I absolutely loved Palace of Justice, the latest in the Aristide Ravel historical mystery series by Susanne Alleyn. The action takes place in Paris during The Terror, a few years after the events in Cavalier of the Apocalypse, the novel in which Ravel reluctantly begins his career as a police agent. Though I loved loved loved Cavalier, and very much enjoyed Game of Patience and Treasury of Regrets, Palace of Justice is my hands-down favorite! Clearly, Ms. Alleyn's really hit her stride with this one!
Someone is leaving headless corpses from one end of Paris to the other, macabre reminders of the bloody work being done by Madame La Guillotine, and there seems to be no rhyme or reason for the killer's choice of victims, which range across the entire social spectrum. Ravel is brought into the case when the headless corpse of an unknown woman is found in an alley in Commissaire Brasseur's patch. When Ravel discovers that their victim is actually the fifth such corpse and that the Revolutionary Council is involved, things start to get dicey for the morose detective. Is it a true madman responsible, or could it be a royalist fanatic out to discredit the fledgling Republic by whatever means possible, even if it means murder?
The mystery is clever and twisty and seems to me to be a police procedural / judicial drama, coupled with a study of what fanaticism and madness does to a society as a whole and to individuals in particular, as much as a whodunnit. As usual, though, it is Ravel's story and the fascinating historical period details that sucked me in and kept me up late at night reading "just one more page...or two." While immersed in the novel, I was there with Ravel in the gritty heart of Paris during The Terror, with all of its paranoia, hysteria, poverty, fear and bloody death. Even as he races about trying to solve the murders, resulting in some nail-biting moments for me, Ravel is personally touched by tragedy when Mathieu, his best friend from childhood, is brought up on charges of treason in front of the Revolutionary Tribunal, resulting in some of the most heartbreaking scenes in any novel I've ever read. I cried, which isn't something that usually happens when I read a mystery.
Palace of Justice is, quite simply, sublime, and I highly recommend it (and the entire series) to those who love good historical mysteries. For a taste of what Palace has to offer, you can read the first two chapters on Ms. Alleyn's website: www.susannealleyn.webs.com/palaceofjustice.htm. She is also having a giveaway of two copies of Palace ~ the link to the contest is in the right-hand column of this blog. So, do yourself a favor: check out the excerpt and then enter the giveaway. You'll be so glad you did!
In bookstores November 23, 2010 (just in time for the long Thanksgiving holiday in the U.S.)!