Friday, August 13, 2010

Dark in the City of Light by Paul Robertson

book cover

Dark in the City of Light
by Paul Robertson

Trade Paperback: 416 pages
Publisher: BethanyHouse
First Released: 2010

Source: Review copy from the publisher.

Book Description, my take:
Baron Harsanyi is a military attache at the Austrian embassy in 1870s Paris. As war between France and Prussia becomes increasingly likely, the need is high for mercury fulminate, an explosive. The Prussians already have a source. The English have the ability to manufacture it for both sides but need more cinnabar ore. France has no source.

Baron Harsanyi's wife owns a large cinnabar mine in Idria, but she refuses French and English offers to buy her ore. After the Baron's wife suddenly dies, he plays a dangerous game with the English, French, and Prussians to see who wants his cinnabar the most. Several would be happy to see the Baron dead in the hopes his son, Rudolph, would be more willing to sell to them.

Baron Harsanyi doesn't let his son in on his schemes, so Rudolph is left with increasing doubts and anger toward his father. When his father orders him to train to become a military officer but then refuses to let him fight with the French in the war, he gives in to his doubts and runs away.

The Baron's daughter, Therese, is so wrapped up in her romance with a dashing French cavalry officer that she doesn't notice the political intrigue surrounding her family until the war separates her from her beloved. With her mother dead, her brother gone, and her father increasingly absent, she worries about the changes pulling her family and world apart. But she's told there's nothing a young woman like her can do about it.

Are they right? Will the greed and need for cinnabar destroy the Harsanyi family?

Dark in the City of Light is a historical suspense novel set mainly in France in the 1870s. There was also a "who-done-it" mystery in this story, though that's not obvious at first. The "who-done-it" was also not obvious, though there were enough clues that the reader could guess the answer before the main characters did (since the characters were limited by their not knowing they needed to share those clues).

The world-building was excellent, vividly describing the locations, events, and politics of the time period. Because politics were a driving force behind much of the suspense, it's woven into the story and didn't slow the pacing. The suspense was from the physical danger to the various characters and the strain on the family relationships. The characters were interesting, complex, varied, and acted realistically. They dealt with realistic problems, and I cared about what happened to them.

The characters didn't believe in God (at least, not one active in human affairs). However, they had a habit of saying, "Only God could do that" with the implied assumption that He wouldn't. At the end, one character said that if a certain impossible thing did happen, it'd be proof God existed. You can guess what happens, but that's about the extent of the religious content.

There was no sex or bad language. Overall, I'd highly recommend this intriguing novel to those who enjoy clean, well-written historical suspense.

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.

Excerpt from Chapter One
On a violent, black winter evening, Baron Ferdinand Harsanyi in Paris received a telegram from his wife in Vienna. It was delivered to his lodging on the Rue de Saint-Simon, and by candlelight at his desk he read its three words, I AM ILL.

"Will there be a reply, monsieur?"

The messenger, an old man, shuddered from the cold and stood close to the fire. The heavy coat of his uniform seemed to do little to warm him. Outside, hard gusts of the tempest outside assailed the window. It rattled and shook in its casing and the wind whistled through it. These were the only sounds inside as the man stood shivering and the Baron Ferdinand sat, uneasy as the storm.

Finally, the baron took the form and touched his pen to the ink bottle. "Today is Monday?"

"Yes, monsieur."

He scribbled, WILL LEAVE TOMORROW ARRIVE THURSDAY. "There, take that."

The messenger returned reluctantly to the night, and Ferdinand stood and began to pace the room. His steps were silent on the thick carpet, a slow tread that soon became quicker and more troubled. His path was wall to wall beneath two portraits, one behind his desk, of the Austrian emperor, and the other opposite, of a woman. At last, he stopped beneath it. The woman, in her youth, with long black hair and striking features, was wearing the fashions of an earlier time. The baron faced her, looking up; he was two hard decades at least past his own youth.


His valet appeared.

"Yes, master."

"We'll depart tomorrow for Vienna. I'll call on the ambassador at his residence this evening to ask his leave."

"Yes, master."

Read more of chapter one.

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