The Phantom of Rue Royale: A Nicolas Le Floch Investigation
By Jean-François Parot
Translated by Howard Curtis
Gallic £11.99, 350 pages
FT Bookshop price: £9.59

Parot’s third adventure starring 18th-century sleuth Nicolas Le Floch begins with high drama. The dauphin, heir to the French throne, is marrying Marie-Antoinette; Le Floch has been assigned to protect him. Disaster strikes when horse-drawn carriages charge into the crowds, crushing and killing many. Among the bodies, Nicolas finds his case – a woman clutching a black pearl, who has been strangled.

The plot is engaging enough, if formulaic; Parot’s real talent is for well researched, elaborate period descriptions. Breathing in the smell of freshly baked bread, Nicolas remembers “the terrible, musty odour of wet fire and blood hovering over Place Louis XV”.

None of the pace is lost in Curtis’s translation. The choice not to translate some terms – fichu, faubourg, choucroute – is a constant, colourful reminder of the setting.

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