Palace of Justice

Written by Susanne Alleyn
Review by Kristen Hannum

October 1793, Paris: Marie Antoinette is on her way to the guillotine, and police investigator Aristide Ravel realizes that a headless body found by the Palais-Égalité (that was and is the Palais-Royal, across from the Louvre), is only one of many beheaded corpses being deposited around the city. A freelance decapitator is at work, “barbarity, ruining any chance of credibility we might have,” according to Ravel’s powerful protector Georges Jacques Danton, a primary architect of the Republique Française. Ravel is also grappling with the impending political trial of his closest childhood friend, an idealistic bourgeois politician whose life is at risk as radical governmental factions begin their mob-pleasing, deadly attacks on moderates.

This is a complicated story, bursting with politics and many characters. Author Susanne Alleyn is justly praised for her intricate plotting, and she shows that off to good effect with Palace of Justice, a textbook example of a plot-driven mystery. Alleyn also clearly knows revolutionary Paris, its hunger, hatreds, and hopes; its Jacobins and Girondins; and also its streets, no-longer-used administrative sections, and landmarks. A map would have made those dozens of references more fun for this reader. The book does include an appreciated glossary, bibliography and historical notes.