Mute Witness

Charles O'Brien, Author
Charles O'Brien, Author Poisoned Pen Press $23.95 (226p) ISBN 978-1-890208-62-2
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The bar for historical mysteries has just been raised, thanks to this masterly debut novel. Set in late 18th-century London and France, this is the story of a young woman's search for the truth in a society where appearance is all. Sadler's Wells actress Anne Cartier is anxious to leave London, where a rejected suitor threatens her bodily harm. She moves to Paris to continue her second career working with the deaf, and to investigate the reported murder/suicide of her much-loved actor stepfather, Antoine Dubois. The affair of the queen's necklace has distracted the Paris police from fully investigating the deaths of Antoine and his actress friend, but Anne finds evidence of the victims' having been involved in something much larger than a lovers' squabble. She seeks the aid and protection of Colonel Paul de Saint-Martin of the royal highway patrol, who's looking into a series of thefts from the chateaux surrounding Paris. Their attempts to find answers are hampered by not only the criminals but also a system corrupted by venality and the right of noble privilege. At the same time, their own tenuous relationship is threatened by the stratified society of patronage and privilege in which they live. This is a truly wonderful first novel elegantly written, complex in both its characters and its plotting, and wearing the author's scholarship and erudition lightly. O'Brien, a retired history professor, deserves a strong following both among mystery readers and readers of novels in the tradition of Charles Palliser. This is great stuff; please, may we have more? (May 1)
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