picked this book up off of the shelf because it had a blurb that said: "Amazing"
-- Ariana Franklin, author of Mistress of the Art of Death. I really loved Mistress of the Art of Death,
and I like historical novels, so I read The Rhetoric of Death. With so many good books waiting on my "To Be
Read" list, I probably shouldn't spend time on random novels, but it is a lot of fun to discover new authors
even I don't have time to read the all the books of writers that I already love.
The first 3/4 of this book is well written. The novel is set in 17th century France.
King Louis XIV sits on the throne at Versailles. The reader is introduced to Charles du Luc, a former
soldier who is now a member of the Jesuits. Charles was discovered helping Huguenots (Protestants)
flee persecution by escaping to Switzerland. Normally, an offense like that would have resulted in
Charles sentenced to slave away on a galley - but fortunately Charles happens to have a powerful cousin who is the
bishop of Marseilles. The bishop pulls some strings so that rather than rowing an oar, Charles is
sent north to Paris, where he will serve as a dance instructor at the Jesuit college.
No sooner does Charles arrive in Paris then a young student named Philippe runs away
from class. Charles chases after Philippe, but he disappears into the city. Just a day later,
Philippe's brother Antoine is nearly killed when a masked horseman tries to ride him down on the
Paris street. Charles discovers the body of Philippe and it becomes clear that some
evil scheme is afoot in the college. Naturally, Charles investigates.
This part of novel is full of historical detail about life in Paris and the Jesuit
college. Apparently it was important in the 17th century for a nobleman to be able to dance as well as
speak Latin, so the schools would stage elaborate ballets where the students demonstrated their talents
to the aristocrats. Judith develops her characters (Charles proves to be a likable protagonist)
and the the suspense builds as the mystery deepens as Charles pokes around.
The plot falls apart as the climax of the story approaches. Charles overhears a
conversation that conveniently explains a lot of motivations of several characters. A wild ride on a
horse results in the most astounding coincidence of whom Charles meets - "How did you come here?"
asks a dumbfounded Charles. A good question indeed - this "twist" was a real mistep by Judith Rock
- it does nothing to advance the plot yet ruins the believability of the novel.
A character confronted by the Paris police can't help but blurt out all sorts of
incriminating evidence which helps the plot forward but seems like an unlikely thing for any character
to do. But worst of all is the when a villain finds it necessary to explain all of his evil actions
to Charles while unseen witnesses overhear his gloating story - I know Rhetoric of Death is Rock's
first novel, and that this plot device is a trap many first-time authors fall into, but I HATE
when writers solve their mysteries this way. Also, I didn't agree with Charles' actions in the final
chapters - it seemed out of character to me, I would have liked a different ending. But it looked
like Judith Rock was trying to set the stage for some sequels.
I award 4 stars for the first 3/4 of the novel, but only two stars for the lame resolution.