very exciting, atmospheric novel. The author’s enthusiasm for and interest in her topic shows in every word. She paints an intricate portrait of life in late eighteenth-century France. The problems, the prejudices, the joys, the horrors shine through. We meet every emotion from love to hate, from hop to despair and bump into a whole range of interesting characters. Some appeal, some repel but they’re all memorable. It’s an absorbing read and it’s hard to put down. The First Apostle leaves you feeling enriched and educated and is a book you won’t forget for a long time.