The City of Tears
by Kate Mosse
‘The assassin watched the whore sway, then saw the blossoming of red on green as she fell. He exhaled then relaxed his shoulders. He could not be sure she was mortally wounded but it was a palpable hit. Thanks be to God, his shot had found its target.’
It seems no time at all since I was reading and reviewing Kate Mosse’s last historical, The Burning Chambers. And I have had to wait three years, not two, for the next volume of her trilogy!
However, The City of Tears was well worth the wait. Kate Mosse, one of the best writers of historical fiction alive today, combines fact and fiction in a pacy narrative of events surrounding the infamous St Bartholomew’s Massacre of 1572. She re-introduces the Reydon/Joubert family, now settled in their country estate in Languedoc, and the sinister villain Cardinal Vidal, collector of relics, who is now only a step away from acquiring the last of his seven steps to the Cross.
As a prominent French family, Minou and Piet Reydon are invited to the forthcoming wedding of the year in Paris. The hope of a restoration of peace and good relations between Catholic and Huguenot rests on the marriage of Henri of Navarre and Princess Margot of Valois. But there are factions within France and Holland, on both sides, who do not want to be reconciled. Travelling with their two children, Marta and Jean-Jacques, and with Minou’s father and aunt, the family are caught up in the feuding and the violence. (Don’t worry that Alexandre Dumas – La Reine Margot – has covered this historical episode, and done it well. The City of Tears tackles it from another angle and is different!)
‘Marta rubbed her eyes. Though she had been trying to pretend otherwise for some time, the plain truth was she was lost….. Marta blinked away her misery and tramped on, telling herself all would be well. It was still an adventure, but she was tired.’
Left in charge of their home, Minou’s sister Alis is the target of an assassin and takes a bullet intended for Minou herself. Meantime, in Paris, the independent and wayward Marta goes missing during the violence. Piet is resigned to her being dead, while Minou continues to hope. Her annoyance at his apparent lack of feeling, and his secrecy about his search for some documents threaten to shake their marriage. Complicating the situation further is Minou’s knowledge that Vidal is alive, also in Paris and possibly seeking revenge on them for thwarting him ten years earlier. They flee the city for Amsterdam.
The scene shifts to Amsterdam, where the family has now settled with help of a Catholic friend, Cordelia van Raay, and her merchant father. Holland is under the rule of the Spanish king, but the Protestant faction plans a take over of the parliament, and to instal the Prince of Orange as ruler. The intended peaceful revolution does take place, but turns to violence.
Meanwhile, Vidal has changed his identity to escape the Duc de Guise and, with the help of his son Louis, has collected all but one of the relics. They are installed in an island chapel on his estate near Chartres. And it is there that the Reydon-Jouberts, having learned the secret of Piet’s birth, must go to confront their nemesis.
‘Taking her captors by surprise, [Minou] broke loose and ran. But almost instantly, they were on her. Minou felt a rough arm go round her neck and pull her backwards off her feet. Dirty fingers were spread across her mouth, disgusting and intimate.’
But Minou and Piet are not the only ones looking for Vidal. A young woman called Marie Cabenet claims to have the item he desires and is willing to trade it. But does she, and is she? Five people come together on Vidal’s island for the final climactic scene, which will resolve a decades-old mystery and a much more recent one. It is a meeting that will not pass without more violence and death.
The City of Tears is a novel with all the right ingredients for a sparkling thriller. Here, the tragic history of the late sixteenth century comes alive with tense and emotive scenes, crisp dialogue and convincing characters.