The Châtelet Apprentice by Jean-François Parot

12 August, 2010

The Châtelet Apprentice by Jean-François Parot is the first in a historical mystery series featuring Nicolas Le Floch, a rookie policeman in the fledgeling police service in 18th century Paris.

Nicolas Le Floch, a Breton foundling, arrives in Paris with a letter from his guardian to learn the ways of the police. When his superior, in whose house he is lodging, fails to return home one evening, he is entrusted by the royal commissioner with finding out what has happened. In a new city and surrounded by people Nicolas is unsure whether to trust, he must unravel the mystery of the missing policeman and his connection to two feuding doctors who were both present at the exclusive brothel where he was last seen. With pressure from the royal court, Nicolas must find a way to unmask the murderer whilst keeping himself alive.

I was expecting a novel similar to James McGee’s Ratcatcher series featuring the gorgeous Matthew Hawkwood but this was a little more intellectual, a little more staid and less of a rollicking adventure; a little like the protagonist. Saying that, Parot has done his research and his novel is filled with delicious nuggets of information about France during the reign of Louis XV and his mistress Madame de Pompadour. There were times when I felt the plot was in danger of being eclipsed by the research, but the character of Nicolas Le Floch was sympathetic and engaging and slowly, like Nicolas himself, I grew comfortable, loosened up a bit and began to enjoy the story. The translation by Michael Glencross is smooth and the mystery and dénouement pretty interesting, although I wasn’t too surprised by the unmasking of the culprit (but then I’m a seasoned mystery reader and it takes a lot to catch me unawares.)

But what I liked most about The Châtelet Apprentice was the way in which Parot conjures what life must have been like in those times. You could almost hear the crunch of the snow, the squelch of the mud and skulk in the shadows of dark and smoky candle-lit rooms. It’s one of the reasons why I love reading historical mysteries.

On an aside, I was expecting The Châtelet Apprentice to be about Emilie de Châtelet (mathematician and lover of Voltaire) but it’s about the fledgeling French police headquarters situated at Châtelet in Paris. Oops! That will teach me not to see connections in places where they don’t exist.

Parot’s series has been a huge hit in France, and I will be looking forward to reading the next in the series published by Gallic Books, The Man With The Lead Stomach (what an intriguing title!) to see how Nicolas Le Floch matures.

I read this as part of the Thriller and Suspense Challenge 2010.

6 Responses to “The Châtelet Apprentice by Jean-François Parot”

  1. amymckie Says:

    This sounds like a fun mystery!

  2. Aarti Says:

    This sounds right up my alley! Thanks for a great review and also for the mention of Ratcatcher, which also just went on my wish list 🙂

  3. winstonsdad Says:

    this sounds wonderful ,had slipped completely under my radar ,I ll keep a eye out for it ,all the best stu

  4. Nymeth Says:

    I love that about historical mysteries too. I think I’d probably enjoy this one for the atmosphere alone.

  5. chasing bawa Says:

    amymckie: I’ve read lots of English historical mysteries but no so much French, so it was very different and interesting.

    Aarti: There are 3 books in the Ratcatcher series which I think you’ll like! The Nicolas Le Floch has more books, with a change in translator. It would be interesting to see how that affects the reading of the books.

    winstonsdad: Gallic Books has a great website with lots of different titles. Check them out!

    Nymeth: For me, even if the mystery isn’t all that eye-popping, I can enjoy a book if it evokes the times and the people. I think I’m enjoying that aspect of crime novels more now.

  6. […] (Laura Root); A Work in Progress (nice post providing some “teasers” about the novel); Chasing Bawa; and Mondo’s Info. All these reviewers except the last liked the book much more than I did. […]

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