Faces of the Dead
Scholastic Press, September 2014
When we were teens, didn’t we all have moments when we wanted to slip out of our reality and be someone else? Who didn’t want to swap with a pro baseball player or the lead singer of a hot rock group? In this book, we have the reverse situation. Marie-Therese, daughter of Marie Antoinette, slips into the streets of Paris at the height of the French Revolution after she and her best friend, Ernestine, daughter of a chambermaid, discover they look so much alike they can switch places at will.
Desperate to see Paris and understand what’s going on outside of her sheltered life at the Versailles Palace, she rides into the city with a dour servant and is shocked to learn, first from him, but then from many others, that her beloved parents are hated by most of the citizenry. Despite this, Marie-Therese can’t stop becoming more fascinated with city life. Her interest becomes even more intense when she meets and starts really liking a poor boy named Henri, who likes her in return and shows her many aspects of city life. Before long, the two of them are almost inseparable and when the revolution spills out of Paris and surrounds the palace, she is trapped in Paris. Henri works at Dr. Curtius’ Wax Museum and it is here that Marie-Therese stays after her family is taken prisoner.
Anna-Marie, a woman who came to the palace to teach Marie-Therese’s aunt her art skills, works there, making most of the life-like images in wax. She recognizes the princess, but doesn’t give her away. Meanwhile, almost everyone in Paris has gone mad and the guillotine in a nearby square is lopping off heads every day. One of the tasks of those working at the wax museum is to gather heads of the notable and famous right after they’re severed and make life-masks for the revolutionaries. Every day, Marie-Therese approaches the square with trepidation, wondering whether she’ll be confronted with the head of one of her family members.
Meanwhile, Anna-Marie and Rose (later to become Josephine, wife of Napoleon), are working on a way to save some of the condemned by using some of the magic Rose learned growing up in the Caribbean. Whether they succeed is a good plot hook.
This is not a perfect read, but certainly a gripping one. Teen readers who like action and intrigue with some history mixed in and who aren’t averse to gory details will enjoy this story. There are several passages that will help them feel like they were right in the middle of an insane moment in French history. The author provides some insight into what was altered and the history of many of the characters who lived during the French Revolution in her notes at the end of the story.
Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, October 2015.
Trouble In Rooster Paradise
T. W. Emory
Coffeetown Press, July 2015
An unusual plot, a different handling, a charming cast but it all goes a bit awry due to incessant if unrealized lechery. An old-time P.I. named Gunnar Nilson, the rooster of the title, is enticed by a comely rehab center volunteer to recall some of his many adventures in crime solving after he returned from the army in the Second World War. Gunnar Nilson, the narrator of the lusty tale, is recovering from a bad fall and broken leg.
Seattle was a different city from the modern sophisticated city of coffee and tall buildings but crime and criminals were little changed. A growing business in high fashion perfumes and fabrics is staffed by the loveliest collection of young women around, a scene in which the young detective revels. His wandering eye never fails to ferret out the most uplifted bosom, tightly enclosed hips and bottoms or long, slender calves in fabulous high heels. Even the older women look tempting to the randy Nilson.
An upper class investor in the business hires Nilson to conduct an investigation of the murder of one of the lovelies employed in the business. He doesn’t much care who murdered whom or why, but he wants to avoid business-damaging scandal.
It’s all played for tongue-in-cheek laughs overlying some very nasty criminal activity as Nilson unwinds his recollection of the case for the young and attractive volunteer. The story is logical, peopled by a recognizable cast of characters, including the slimy business manager, gruff and snarly detectives, and Gunnar’s boon companion who acts as the foil off whom Gunnar can examine the steps and evidence he gradually collects, and the conclusion is satisfactory.
Gunnar’s relationship with the volunteer, Kristi, has a lot of unrealized potential and I look for intriguing future developments from this author and his characters.