Elizabeth Redfern, Author . Putnam $24.95 (420p) ISBN 978-0-399-14763-0

This British first novel is a historical thriller in the vein of Caleb Carr and Iain Pears, with maximum melodramatic coloring. All the characters, including the protagonist, Jonathan Absey, a civil servant whose daughter has been strangled by what seems to be a serial killer in late 18th-century London, are deeply flawed, and part of the problem with the book is that it is so unremittingly downbeat, with no glimmer of hope that anything will improve for its large cast. As the French Revolution is entering its second phase and its supporters are hoping to beat off an invading Royalist army backed by Britain, London has never seemed more dank and corrupt. Even the little group of French exiles and their hangers-on who are the heart of the story are mostly rotten to the core: the beautiful comtesse, Auguste; her half-mad and terminally ill brother, who may be the murderer; their hulking brute of a coachman; the enigmatic Dr. Raultier; and Auguste's handsome but apparently mute English lover. Then there is Jonathan's half-brother, amateur astronomer Alexander, a gay man at a time when it was desperately dangerous to be so, who is enlisted in the search for a then-unknown ninth planet by the glamorous French group. All this ties up with who is killing red-headed girls and robbing their corpses, and ends leaving only two principals alive, and them barely. There are vivid touches of atmosphere, some strong detail on contemporary astronomy, and some of the moral dilemmas are piercing, but the hectic windup is over the top. This is a good example of a book where less would have been more. 75,000 first printing; rights sold in France, Greece, Holland, Italy and the U.K. (July)

Reviewed on: 05/28/2001
Release date: 07/01/2001
Paperback - 420 pages - 978-0-425-23698-7
Downloadable Audio - 978-0-7435-1987-8
Analog Audio Cassette - 978-0-7435-0781-3
Mass Market Paperbound - 496 pages - 978-0-515-13239-7
Compact Disc - 978-0-7435-0782-0
Open Ebook - 400 pages - 978-0-7865-2136-4
Paperback - 420 pages - 978-0-425-20538-9
Show other formats
The Best Books, Emailed Every Week
Tip Sheet!