Mute Witness by Charles O'Brien

After reading a book about the last hours of the French Monarchy in the French Revolution (review to follow shortly), I found myself drawn to this time period in France. In this vein, I just finished an historical mystery entitled Mute Witness by Charles O’Brien. It is the first book in a series and, based on the first, I cannot wait to read the rest.

Here is a brief summary from the book’s website:

The story is set in France on the eve of the Revolution. Paris in 1786 seethes with fiscal crisis and social tensions. Anne Cartier hears distressing news. Her stepfather, the actor Antoine Dubois has mysteriously died in Paris. The official verdict: he killed his mistress, then himself.
Anne enlists the aid of Colonel Paul de Saint-Martin and his adjutant Georges Charpentier of the royal highway patrol. Their investigation goes nowhere. Then, a deaf, illiterate seamstress with a talent for puppetry leads Anne to the truth. Along the way, she confronts an amateur theatrical society of dissolute young noblemen; a tormented female botanist; a sadistic aesthete; a rich, well-connected financier; a professional assassin.

Unravelling the mystery tests Anne’s nerve as well as her remarkable acrobatic skills. At a critical juncture in the investigation, she acts the part of an exotic queen in Indian costume at a reception. Priceless Indian jewelry disappears. Its owner, an aged count is murdered. And a venal police inspector threatens to derail Anne’s project.

The story rises to a violent climax in a labyrinthine cave outside Paris where the city has begun to bury its dead.

The heroine and the heroes in the book are very likeable. They are very human – with believable strengths and weaknesses that allow you to embrace them and feel their varying emotions.

Although the book is fiction, it captures the time before the French Revolution perfectly. O’Brien describes the class tension between the poor and the aristocrats through Cartier’s experiences with both. You can understand why the French Revolution occurred because of the poor treatment of the commoners by the aristocrats and the unfair advantages the aristocrats had over everyone else.

This is a must read for anyone who is a connoisseur of mysteries or the French Revolution era.

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