cover image THE LOST KING OF FRANCE: A True Story of Revolution, Revenge, and DNA

THE LOST KING OF FRANCE: A True Story of Revolution, Revenge, and DNA

Deborah Cadbury, . . St. Martin's, $24.95 (288pp) ISBN 978-0-312-28312-4

British writer Cadbury (Terrible Lizard) sets out to unravel a historical mystery in this winning, highly readable account of the French Revolution and the fate of the dauphin, the son of the executed King Louis XVI. Cadbury dramatically relates how the French monarchy moved inexorably toward the abyss of 1789; she describes the seizure of the Bastille, the royal family's imprisonment in the Temple and the execution of the king and queen. But what became of their son? According to the official account, Louis XVII remained in solitary confinement in a filthy, vermin-infested prison cell, where he contracted tuberculosis and died at age 10 in June 1795; bizarrely, the physician who performed the autopsy literally, and fortuitously, stole the boy's heart. Yet millions believed that the prince had escaped, and over the years, hundreds came forward claiming to be the dauphin. Not until two centuries later, with advances in forensic science, was the mystery of Louis XVII's fate finally solved. In 2000, the boy's preserved heart was found in Paris, and its mitochondrial DNA was compared to that retrieved from Marie Antoinette's hair. The result? An exact genetic match. Cadbury does an exemplary job describing the history, the mystery and the tragic fate of Louis XVII. 8 pages of b&w photos. (Oct.)

Forecast:This will appeal to the same readers who followed the recent genetic unraveling of the fate of another executed royal family, recounted in The Romanovs: The Last Chapter by Robert K. Massie.