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Well-written, intriguing historical suspense

  • Aug 13, 2010
Baron Harsanyi is a military attache at the Austrian embassy in 1870s Paris. As war between France and Prussia becomes increasingly likely, the need is high for mercury fulminate, an explosive. The Prussians already have a source. The English have the ability to manufacture it for both sides but need more cinnabar ore. France has no source.

Baron Harsanyi's wife owns a large cinnabar mine in Idria, but she refuses French and English offers to buy her ore. After the Baron's wife suddenly dies, he plays a dangerous game with the English, French, and Prussians to see who wants his cinnabar the most. Several would be happy to see the Baron dead in the hopes his son, Rudolph, would be more willing to sell to them.

Baron Harsanyi doesn't let his son in on his schemes, so Rudolph is left with increasing doubts and anger toward his father. When his father orders him to train to become a military officer but then refuses to let him fight with the French in the war, he gives in to his doubts and runs away.

The Baron's daughter, Therese, is so wrapped up in her romance with a dashing French cavalry officer that she doesn't notice the political intrigue surrounding her family until the war separates her from her beloved. With her mother dead, her brother gone, and her father increasingly absent, she worries about the changes pulling her family and world apart. But she's told there's nothing a young woman like her can do about it.

Are they right? Will the greed and need for cinnabar destroy the Harsanyi family?

"Dark in the City of Light" is a historical suspense novel set mainly in France in the 1870s. There was also a "who-done-it" mystery in this story, though that's not obvious at first. The "who-done-it" was also not obvious, though there were enough clues that the reader could guess the answer before the main characters did (since the characters were limited by their not knowing they needed to share the clues).

The world-building was excellent, vividly describing the locations, events, and politics of the time period. Because politics were a driving force behind much of the suspense, it's woven into the story and didn't slow the pacing. The suspense was from the physical danger to the various characters and the strain on the family relationships. The characters were interesting, complex, varied, and acted realistically. They dealt with realistic problems, and I cared about what happened to them.

The characters didn't believe in God (at least, not one active in human affairs). However, they had a habit of saying, "Only God could do that" with the implied assumption that He wouldn't. At the end, one character said that if a certain impossible thing did happen, it'd be proof God existed. You can guess what happens, but that's about the extent of the religious content.

There was no sex or bad language. Overall, I'd highly recommend this intriguing novel to those who enjoy clean, well-written historical suspense.

I received this book as a review copy from the publisher.

Reviewed by Debbie from Genre Reviews

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More Dark in the City of Light: A N... reviews
review by . August 25, 2010
With war on the horizon, cinnabar was in high demand by both the French and the Prussians. Baron Ferdinand Haranyi's wife owned large cinnabar mines and was in complete control of them. When she became mysteriously ill and died, those mines became Ferdinand's for him to manage until their son Rudolph turned twenty-three. As an Austrian attaché to France, Ferdinand's control of the mines and his decision of which country to sell to could drastically effect the outcome of the impending war. However, …
review by . July 28, 2010
posted in Christian Fiction
     Dark in the City of Light by Paul Robertson is compelling historical fiction about 1870s Paris. Baron Harsanyi works for the Austrian ambassador working in Paris. His late wife owned some cinnabar mines that produce the highly prized materials that the English, Prussian, and French are all bidding for. Their political machinations fill the novel with twists and turns. His daughter Therese loves being in the City of Light, especially with her forbidden beau Auguste who may have …
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Debbie White ()
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I review books, do organic gardening (vegetables, fruit trees, etc.), mentor a young lady, and work with inmates at the local jail and state prison units. I live in a passive solar house (with an active … more
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About this book


Baron Ferdinand Harsanyi, an Austrian diplomat stationed in Paris, gets control of his wife's valuable mines after her mysterious death. The mines produce mercury, a product sought by both France and Prussia as they hover on the brink of war in 1870. Harsanyi's two adult children have their own concerns: Rudolph reluctantly attends military school as his father wishes despite his own desire to attend the Sorbonne, and Therese takes up with a dashing French captain, Auguste de l'Imperator. The outbreak of war is only one of the complications that affects the family's relationships. European history buffs will appreciate this well-researched story featuring a number of real figures and events of the period. A sense of Paris under siege is nicely cinematic. But readers looking for a human story should go elsewhere; the characters evoke little empathy, and the plot gets a little slow and convoluted in its attempt to disguise the villains. The author is better at history than psychology.
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ISBN-10: 0764205692
ISBN-13: 978-0764205699
Author: Paul Robertson
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Bethany House
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