Reading: Holly Tucker

Holly Tucker

City of Light, City Of Poison

Monday, May 1 at 7:00pm
When the Sun King first ascends to the throne, Paris, France is far from celestial. At the start of Louis XIV’s reign, the streets are filthy and dangerous, with nobility getting robbed at night. To combat the crime wave sweeping his nation, Louis appoints Nicolas de La Reynie as Paris’s first chief of police. One of La Reynie’s first acts: to install the street lamps that help make Paris into the “City of Light” we know and love today. However, things aren’t much improved behind closed doors: people in even the most respectable households are dying painful deaths under mysterious circumstances. It is a time when residents of the City of Love know no limits in matters of the heart—or of gaining inheritances. Some of the more dangerous methods they resort to include shirts washed in arsenic, goblets coated with toad venom, and cups tainted by diamond powder meant to lacerate the organs of anyone unfortunate enough to ingest it. 

In CITY OF LIGHT, CITY OF POISON, Holly Tucker takes a deep dive into La Reynie’s meticulous documentation of the scandal at the center of Louis XIV’s reign, retracing the deliberations of the secret tribunal Louis convened to tell contemporary readers the thrilling story that Louis tried to bury—a story of poison, torture, lovers, witches, satanic priests, and aristocratic ladies resorting to evil.

As La Reynie discovered, not even the Sun King himself was outside the reach of the nefarious plots swirling around seventeenth-century Paris. It seemed half of Paris was caught up in the twisted criminal web, with the dogged La Reynie willing to torture the accused to understand the extent of the Parisian murder spree before it might touch the king. Aristocratic men and women feared being thrown in prison if they so much as had their fortune told by one of the well-known practitioners of magic who were found to be responsible for far more dastardly deeds. Even Louis would be torn between fear for his own life and love for his current and former mistresses, for whom he had a notorious—and expensive—soft spot, when the ranks of the accused swelled to encompass some shockingly intimately placed members of his court.

Tucker proves a brilliant guide to the winding streets and hallowed halls of Louis XIV’s France, from the dark corners of Montorgeuil and the legendary Parisian cathedrals where ungodly rituals and acts were performed to the gilded halls of Versailles. Her thorough research and lively voice bring these vivid, compelling, and sometimes-appalling characters to life as she tells an almost-unbelievable story for which Louis XIV thought he had burned all the evidence.

Holly Tucker is a professor of French and biomedical ethics and society at Vanderbilt University. She lives in Nashville and Aix-en-Provence, France. She is the author of Blood Work, a Los Angeles Times Book Prize finalist, among other works.
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