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text 2020-06-02 16:00
Reading progress update: I've read 112 out of 380 pages.
L'énigme des Blancs-Manteaux - Jean-François Parot

(English text and images below.  Some images in spoiler tags -- trigger warning: substantial gross-out factor.)

 

Images en bas, quelques-uns marquées "spoiler" -- attention: risque de nausée considérable.

 

Thanatos: le titre du chapitre dit tout ce qui est nécessaire pour résumir le chapitre no. 5. -- En aillerurs, puisque Nicolas résiste à confirmer l'identité du mort trouvé avec l'aide de la vieille Émilie, probablement il vaut mieux ne pas encore fermer le dossier sur ce sujet-ci.  Pourtant, même si ce n'est pas l'un, sûrement ça veut dire que c'est l'autre ... et le propriétaire de ces vêtements, en aurait-il vraiment se débarassé volontiers?  Je le doute.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Thanatos: The title of chapter 5 says all that's necessary to sum up its contents. -- Since, incidentally, Nicolas refuses to confirm the identity of the dead person found with old Émilie's help, it's probably a good idea to keep an open mind on that.  But surely, if it's not one then it must be the other ... and would the owner of those clothes really have given them up voluntarily?  I doubt it.

 

 

Place de Grève and Quartier de l'Hôtel de Ville (late 18th century map and depiction from the 1750s, respectively).  The Place de Grève was later renamed Place de l'Hôtel de Ville (and still has that name today). -- For reference: Le Châtelet is just to the left of here.

 

 

Montfaucon, the actual location where the largely decomposed body was recovered. 

(For reference: The Place de Grève / today: Place de l'Hôtel de Ville is in the spot of the "Pa" of the word "Paris"; Le Châtelet was just beyond the second bridge to the left of there.)

 

 

Montfaucon had been the main gallows of Paris since the Middle Ages; in addition, in 1761, the year in which this book is set, the refuse dump already existing there was declared the city's main refuse dump.  Équarrisseurs (knackers' yards -- the places where horses were slaughtered and dismembered ... with every single atom of their bodies destined to be put to new use) are documented there in 1766; what with the area's general nature, it makes perfect sense for Parot to suppose their existence already in 1761.

 


"The Gibbet of Montfaucon"

(Sources and further information: here and here)

 

Montfaucon, cours des équarisseurs

(Source and further information)

 

(Given that those hanged at Montfaucon were denied a Christian burial and were dumped onto the refuse, the "soupe infâme en matière d'Arlequin ... des morceaux dérobés à Montfaucon" that Émilie sells gains an unspeakably vile meaning.)

 

Place de Grève: the execution of Damiens (described in detail, on the basis of actual historical sources, in the course of chapter 5). (Source: Wikipedia)

(spoiler show)

 

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text 2020-06-01 17:45
Reading progress update: I've read 94 out of 380 pages.
L'énigme des Blancs-Manteaux - Jean-François Parot

Expand for images.

 

(Images et texte français en bas.)

 

I'm at the end of chapter 4 now, and things are definitely getting interesting.

 

The first two chapters (not merely chapter 1) were basically exposition, designed to get across that Nicolas is alone in Paris, with nothing to call him back to Brittany and, on the other hand, his job keeping him busy in the capital and providing the key reason for him to remain there.  The second chapter (set in Brittany and explaining why he believes he's left it behind for good) was well-written, though, I thought.  And leaving aside my usual minor eye-roll at the fact that a young, personable recent ex-trainée is being put in charge of a major investigation (bypassing every single more senior professional), at least Nicolas isn't making a complete fool of himself -- and he is actually willing to listen to his more experienced second in command (whom he has asked to be put at his disposition to begin with), so props for that.

 

The action has caught up with (and moved on from) the scenes of the "official" prologue, which we now know happened on the night of Nicolas's arrival in Chartres (i.e., on the doorsteps of Paris) on his return from Brittany, and we now also know the identity of one of the corpses deposited on the road to La Villette -- and can at least guess at that of the second one.  And if I hadn't decided that just around noon was late enough to be getting up, I might actually have continued reading after all ... (which my cats would surely have preferred, seeing as it would have meant more cozy-up-with-mom-in-bed time for them).

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Je viens de terminer le 4e chapitre, et les choses définitivement commencent à être intéressantes.

 

Les deux premiers chapitres (pas seulement le chapitre premier) principalement servent de mise en scène, et sont désignés de transmettrre l'idée de Nicolas seul à Paris, sans rien de le ramener à la Bretagne et, de l'autre côté, avec son métier fournissant son occupation et la raison principale pour lui de rester à la capitale.  Pourtant, le deuxième chapitre (qui se déroule en Bretagne et explique pourquoi Nicolas croit l'avoir quitté pour toujours) est bien écrit, je pense.  Et à part du fait que je suis, comme toujours, un peu énervée de voir un jeune et sympathique ex-apprenti récent mis en chef d'une investigation importante (en dépassant chacun des professionels avec plus d'expérience), du moins Nicolas ne se rend pas ridicule -- et il est même prêt à écouter aux conseils de son officier adjoint plus éprouvé (lequel Nicolas lui-même a demandé être mis à sa disposition), donc ça me rend content.

 

L'action a maintenant repris (et continué) des scènes du prologue *officiel" qui, on sait maintenant, s'est déroulé dans la nuit de l'arrivée de Nicolas à Chartres (c-à-d au seuil de Paris) durant son retour de Bretagne; et on connaît aussi maintenant l'identité d'un des cadavres déposés sur la route à La Villette -- et l'on peut du moins deviner celui du deuxième.  Et si je n'avais pas déterminé qu'il était déjà assez tard, au midi, de me lever, j'aurais bien pu continuer de lire ... (ce que mes chats sans doute auraient préféré, puisqu'il aurait signifié, pour eux, plus de temps de câliner au lit de maman).

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Le Châtelet (destroyed at the beginning of the 19th century) and its location

 

Rue des  Blancs-Manteaux today (screenshot from Google Streetview) and its location -- Le Châtelet is in the lower left corner of the map, on the banks of the Seine.  The exact location of Lardin's house in the rue des Blancs-Manteaux is unclear, as the two side streets mentioned as reference points do not / no longer exist.

 

The locations of Vaugirard (in the southwest) and La Villette (in the northeast), both now incorporated into the city of Paris.  Châtelet is almost exactly halfway between both (former) villages where the "P" of "Paris" is on the map.  (Right-click on the image to see a larger version of the map.)

 


Map of La Villette (1730)

 


Map of Vaugirard (1805)

 

(Neither the present-day La Villette nor the present-day [Blvd. de] Vaugirard recall, even in the slightest, the erstwhile villages.)

 

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text 2020-05-31 16:01
Reading progress update: I've read 41 out of 380 pages.
L'énigme des Blancs-Manteaux - Jean-François Parot

Buddy read en français avec / with Tannat & onnurtilraun.

 

(English text below.)

 

Et donc ça commence!  Comme d'Artagnan, Maigret, Valjean, Astérix et des nombreux autres protagonistes littéraires français (en tant comme, en ailleurs, La Pucelle, Voltaire, Rousseau, Robespierre, Danton, Marat, Desmoulins, Balzac, Hugo, Flaubert, Maupassant, Sand, Marguerite de Navarre, Napoléon Bonaparte et beaucoup plus d'autres personnages historiques -- pour ne même pas parler du Mouron rouge; héro français fictif qui était après tout, en vérité anglais), notre protagoniste, Nicolas Le Floch, n'est pas né à Paris mais en province: La capitale doit affiner ces gens (eh bien, sauf Astérix, évidemment), mais elle ne les produit pas.  Nous sommes donc traités d'une autre entrée à la vie citadine aux yeux grands ouverts, et la rapide transformation d'un jeune homme naïf et peu formé en un professionel bien entraîné et sûr des exigences de son métier.  Pourtant, je suis contente que tout cela se déroule au premier chapitre qui en vérité sert de prologue additionel -- en plus du prologue "officiel" qui apparemment doit nous introduire à certains aspects du crime que formera le sujet de l'enquête de Nicolas -- et à la fin duquel Nicolas est déjà de nouveau en route vers sa Bretagne natale ... pour y accomplir quoi?  À voir au chapitre prochain, je pense ...

 

Des deux supérieurs de Nicolas que nous venons de rencontrer au premier chapitre, Sartine me paraît le plus intéressant (et franchement le plus sympathique).  Je n'ai pas de confiance en Lardin (ni en ailleurs sa femme).

 

~~~~~~~~~~~

 

So it begins!  Like d'Artagnan, Maigret, Valjean, Astérix, and numerous other French literary characters (as well as, incidentally, the Maid of Orleans, Voltaire, Rousseau, Robespierre, Danton, Marat, Desmoulins, Balzac, Hugo, Flaubert, Maupassant, Sand, Marguerite de Navarre, Napoléon Bonaparte, and plenty of other historical personages -- not to mention the Scarlet Pimpernel, that fictional French hero who was, in reailty, of course an Englishman), our main character, Nicolas Le Floch, isn't a native Parisian but from the French provinces: The capital may refine these good folks (well, with the exception of Asterix, of course), but it doesn't actually bring them forth.  So we're treated to yet another wide-eyed entry into city life, and the rapid transformation of a nave and unschooled young man into a well-trained professional with a firm handle on the demands of his job.  I'm glad, though, that this is all taken care of in the very first chapter, which essentially serves as a second prologue -- in addition to the "official" prologue, which apparently introduces us to some of the aspects of the crime that Nicoals will be investigating -- and at the end of which Nicholas is already leaving Paris again for his native Brittany ... to do what?  We'll find out in the next chapter, I think ...

 

Of Nicolas's two bosses that we have met in the first chapter, I think Sartine is the more interesting one (also frankly the one I just like better).  I don't much trust Lardin (or his wife, for that matter).

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text 2020-05-28 10:43
Reading progress update: I've listened 72 out of 552 minutes. - Le Train Bleu
Naughty in Nice - Rhys Bowen,Katherine Kellgren

This is my sixth 'Her Royal Spyness' novel (I know, this is the fifth in the series but I started out of sequence with 'The Twelve Clues Of Christmas' the sixth book in the series and I'm only now catching up). They've become a comfort read for me. Before Lockdown, I listened to them on long car journeys. I'm listening to this one while I sit idly in the garden (again) and try to remember what day it is.

 

The thing to love or hate about this series is that it's always the same cast of characters and the same sources of humour in each book. All that changes is the location and the task that Georgie has to accomplish. I'm just finishing the set-up part of the book and soon Georgie will be leaving the miserable London winter behind and travelling to Nice on the French Riviera.

 

Part of the charm of the series is seeing how this was done in 1931 when the elite travelled by boat train from Victoria and then by The Blue Train, an overnight luxury express train direct from Calais to Nice. 

 

 

Everything is different now, in this time of private jets. The boat train from Victoria Station stopped in 1980. I took it once in the Seventies as part of a school trip. It was battered and basic by that time but I still enjoyed it. All that's left of the old tradition now is the magnificent Le Train Bleu restaurant in the Garé du Nord in Paris, which is now a national monument. If you ever get to travel by Eurostar from London to Paris (which these days takes just over two hours) it's worth taking the time to look at this place.

 

 

I've only been to Nice on business on the way to a tech conference in Cannes (in the winter of course) and my luxurious travel was a seat on EasyJet, an economy airline that favours a bright orange livery and tiny seats, earning it the nickname SqueazyJet.

 

So I'm looking forward to seeing how these things were done by the wealthy in the thirties, while most people were struggling to feed themselves.

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review 2020-05-27 15:24
'A Quiet Life In The Country - Lady Hardcastle #1' by T E Kinsey
A Quiet Life In The Country - T E Kinsey,Elizabeth Knowelden

My wife had already read 'A Quiet Life In The Country' by T E Kinsey and immediately moved on to 'In The Market For Murder', the second Lady Hardcastle book, so I knew I was in for a good time with this period-piece cosy mystery.

 

Set in 1908, the book centres around the unique relationship between the redoubtable Lady Hardcastle, an eccentric widow with a mysterious past and Florence Armstrong, her maid and confidant, who is an expert in martial arts.

 

The two are seeking a quiet life in the country which, thankfully two events quickly thwart this ambition; they discover a dead body in the woods and one of the local gentry asks for their help in recovering a lost valuable.

 

For me, it was the perfect light read. It made me smile almost constantly and occasionally laugh out loud. As my wife had already read it, I kept finding myself turning to her and saying, 'I've just reached the part where Florence...' and we'd laugh about it because it was simply too good not to share.

 

Told from the point of view of Florence Armstrong, ladies maid to Lady Hardcastle it is full of nuanced wit, much of it around the rules governing the relationship between gentry and the rest of us. The relationship between Florence and Lady Armstrong is unconventional and based on several years of depending on each other as circumstances lead them to travel through various hostile environment from China, through Burma to India.

 

The mystery is just twisty enough to be interesting and a cast of characters that includes local gentry, the village cricket team, bigwigs in the local shipping industry and bohemian musicians playing 'American Music'. None of it is particularly challenging but it shows off the people well, It is so cosy in tone that, despite the deaths, it barely causes a ripple of emotion.

 

There is some playful use of creative anachronism which allows that Lady Hardcastle, drawing on her education in science at Cambridge, creates two now-taken-for-granted-but-then unknown concepts to help her investigations: the Murder Board (a large blackboard with hand-drawn portraits) and a visual timeline.

 

I also liked that Lady Hardcastle is the sort of woman who has written to Conan Doyle, asking him to stop Holmes from referring to his technique as 'deduction' when it is clearly 'abduction'. I had to look that one up and having done so, all I can say is that Holmes should have known better.

 

What made the book so enjoyable for me was the relationship between Florence Armstrong and Emily Hardcastle (aren't those names to conjure with?). I love the joy they take not only in confounding people's expectations of how women should behave but also in using those expectations to their own advantage. I'd read the book just for the banter between them. It's clever, playful and affectionate. These are strong women who care for each other and who have found a way to live together that satisfies them and holds society at bay.

 

Elizabeth Knowelden's narration is a perfect fit for this book. She gets all the voices perfectly. Click on the SoundCloud link below to hear a sample.

 
https://soundcloud.com/brilliance-audio/a-quiet-life-in-the-country-by-t-e-kinsey 

 

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