France, in the wake of Napoleon’s downfall. Following the execution of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, the First Republic that led the country has fallen too, to and Louis XVIII sits on the throne. Anyone with a basic knowledge of roman numerals will spot a disparity there – what of the mysterious Louis XVII, Louis XVI’s son? Well, he (hereafter known as the Dauphin because there are, quite frankly, too many Louis knocking around at this point) would have been king, were it not for that pesky Republic, but was locked up in prison from a young age and left to die. Or was he?
Major Nicholas Segalla, an agent of the British government is sent to Paris to uncover the truth about the fate of the Dauphin. But someone seems determined to stop his search for the truth – whatever that truth may be…
This is the second book in the Segalla series, detailing sections of the life of the eternal Segalla as he sticks his nose, for whatever reason, into historical mysteries. It’s basically the same format as Doherty’s other investigations into real historical events – such as The Death of a King or The Whyte Harte – but with the character of Segalla making it into a series. There is a rationale for this – Segalla’s immortality means that he knew Marie Antoinette thirty years previously, for example – but primarily, this is an investigation into the fate of the Dauphin.
The problem arises in the sense that I’m not sure which events that are presented in the story are fact, and which have been embellished. The conclusion drawn makes perfect sense given the facts that we are given, but unlike some of Doherty’s other books, there’s no clear author’s note stating which of the “facts” are actually true, just Segalla’s conversation with his sort-of-biographer Ann Dukthas.
Putting the historical accuracy aside (and to be fair, even the classic historical investigation The Daughter of Time plays around with the presented facts somewhat) what remains is a decent historical mystery. The identity of the assassin is hardly a surprise – in fact, the “whodunit” element is pretty weak – but the slow revelation of the fate of the Dauphin, the focus of the tale, is well done. The narrative does feel a little slow in the first half of the book, which mostly consists of Segalla going through some archives, but it picks up in the second half.
The main criticism I can make of the book is that Doherty has done this sort of thing much better elsewhere. The first Segalla book, A Time For The Death Of A King, for example, or the aforementioned The Whyte Harte. It’s a good read, but it’s only average for Doherty.
This book is available as an ebook from all good retailers. I bought my copy with my own meagre pennies.