The Chatalet Apprentice

The Chatelet Apprentice: A Nicolas Le Floch Mystery - Jean-Francois Parot;(Translated by Michael Glencross)

French? Check. Ancien régime? Check. Crime? Check. A pretty perfect holiday read for me then, or so I thought.
While I can’t claim to know much about the period, I've enjoyed other books set around the era (Pure, The Count of Monte Cristo) and fancied returning to it.

The opening scene had me excited. Tense and evocative, I looked forward to getting to the bottom what seemed to be an interesting mystery.

But sadly it wasn’t long before the blemishes began to show.

Whether due to poor translation, a French style that doesn’t quite work with my English sensibilities, or the author’s flaws, the book is stodgy. Reams of description bog down the story, as does unnecessary historical and culinary detail. A skilful skim reader will only need to read one paragraph every 3rd page.

Moments of suspense or excitement are poorly structured and rushed in the extreme. The resolutions of the culprits are two significant examples, but the book is littered with them. The epilogue is as obvious as it is tacked on with a staple gun.

The characters are enjoyable stereotypes in the main but Nicholas Le Floch is nigh on unbearable. Such perfection! Even when he knows people should hate him, he does nothing to rectify the situation - they are all to busy swooning beneath the glow of his unrelenting magnificence. Weaknesses? None.

This is all before you consider the book's merits as a mystery story. No subtly left clues here. No build up of suspicion. It's all so heavy handed and seems a second thought to Parot, leaving you feeling cheated.

I picked this up having seen a later volume in the series nominated for a CWA award. Sadly, as I have discovered on a few occasions, this endorsement isn’t always the indicator of quality that it should be.

This is the first Nicholas Le Floch book in the series and it will be my last. Au revoir, Monsieur Parfait.