City of Light, City of Poison
by Holly Tucker
Hardcover: 336 pages
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
Released: March 21, 2017
Source: Review copy from the publisher.
Book Description, Modified from Goodreads:
Appointed to conquer the “crime capital of the world,” the first police chief of Paris faces an epidemic of murder in the late 1600s. Assigned by Louis XIV, Nicolas de La Reynie begins by clearing the streets of filth and installing lanterns throughout Paris, turning it into the City of Light.
La Reynie unearths a tightly knit cabal of poisoners, witches, and renegade priests. As he exposes their unholy work, he soon learns that no one is safe from black magic—not even the Sun King. Nobles settle scores by employing witches to craft poisons and by hiring priests to perform dark rituals in Paris’s most illustrious churches and cathedrals.
From secret courtrooms to torture chambers, City of Light, City of Poison is a gripping true-crime tale of deception and murder based on thousands of pages of court transcripts and La Reynie’s compulsive note-taking, as well as on letters and diaries.
City of Light, City of Poison is a true crime book about a rash of poisonings that occurred in Paris in the 1670s. The book started by describing how violent Paris could be and how the first police chief of Paris cleaned up and lighted the city along with other efforts to reduce crime. Then a good bit of the book was about the king's various mistresses and the political maneuvering of certain people who played a role in the later trials.
The author used information in the interrogation transcripts to also describe the activities of various main players in the poisoning scandals--the women supplying the poisons and the high-class women who bought their poisons, love potions, or spells. She described the questioning of these people in detail, including grisly details about their torture. Finally, even the king's mistresses were being accused of using the spells. The king didn't want these accusations getting out, so all records of the affair were destroyed--or so he thought. We're told how these records survived so that the book could even be written.
I had thought the book would be more about how the early police conducted investigations, but apparently that involved arresting suspects, putting them in unpleasant prison cells, and eventually questioning them. They did have some crude tests to identify any potential poisons that were found, but autopsy was pretty limited in its usefulness in terms of identifying death by poison. I could have lived without learning the graphic details about the torture involved. Other than that, though, it was written in an interesting way and I'd recommend the book.
If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.