Parisian Prodigal, by Alan Gordon
Hardcover, 336 pages
St. Martin’s Press
January 19, 2010
About five years or so ago, I was fumbling through the new mystery section at the library, looking for one of my favorite authors who was supposed to have a new book out. I never did find that one; instead, I came across a book called An Antic Disposition. Don’t ask me what it was about this book that made me pick it up, but I did and I’m glad I did. It’s easily one of the best books I’ve ever read and is on my desert island list.
The thing is, I kind of came in mid-stream, so to speak. Disposition was the fifth book in the Fools’ Guild series by author Alan Gordon. Lucky me! I got to go back and read the first four books and there have been three books since, counting the current entry in the series, The Parisian Prodigal.
The backstory on these books is that the medieval fool was far more than the 13th century equivalent of Jay Leno. The conceit of the series is that the Fools were actually more like MI6 or the CIA — using their undoubted influence on their noble or royal masters to manipulate events and cause political change, hopefully for the better. The hero of the series is one, Theophilos (his Guild name), who takes on several other names through the series as part of the missions he is sent on. Along the way, he acquires a wife, Claudia, (who also becomes a fool), a daughter named Portia (I see speeches in her future which include the words “quality”, “mercy” and “strained”) and an apprentice named Helga, along with myriads of fellow fools, good and bad. The current one is apparently a soulmate of Harpo Marx — a ‘mute by choice’ jester named Pelardit, who is one of my favorite characters in the series.
The past three books have been tied together. They take place in and near Toulouse, where the Fool Family (as they are known) have settled in. Theo is Chief Jester of Toulouse and has ensconced himself in the household of Count Raimon, presently ruling the city. Raimon receives a visitor from Paris who claims to be his legitimate brother, born to his mother, who was cast off by his father and fled for Paris, as she was a member of the French royal family.
Raimon is naturally skeptical and indirectly sets Theo to discover who this newcomer really is. Unfortunately, the voyage towards the facts includes a trip to a local bordel, where Raimon’s putative brother awakes next to the prostitute with whom he spent the night, to discover she has been stabbed to death. With his dagger. With the help of his family, Pelardit, and Sancho, one of Count Raimon’s men at arms, Theo (known as Tan Pierre in Toulouse) sets out to discover the truth of the matter.
These wonderful books are far more than mysteries. I find myself learning new things about the era they are set in quite painlessly (even without meaning to! :)), laughing a lot — Theo, et al. are quite intelligently witty and best of all, not figuring out who the killer is by page 57. Mr. Gordon has created a world and a group of people I have enjoyed getting to know. I hope to continue to do so for some time to come.