In Blood Royal: A True Tale of Crime and Detection in Medieval Paris, medievalist Eric Jager returns to the world of medieval true crime stories that he popularized in The Last Duel.
On a cold night in November, 1407, a band of masked men assassinated Louis of Orleans, the powerful and unpopular brother of the intermittently insane King Charles, on a dark street in Paris. Blood Royal tells the stories of both the criminal investigation that followed and the subsequent impact of the assassination on French politics.
The first half of the book is told as a medieval murder mystery, based on working notes of the investigation written by Guillaume de Tignonville, provost of Paris and the law-enforcement officer responsible for finding who killed the royal duke. Except for the absence of modern forensic science, Tigonville’s investigation techniques will be familiar to any fan of police procedurals: from interviewing witnesses to tracing physical clues. Jager maintains a high level of suspense throughout the enquiry as Tigonville and his men eliminate suspect after suspect until they uncover the shocking solution.
The second half of Blood Royal, while equally interesting, is more traditional history. Jager examines the power vacuum in the royal family left by Orleans’ death, the civil war that followed, and Henry V’s opportunistic invasion of France. He ends with the rise of Joan of Arc on the horizon.
Blood Royal will appeal to history buffs,* true crime fans, and anyone who loves historical mysteries or police procedurals.
If historical true crime calls your name, I’d like to call your attention to two more excellent books. I enjoyed them both, but some how never got around to mentioning them on the blog.***
Holly Tucker’s Blood Work: A Tale of Medicine and Murder in the Scientific Revolution is smart, riveting and occasionally gruesome. (There were passages that I would have read with my eyes closed if such a thing were possible.) Set in seventeenth century Paris, Blood Work tells the story of Jean-Baptiste Denis, a doctor who transfused calf’s blood into a well-known Parisian madman in his search for medical answers. Several days later, the madman died and Denis was charged with murder. If you like your mystery and history tied up with big questions about the point where morality and science meet, this one’s for you.
For those of you who prefer your historical crime with a little less gore, I highly recommend The Man Who Made Vermeers: Unvarnishing the Legend of Master Forger Han Van Meergeren by Jonathan Lopez. Smart, riveting and not at all gruesome, The Man Who Made Vermeers is a tale of forgers, Nazis and the glittering art world of the 1920s and 1930s. It’s probably the only book ever nominated for both a national Award for Arts Writing and an Edgar for best non-fiction crime book.
*That would be you, right?
** Or, if you prefer, “But wait! There’s more!”
***Sometimes it feels like blog post topics are like an impatient crowd. Most of them wait their turn, but one or two always elbow their way to the front.
Much of this review–minus the asides, the snarkiness, and the extras–previously appeared in Shelf Awareness for Readers.