The Bottom Line: Historical suspense fans should get in on the ground floor of this riveting and spectacularly researched new series from Jefferson Flanders.
The Republic of Virtue opens, appropriately enough, with a duel in 18th century Paris. It’s dawn at the Champ de Mars, and there are no witnesses. After several intense minutes of combat, the victor floats his opponent’s dead body downriver, and tosses his sword into the deep water. Before leaving the scene, he checks his clothes to ensure that there’s no blood on them. There isn’t. In fact, there’s no evidence that the duel ever took place.
Enter Calvin Tarkington, a young Boston merchant-trader, who arrives in Paris on July 4th. He finds a city in turmoil, riven by quarrels between revolutionary factions and threatened by advancing Coalition armies. Calvin’s brother Alexander, the family firm’s representative in France, has disappeared after being fingered as a possibly spy for the British.
Among his brother’s things, Calvin finds a provocative note in Alexander’s handwriting:
Order of battle. Toulon.
W. How? Why? Ask S.
This set of cryptic clues will fuel Calvin’s search for truth and justice. Going along for the ride is nothing short of a joy, thanks largely to Flanders’ gift for literary atmospherics. The scent of gunpowder, acrid wine and lavender water seem to leap from the pages, and the detailed descriptions of the Parisians themselves would be the envy of any Hollywood costume designer.
Flanders manages a large cast of characters well, but if you find yourself lost, fear not – he’s included a handy list of character descriptions in the back. The Republic of Virtue is also bookended with author’s notes that provide deeply satisfying context for the historical period.
After polishing off this first entry, you won’t have to wait long to check out The Boston Trader, the next installment in The Tarkingtons series.