Sampler: The Year of the Oath by Peter Stevens and Ian Honeysett
October 1, 2020
Someone is killing members of the clergy in increasingly bizarre way in this gripping crime thriller set in the French Revolution.
It is 1790 and the French Revolution is moving fast.
Catholic Church property has been nationalised and is being sold off to reduce the vast state debts. Monastic orders have largely been dissolved. King Louis XVl has been forced to accept the changes. Now, all clergy are being required to swear an Oath of Allegiance to the State.
Pierre Reynard, now promoted to Canon, struggles with his conscience over whether to take the Oath. Many of his colleagues have refused and been expelled from France. Resistance is brutally crushed.
Against this background, as though things were not bad enough, members of the clergy are being murdered, so fuelling the unrest. There are numerous suspects including a female assassin and a most unusual giant.
It is Commissaire Rouget Maison’s task to stop the killings and arrest the murderers. In this, he is assisted by a new young, radical policeman, Inspector Jules Drabert, and obstructed by an old rival, Inspector Anton Fevrier, who hates everything the two of them stand for.
Sampler: The Year of the Oath
Someone was shaking him by the shoulder. He was confused – still half asleep. He could not move his arms. They seemed to be tied to his chair. This made no sense. The room was in darkness except for just one flickering candle. He was about to speak when a face thrust itself into his.
“So, you have awoken, Abbé. You looked so peaceful in your slumber. So innocent …and yet we both know you are far from innocent, don’t we?” The voice delivering these ominous words was like that of a woman, but the face, which showed no trace of femininity, was contorted with hatred.
“Far from innocent? What do you mean? Who are you and why are my arms tied?”
“I thought it would save time, Abbé. And it would be somewhat unseemly to have to chase you around your own presbytery, wouldn’t it?”
“What do you want with me? Are you a robber? I must tell you, I am a poor priest. I have nothing of material value.”
“Oh, I doubt that, Abbé. I really do. You priests are always looking for ways to take the hard-earned sous from the pockets of the poor. I suspect you have pots of money. But, no, I’m no thief! I am here to exact justice. Justice for your misdeeds. Justice for all that you and your like have done. “
Abbé Roulade focussed on the face before him. An angry face. A large, red face. And, on his head, the red cap of Liberty as he believed it was called. A Revolutionary. An enemy of the Church without a doubt. He was now very afraid.
“What are you proposing to do to me? You may want to believe I am an oppressor of the poor but you are very mistaken, my son. I can assure…”
“I am not your son and do not dare to assure me of anything, you hypocrite! I will tell you exactly what I have to do to you…”
“Have to do, did you say? Why do you have to do it? Has someone told you to …what, kill me? Who is your master?”
“I have no “Master”, priest! I am a free man. A son of Liberty! But, since you ask, yes, I have a sacred duty to rid this country of your sort. I have been given my task and I will carry it out…”
The man’s eyes had clouded over. He was no longer in this world, thought the Abbé. He was clearly deranged and there would be no reasoning with him. He stood back, and Abbé Roulade could see that he was a man of considerable size, strong but with a strange amount of fat. Clearly there was no point in trying to resist him. And now, in his huge hands, he was holding a large piece of wood. A large wooden cross with the longest piece sharpened terribly at the end. It really didn’t bear thinking about what he was going to do with it. The Abbé began to pray. Louder and louder. There was little hope that anyone would hear. There was no one to hear except the Lord. He knew, despite what he had said, that he himself was not without sin, particularly the sins of anger and hatred against the instigators of this revolution crippling France.
“Stop that,” shouted the man. “Stop that praying! That won’t save you! Nothing can save you from the death you and your kind have condemned so many to in the past. I can promise you; this will be very, very painful, though not as painful as what your church has done to me. For me, and all who support the Revolution, this will be a moment of pure cleansing. Justice!”
Suddenly there was scream that might have issued from the very depths of Hell, except that it could have come from a child, or a woman. The man had dropped the wooden stake and was hopping up and down as it became apparent that Corrie had appeared to protect his master. He might be old but he was far from toothless. He had sunk his teeth into the man’s right leg and was determined to hang on. The intruder tried to grab the dog but now it was sinking its teeth into his right hand instead. There was blood everywhere. Abbé Roulade could do nothing but urge Corrie on. And pray that, somehow, he might chase his assailant away. Perhaps those screams would yet be heard by a neighbour?
But it was not to be. The man managed to get his powerful hands around Corrie’s throat and squeeze the life from him. It seemed to take forever but, eventually, with a shout of triumph, he flung the lifeless dog at the Abbé. And then, seizing the stake, plunged it time after time into the Abbé. Screaming all the time that all enemies of liberty would so perish. Roulade was the first, but he would certainly not be the last!
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