In the Company of Fools (A Christine de Pizan Mystery)

Written by Tania Bayard
Review by Ilysa Magnus

Set in Paris in 1396, this entry in Bayard’s Christine de Pizan series centers around the scribe’s investigations into seemingly unrelated murders, the abandonment of a baby, and the public fear of Valentina Visconti, Duchess of Orleans.  Is the Duchess using sorcery on the King?  Why is she able to calm him down when he goes into his insane behaviors and no one else can?

The King’s fools discover a baby girl abandoned in the palace garden.  She stinks and has markings on her face.  Between the henbane pods and the grease on her face, the clear intent of the perpetrator was to implicate Valentina, who is universally thought of as a sorceress.  When Christine brings the baby home to her mother, it is everything she can do to prevent the baby from being tossed in the fire because of the fear that the baby is the devil’s spawn.

Christine decides to find the child’s parents, to dissuade everyone from the superstitious belief that Valentina is a sorceress and to connect the dots.  All the while, Christine is told that she should not be investigating and that her work is unwomanly.

This is my first Christine mystery, and I found her and the other major characters engaging.  Christine is both intuitive and, in many ways, modern.  The overarching presence of superstitious beliefs during that time is the driving force in the story, and Christine does everything she can to impose her rational reality on the madness around her.