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In the icy winter of 1786, in the final years before the French Revolution, hunger, cold, and seething frustration with the iron grip of France’s absolute monarchy drive poor and rich alike to outright defiance. Slums, fashionable cafés, and even aristocratic mansions echo with discontent and the first warning signals of the approaching turmoil of 1789.
Paris’s cemeteries are foul and disease-ridden, but no one, including penniless writer Aristide Ravel, expects to find a man with his throat cut lying dead in a churchyard, surrounded by strange Masonic symbols. Already suspected of subversive activities, Ravel must now clear his name of murder. His search for answers amid the city’s literary and intellectual demimonde—with the aid of friends who may not be all that they seem—leads him into a tangle of conspiracy, secret societies, royal scandal, and imminent revolution, which grows only more complex when the corpse disappears . . .
The story begins prophetically on All Hallows Eve, 1785, as Aristide Ravel, an impoverished young political writer, wanders into the scene of a fire set in the small Parisian church of St. Médard. In this prequel to Susanne Alleyn’s Game of Patience (2006) and A Treasury of Regrets (2007), it is over the curious pattern of charred debris at the altar of St. Médard’s that Ravel first meets his future cohort, Inspector Brasseur.
Two months later the curious pattern is repeated in the churchyard of St. André des Arts, scene of a grizzly [sic] murder, the victim unidentified but clearly a wealthy man. Brasseur suspects Ravel and forces him into the role of investigator to avoid arrest. Over a period of eight days the investigation moves nonstop. The corpse, still unidentified, is stolen from the morgue. There are signs of Masonic intrigue and political plots at the highest levels. Ravel’s investigation takes him to the Royal Veterinary School and Honoré Fragonard’s Le Cavalier de l’Apocalypse, his ghoulish écorché masterpiece—a dried, preserved horse and rider—which turns out to be the key to the mystery.
Reading The Cavalier of the Apocalypse is like being in France just before the Revolution. Ms. Alleyn has managed to capture the spirit of the time in the angry squalor of the poor against the backdrop of titled privilege. But the story is not a social commentary—it never stops being a splendid mystery, packed with historical detail, red herrings, surprising twists, and even a little romance. If this is your first Aristide Ravel mystery you will want to dive into the sequels as soon as you can—promise.
-- The Historical Novels Review
After two mysteries set in the aftermath of the French Revolution, Alleyn recounts how her series sleuth, Aristide Ravel, became a detective in this superb prequel set in 1786. ... Alleyn expertly captures the politics and atmosphere of the period, seamlessly integrating them into a traditional whodunit plot.
--Publishers Weekly (starred review)
A series of detective stories tied to the French Revolution? It may sound odd, but Susanne Alleyn makes it work. ... The plot brings together everyone from the Masons to the duc d’Orléans, and Francophiles will appreciate the historic detail and rich atmospheric elements that abound.
--The Christian Science Monitor
Finding an author who creates a good detective can be a great find, but when the author combines that with a multilevel plot and historical accuracy, the result is an absorbing, page-turning read. ... Alleyn's writing includes incredible historical detail about life in revolutionary France as well as exciting detective mysteries.
--The Poughkeepsie Journal
Alleyn crafts expert traditional mysteries against formidable, colorful, meticulously rendered backdrops.
-- The Poisoned Pen Bookstore
Alleyn’s third Ravel mystery is an absorbing outing, and fans of the previous two novels will be interested in seeing a pre-Revolution, radical-minded Aristide.
A murder in 1786 Paris turns a hack writer into a first-rate detective. ... An intriguing prequel to Ravel’s revolutionary adventures with a nice twist in the denouement.
Known for her impeccable plotting and fully defined characters, Alleyn maintains her high standards here.
--Library Journal (starred review)
Online Reviews & Features
All inquiries about translation, reprint, audio, or
film/TV rights should be directed to Susanne's agent:
Don Congdon Associates
110 William St., Suite 2202
New York, NY 10038
212 645 1229 phone
212 727 2688 fax
FOR BOOK GROUPS:
SOME POSSIBLE TOPICS FOR DISCUSSION
All these questions are intended for readers who have finished the novel, but you won’t find any spoilers here if you stumble down this far.
* All of the titles of the Aristide Ravel mysteries have at least two interpretations. What do you think of the symbolic meaning of the title The Cavalier of the Apocalypse
* Why do you think Aristide still considers Derville a friend when they are so dissimilar in their backgrounds and attitudes?
* How do Aristide's and Brasseur's personalities complement each other?
* Do you think that Aristide and Sophie are right for each other? Why or why not?
* What do you think of the relationship between the half-brothers Beaupréau and Moreau? Why does Beaupréau inspire such loyalty?
* Is Aristide over-sensitive about the fact that his father was a murderer, considering how mercilessly 18th-century French society ostracized even the innocent relatives of those convicted of heinous crimes?
* Would you like to visit Honoré Fragonard’s works during a trip to Paris? Why or why not? Do you think, as his contemporaries did, that Fragonard was crazy?
* What do you think of the Duc d’Orléans’ decisions, and his opinion that “many errors may be forgiven for the sake of a noble purpose”? Do good ends justify dishonorable or evil means? (Or was Orléans just serving his own ends in intriguing for power?)
* When Susanne began writing Cavalier,
she had a different murderer in mind; halfway through the first draft, she suddenly said to herself, “But X did it; that makes much more sense.” Who do you think the original murderer was going to be, and why?
EXTRA CREDIT - FOR HISTORY FANS
* Compare the world of prerevolutionary France, with its absolute monarchy, privileged classes, state-sponsored religion, and attempted control of thought (censorship, “book police,” etc) with a modern police state. Was a violent rebellion against this system inevitable? (Yes, you could spend an entire college semester discussing this one, but in brief . . .) ;-)
* Though the Freemasons were not directly responsible for bringing about any revolutions, Masonic ideals certainly helped in spreading progressive thought throughout Europe and North America during the 18th century. Do you think secret societies like the Masons would inevitably spring up in such a world of tightly controlled absolute monarchies?
* Although the 18th century in Europe is considered an age of enlightenment, rationalism, and scientific progress, it was also an age of famous hoaxes and of many mystical, pseudo-scientific con artists such as Casanova and Cagliostro. Why do you think such flamboyant charlatans were so successful in this period? Has anything really changed since the 18th century?
* Even with state-sponsored censorship, Paris had a thriving market for banned literature and journalism, and pornographers and pamphleteers seemed to take the censorship for granted and kept on producing work that led to the general erosion of respect for the Ancien Régime. Do you think this might have been because of the censorship? What about a comparison with other historical periods of censorship (e.g. the Protestant Reformation, the USSR, Nazi Germany, China today, etc...)?
"L'Homme á la Mandibule"
The Cavalier of the Apocalypse, ©2008 Susanne Alleyn. All Rights Reserved.
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