cover image City of Light, City of Poison: Murder, Magic, and the First Police Chief of Paris

City of Light, City of Poison: Murder, Magic, and the First Police Chief of Paris

Holly Tucker. Norton, $26.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-393-23978-2

Tucker (Blood Work: A Tale of Medicine and Murder in the Science Revolution) vividly brings to life a slice of Parisian history in this rigorously researched true-crime epic, set during the reign of Louis XIV. The book opens in 1665 with the murder of the city’s criminal lieutenant, the public official with jurisdiction over most crimes committed in the city, who was stabbed to death by some inept burglars, followed by the poisoning of one of his colleagues, who resolved civil disputes, a year later. The embarrassment about these deaths led to the appointment of the first police chief of Paris, Nicolas de La Reynie, who began with reforms to literally clean up the filthy streets of the city and to deter nighttime crime with a massive campaign to install thousands of lanterns on most Paris streets. Eventually, he investigated the Affair of the Poisons, a series of crimes involving members of France’s high nobility and reaching into the palace. The investigation led to the creation of a secret tribunal that imprisoned hundreds and executed more than 30 people. Although many documents were burned by the king himself after La Reynie’s death, Tucker draws on other contemporary records to meticulously reconstruct this fascinating chapter in the annals of true crime. The result reads like a combination of the most compelling mystery fiction and Dumas’s romances of twisted court intrigues. (Mar.)