The Rhetoric of Death


Judith Rock


Mystery / Thriller


Date Reviewed:

August 13, 2011

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.