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The Dreyfus Affair in Belle Epoque Paris - an Editorial Review of "Bitter Draughts"

Book Blurb:

Paris 1898—the fin de siècle, a turbulent era when passions run as high as prejudice. In the midst of the infamous Dreyfus Affair, as anti-Semitic riots erupt all over Paris, Inspecteur Michel Devaux has a baffling murder to solve. Is it a crime of politics or a crime of passion? As death follows death, Devaux traces their tangled threads from the privileged classes to the seamy Paris underworld. Help comes from unlikely sources: a crime lord, a clairvoyant, a crazy woman who feeds the cemetery cats, and an old friend from the Foreign Legion. Devaux’s calm harbor amid chaos is his friendship with the talented, beautiful American artist, Theodora Faraday. But as he struggles with his own horrific past, Devaux is reluctant to accept her help—because he's falling in love with her.

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Editorial Review:

If you wrong us, shall we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that. - William Shakespeare” (The Merchant of Venice)

In another novel of controversial intrigue affecting social and political emotions within the Belle Époque era of Paris, Yves Fey manages to weave the highly charged details of the Dreyfus Affair into the narrative, and bringing back the well-rounded characters from her first novel, Floats the Dark Shadow.

For most who don't know about the Dreyfus Affair, here is a rundown: The Dreyfus Affair was a political scandal dividing the citizens of France and lasted from 1894 to 1906. The scandal came to symbolize injustice, racial inequality, and antisemitism and was fired by the emotional outcry within the press and public which led to many protests and riots on the streets of Paris. Captain Alfred Dreyfus, a Jew, was accused of treason, and falsely convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment on Devil's Island for divulging military secrets to the German Embassy in Paris. Later, when evidence was revealed as to the real culprit, the new evidence was suppressed and the actual spy acquitted of all charges. The Army laid additional charges against Dreyfus, using forged documents, yet with Zola's revealing letter of the injustice blasted across a French newspaper, the government reopened the case. In 1899, the year of this novel, Dreyfus returned to Paris for another trial, and the “Dreyfusards” (those supporting him) rallied to the city and to his side to support him. This trial divided so many into two categories: pro-republican anti-clerical Dreyfusards, and pro-Army, Catholic “anti-Dreyfusards”, which ultimately changed French politics and encouraged radicalization. All of which sound familiar to modern-day society and which will help the reader connect in a clear way with the characters within the book.

The French romaticized their criminals. Americans too, she supposed. She was not as enchanted with the Parisian underworld as the poets had been when they sat around the cafés, sipping their afternoon apértifs and talking poetry and Parisian life.

Within this framework of “L'Affair”, passions run high, even on a personal level as more and more riots erupt all over the city. A murder occurs at the Temple de la Sybille, the victim a man with close ties to the scandal, and when Michel Devaux, a French inspector, starts sifting through the clues, much is revealed about the actual details behind the scene and he is brought back into contact with former associates from the previous year's investigation – the young artist, Theodora Faraday, whose fame within the art world is rising; Averill Charron, the tortured poet whose new relationship with a notorious criminal weaves a thread through the plotline; and Devaux's former acquaintance and friend from the French Foreign Legion, Zebadiah Jones, a black American who joined the Legion, fleeing the racial prejudice in America, and whose past holds quite a bit of insightful information about Michel Devaux, some the inspector wishes to keep quiet. Once again, Fey manages to plunge the reader into this prejudicial world of 1898 Paris, through the seedy streets of Montmartre, the boiling venues of the Moulin Rouge and Grand Guignol, which are perfect sanctuaries to hide assassins and spies.

It's all so nightmarish,” Theo said. “I've never understood this kind of hatred.” Rémy inhaled sharply, then asked, “Bigotry?” “Yes. I can understand the French hating the Germans – they defeated you in a war not long ago. They bombarded Paris. People starved. But hating all Jews, all Negros, all Indians, all whoever -” She shook her head. “Everyone hates someone,” he whispered. “I don't...” Theo began, but of course she did. She'd hated the evil Casimir had wreaked on everyone, but he'd been pitiable too. She hated Averill's malignant father, unhappy unless he was making someone else miserable. “I hate hatred,” she said to Rémy, trying to make a joke of it. “I'd happily murder hatred.”

As Devaux unravels the mystery behind the murder at the Temple, and as Theo's star climbs, another murder occurs, and the murderer seeks to hide the act within the bubbling chaos of the Dreyfus affair, and blame is laid at the feet of those dividing Paris in two. But as is the case in Belle Époque Paris, Devaux finds help from some unlikely sources: a crime lord, a clairvoyant, and a crazy cat lady who wanders the cemetery near Montmartre and who sees more than she should. When the clues lead closer and closer to the murderer (or murderers?), Devaux comes to realize his affection for Theo Faraday is more than just concern about her safety, and that his friend, Zeb, has returned to Paris with a sinister agenda involving the Dreyfus affair, all of which causes a huge emotional and psychological struggle for Devaux because of his own past.

I became insane, with long intervals of terrible sanity. - Edgar Allen Poe

While this book can be a stand-alone read, the reviewer recommends readers read the first book in this series so as to get a better understanding of Devaux and Faraday's relationship. While Fey does a good job in scattering the former clues related to the first book throughout the narrative, some of the details did not translate as completely understandable without having read the first one. However, Fey slays, once again, and renders a reader utterly gobsmacked at the sheer brilliance of the prose, which is reminiscent of classic literary writers like Mary Shelley, Victor Hugo, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. This book's violence and intimate moments are toned down from the first book, and she handles the political arena with finesse, weaving the emotional impact this festering climate had upon the upper class, as well as the degenerative criminals. Her characters, Devaux and Faraday, are so well-developed and their world so well-built, the reader is led to complete satisfaction with the story, and eager for the next installment of this trilogy.


“Bitter Draughts” by Yves Fey receives five stars from The Historical Fiction Company and the “Highly Recommended” award of excellence.


Author Bio:

Yves Fey's Floats the Dark Shadow is the first book of The Paris Trilogy, set in the dynamic and decadent world of Belle Époque Paris. Her debut mystery won the Silver Medal "IPPY" Independent Publishers Award in mystery, and both the Mystery and Historical Finalist Awards from the Next Generation Indie Book Awards. It's also nominated for ForeWord's Independent Publishers Book of the Year Award in the Mystery Category.

Yves has an MFA in Creative Writing from Eugene Oregon, and a BA in Pictorial Arts from UCLA. She has read, written, and created art from childhood, and is an ardent movie buff. In her varied career, she has been a tie dye artist, go-go dancer, baker, creator of ceramic beasties, illustrator, fiction teacher - and novelist. A chocolate connoisseur, she's won prizes for her desserts. Her current fascination is creating perfumes inspired by her new novels.

Yves has traveled to many countries in Europe and lived for two years in Indonesia. Currently, she resides in the San Francisco Bay area with her husband and two beloved cats, Charlotte and Emily, the Flying Brontë Sisters.

Writing as Gayle Feyrer and Taylor Chase, she previously published four unusually dark and mysterious historical romances, The Prince of Cups, The Thief's Mistress, Heart of Deception and Heart of Night.

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