By Marcus Sedgwick
Publisher: Pegasus Crime (March, 2017)
Kindle edition: $12.99
* The paperback edition of this book will be released May 8, 2018.
Reviewed by Shirley Wetzel
Marcel Despres never fit in, not in his village, not in turn-of-the-century Paris. Born in 1866 in a village in the heart of the champagne country, he was the only child of humble parents who toiled in the vineyards. He was a disappointing child, unable to complete the simplest of tasks. He didn’t play with the other children, he was not athletic, and he was a poor student. He had only one friend, Ginette, daughter of the local doctor. When both his parents died of influenza in 1889, he was lost.
Ginette’s father urged him to go to Paris, where there was work for any able-bodied man. Marcel had a number of menial jobs, but none lasted long. He only realized he had a special ability when he was able to recount, in great detail, a deadly bombing to a newspaper editor. To everyone’s surprise, he didn’t need notes. Marcel never forgot anything. He continued to report news stories with equally amazing success, but it didn’t take long for him to lose interest. Once again he was out on the street.
An acquaintance suggested he take his talent to the cabarets of Pigalle, christening him with a stage name: Marcel Memoire, Mister Memory. The audience appreciated his astounding skills, and for a while he thought he’d found somewhere he belonged. That career ended with a bang the night found his showgirl wife in the act with her lover. His gun was at hand, he lost control, and he shot her. He raced out the door in a total panic, but he only got a few yards away when he stopped fell to his knees.
He was taken to jail without resisting, not moving, not speaking, not seeing. The Surete quickly decided he was insane and shut him away in the Saltpetriere Asylum. Dr. Lucien Morel, Assistant Chief Alienist at the hospital, was assigned his case. He failed at first to get through to the man, and diagnosed him as a hysterical catatonic. Morel had little hope for him, but in the weeks that followed, he did make some progress. He discovered Marcel’s unique ability: a very rare case of hypermnesia. Marcel could recall every day, every moment, of his life back to the womb. Morel had visions of attaining fame and fortune when he presented “Morel’s Syndrome” to the world. As Marcel opened up more and more, however, the doctor became sympathetic and protective of his vulnerable patient.
One other person was focused on Marcel: police Inspector Laurent Petit. Petit had his own personal reasons for wanting to make the young man pay for taking the life of a beautiful young woman. During his investigation, his focus changed. Something much bigger and more sinister was going on. Paris, the City of Light, had a very dark side as well: corruption in high places, violence, all manner of debauchery and depravity. He began to suspect that Depres was a pawn in a very dangerous game, and joined Dr. Morel in proving his innocence.Marcus Sedgwick, author of several well-received novels, has created a powerful novel: part historical; part psychological; part suspense, all resulting in one fine story. The City of Paris at the end of the twentieth century comes alive in all its glory and darkness, the sights, the sounds, the smells. The political, medical, and social aspects of the city are meticulously detailed, blending seamlessly into the story. Highly recommended.
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