Here the reader is transported back to England and France, principally Paris and its environs, on the eve of the French Revolution. Anne Cartier, an English music hall entertainer who has become a teacher to the deaf in Paris, begins the dangerous task of tracking down the mysterious death of her beloved stepfather, Antoine. The aristocratic Colonel Paul de Saint-Martin, whose family she knew as a child, aids her in this effort as she enters the decadent world of the French aristocracy and ambitious merchants who callously treat the classes below them with contempt. Throughout there are brief indications of the looming storms of revolution, most vividly expressed by Saint-Martin who questions the concept of noble privilege.
OBrien gives us glimpses of Parisian theater life, helping to explain Annes unconventional spirit and acrobatic feats as she more than once puts herself in danger while trying to uncover the true culprits. Her actions seem a bit unreal for the time, and more could have been made of the lives of ordinary Parisians. But there are many bits of interesting historical accurate information here. Among them is Annes association with Frances deaf institute. Also note the Royal Highway Patrol, references to various luminaries such as Thomas Jefferson, Marie Antoinette, and Voltaire, and the influence of enlightenment beliefs and the Masonic Lodge. Laudably, the low status of actresses in Annes time is indicated. But given this, the indications of a potential marriage between Anne and the Colonel seem improbable. A love affair yes, a marriage most likely no.
The book includes a map of 1786 Paris and an authors afternote. This is the first of three books featuring Anne Cartier.