A Citizen of the Country

Written by Sarah Smith
Review by Marcia Dinneen

Fantasize about reading a novel in Paris, Boston, but mostly in and around the city of Arras, in northern France, a region commonly referred to as Flanders. The time period is 1911, and a future war is already being prepared. The incident of the Germany gunboat at Agadir in Morocco is stirring up soldiers eager for war. This is the reality of Sarah Smith’s A Citizen of the Country, but there is much more.

Several of the principal characters, including Alexander von Reisden and his wife Perdita, were first introduced in Smith’s first novel of this trilogy, The Vanished Child (highly recommended). Their lives are developed in the second novel, The Knowledge of Water. In this novel, Reisden tries desperately to establish himself as an owner of a psychiatric institute in Paris to provide for his wife and young son. However, as a former Austrian spy, he has to convince the French authorities of his loyalties.

Andre, Count of Montfort, is also tormented by the past. Haunted by his belief that his mother poisoned his father, Andre suspects his wife Sabine will poison him. At age five, Andre had stood watch over the dead bodies of his parents, who committed suicide. As an adult, he has become an actor, writer, and theatre-owner specializing in horror films.

At Montfort and Arras people are dying of poison. Who is responsible? Is it Sabine, the wealthy countess? Or is this evidence of political activities, as the sides are beginning to line up three years before the outbreak of World War I? By the end of this novel, the mysteries are resolved.

With such diverse elements, it is a wonder the novel hangs together so well. The characters are the glue. They are believable, and the reader comes to care about them.