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Friday 15 April 2016

M is for... Murder at Cirey

Click Here for a list of other A-Zers
Murder at Cirey

Throughout April I have invited 26 authors who had been selected as Editor's Choice by the Historical Novel Society Indie Reviews
 to help me out with the 2016 A-Z Blog Challenge...

Except to be a little different I interviewed 
their leading Character/s...

Today's Character is from :

HH: Hello! I believe you exist in Cheryl Sawyer’s novel. What is the title of the book, and would you like to introduce yourself?
Thank you for the chance to present myself to an audience of quality—this doesn’t usually happen to a cavalier (private) in France’s eighteenth-century mounted military police. Unless, of course, I’m taking a nobleman into custody. In Murder at Cirey I feared I’d have to do just that, and I was reluctant, because arresting a Parisian aristocrat got me banished to the remote Champagne countryside in the first place. I’m honoured to meet you. I am Cavalier Constant of the Maréchaussée.

This cavalier of the 18th-century military police in France is depicted in dress uniform. I can tell you that our rural brigade were not togged out as lavishly as this, for the simple reason that we had to buy our own uniforms out of our pay, which was crushingly modest. I prefer to spend money on the things I value, such as my horse and my weapons—and I always send some pay back to Paris to help support my three sisters. However, subtract the wig, the aigrettes on the shoulders and the moustache, and here you have me, Victor Constant, with reasonable accuracy.

HH: Are you a real historical person or did your author create you?
My existential status is between myself and my Creator, and I doubt if you’ll find me in the history books. However, two of the people in the novel are not only real but famous: Madame du Châtelet, marquise, mathematician and Newtonian physicist, and her lover, the poet and philosopher Voltaire, both of whom were living at her country château, Cirey, at the time.

HH. In a few brief sentences: what is the novel you feature in about?
It all happened over eight days in spring, 1735, and it was a race against crime. When a handsome young man was shot dead on the Cirey estate in the picturesque Champagne countryside, I was called in to examine the victim. But no one, including the local magistrate, seemed keen to penetrate the mystery of his brutal death. Alone and against orders, I confronted the notorious free-thinker, Voltaire, who found the body (frankly, I also considered him a suspect). Then a beggar was wrongly accused of the murder and I had to fight on alone to bring the real killer to justice. A second murder occurred and I was in double danger: unless I could strip bare the conspiracy behind this intricate series of crimes, I stood to lose my military career—and my life.

HH:  I ‘met’ my pirate, Jesamiah Acorne, on a beach in Dorset, England - howdid your author meet up with you (i.e. what gave your author the idea to write about you)?
Cheryl Sawyer thought of me after being shown over the Château de Cirey by the Comtesse de Salignac-Fénélon, the present owner. This lovely estate used to belong to the Marquise du Châtelet. Cheryl was fascinated by one day in June 1735, when Mme du Châtelet came to live there with Voltaire, and she wondered how they would both have reacted if a mysterious body were discovered that very morning in the Cirey forest. She realised I was on a patrol in a nearby town at the time, so she had me called in. I don’t know whether to thank or curse her for that!

Cheryl tells me she ‘took’ this picture of Cirey from the banks of the Blaise, the little river that flows past the château. On the left of the building is the new wing that Voltaire constructed, with his apartments at the end. You can see Cirey ‘online’ (another mystery that Cheryl has yet to explain to me) here:

HH: Tell me about one or two of the other characters who feature with you. Who are some of the nice characters and who is the nastiest one?
I’ll start with the nastiest one, who is of course the murderer. He is just the kind of man (he would call himself a gentleman, but he doesn’t deserve the title) whom one meets in the top echelons of provincial society, and who takes advantage of his position to feather his own nest and treat everyone with contempt. This one is also intelligent enough to be a cunning conspirator, and ruthless enough to frame his associates for his own crimes. I finally got the measure of him—but I was nearly too late! At the opposite end of the aristocratic spectrum is Mme du Châtelet. But I wouldn’t describe her as ‘nice’, exactly. ‘Spectacular’ is perhaps the word. Here is the impression she made on me when she kindly offered advice on my detective work.

‘Victor took the cue and rose to his feet. He would have preferred to stay and continue the conversation that Madame du Châtelet had carried on with such verve and grace. Her presence and her musical voice animated the room, influencing the currents of feeling and thought in startling ways. Her figure was perfect. Her face, with its well-defined features and glowing eyes, had great powers of expression and she was dressed with a flair that set off her distinctive beauty. But it was not just her person that dazzled him, it was her sheer vitality.’

HH: What is your favourite scene in the book?
The one above, because it was so extraordinary: I believed I was quite alone in my fight for true justice, but these two people, whom I had come to Cirey to challenge and confront, astonished me with their desire to help (or interfere!)!

Overwhelmed, Victor set out on the long ride back to Joinville. It had been a topsy-turvy experience: an interrogation during which almost every question had been put by either Voltaire or Madame du Châtelet, and where the lady had shown the more scientific mind. He would have been hard put to describe the encounter to anyone else. He might have said that he had just taken part in a conversation between a man and his mistress—but that hardly began to outline the situation at Cirey. Perhaps Voltaire’s fanciful tirade outside the kitchen had seized its true character, and there was something magical and mythical about the life he and Madame du Châtelet were creating together. There was everything to divide them: birth, rank, her marriage and his age—for he was just over forty and she just under thirty—yet their protectiveness towards each other, the more powerful for being unspoken, proved how united they were.’

HH: What is your least favourite? Maybe a frightening or sad moment that your author wrote.
All I will say here is that I do not like getting shot. Four years in the cavalry—fighting for France in northern Italy—and a couple of years in the Maréchaussée, have not made me at all philosophical about receiving bullets in the chest.

HH: What are you most proud of about your author?
That she refrained from killing me off in the first novel. I’m young and ambitious, and there are more crimes to solve in our deceptively enchanting rural region (and, for that matter, in Paris, if I ever get transferred back home). The next Victor Constant investigation is Death in Champagne.

HH: Has your author written other books about you? If not, about other characters? How do you feel about your author going off with someone else!
I hope there will be many further books about me. As I mention, with emphasis, this entirely depends on my staying alive. Promotion to brigadier would be good, too, just as a start. Cheryl occasionally dallies with other heroes but these fellows, being English or American, really don’t count.

Cheryl Sawyer is the maiden name and nom de plume of Cheryl Hingley, a former publisher of fiction and non-fiction, who has had eight historical novels published by Penguin, Random House, Bertelsmann, Endeavour Press, Via Magna, Mir Knigi, Reader’s Digest and others. She maintains the critique blog for fiction writers, Free Literary Mentor: 
Here, she is sitting in one of the rooms devoted to Mme du Châtelet, created by descendants of the lady’s family at the Château de Breteuil, where Cheryl once lived and worked.

HH: As a character, if you could travel to a time and place different from your own fictional setting, where and when would you go?
In a few years’ time I should like to travel the world like Monsieur de Voltaire’s character, Candide (it has to be in a few years’ time because he hasn’t written the story yet :). But I would make better use of my travels than Candide, who has a wide-eyed view of everything. Life has given me a much more cynical attitude towards human behaviour. But I do not lack compassion. I agree with what Monsieur de Voltaire wrote in one of his plays:
Those earthly laws that mend the misery of others
Make sympathetic humans a great band of brothers.

Thank you that was really interesting!
Now where can readers of this A-Z Blog Challenge find out more about you and your author?

Website (includes Cheryl’s Free Literary Mentor blog):
Buy on Amazon (Kindle and paperback): HERE

Here is the company we will be keeping on this 
A-Z Blog Challenge!

A 1st  Friday - Aurelia  - Alison Morton
B 2nd Saturday  - Bloodie Bones - Lucienne Boyce
C 4th Monday - Man in the Canary Waistcoat Susan Grossey
D 5th Tuesday - Dubh-Linn  - James Nelson
F 7th Thursday - Fortune’s Fool- David Blixt
H 9th Saturday - The Love Letter of John Henry Holliday - Mary Fancher
K 13th Wednesday - Khamsin- Inge Borg
L 14th Thursday - Luck Bringer   - Nick Brown
N 16th Saturday - A Newfound Land  - Anna Belfrage
O 18th Monday - Out Of Time  - Loretta Livingstone
P 19th Tuesday  - Pirate Code  - Helen Hollick
Q 20th Wednesday - To Be A Queen – Annie Whitehead
R 21st Thursday  - The Spirit Room - Marschel Paul
U 25th Monday  - A Just And Upright Man - John Lynch
X 28th Thursday – The FlaX flower – AmandaMaclean

So call back tomorrow 
To meet the next exciting Character! 
(unless it is Sunday - in which case, I'll have something different 
but just as interesting !)


  1. Another great interview. I haven't really read about this period since I studied it at school and it's rekindled my interest. Thanks!

    1. Hello, Annie, yes it was a fascinating period because many of the supporters of Enlightenment thinkers in 18th century France were aristocrats, who tended to be the ones with the best education--and at the same time they were running the country on very non-egalitarian terms. Whereas thinkers like Voltaire tended to come from the middle class and were a perceived threat to the status quo. Military police of course came from the lower classes, so young Victor has a rather jaundiced view of both!

  2. Bonjour monsieur, et bonne chance with your future career. A pleasure to 'meet' you.

    1. Merci, madame, et bonjour de la belle Champagne. I must say, riding about the glorious countryside of the Upper Marne makes up a little for the challenges of policing the roads here, and chasing beggars across the border into the Lorraine. I appreciate your wishes for my promotion--if only my brigadier felt the same!

  3. Another great interview, Helen. And congratulations to Cheryl for yet another very original setting for historical fiction. I really like this idea of moving outside the "usual suspect" eras and location!

    1. Thank you, David. Voltaire was certainly not a usual suspect, I agree. The man is an astonishing individual whose energy amazed me and infuriated me all at once. It was only when I was privileged to speak with him and Madame du Châtelet together that I realised the scientific side of his brain (which was not as acute as hers but pretty impressive nonetheless) might aid me in the investigation.

  4. Sounds like the reader is in the safe hands of someone who knows her subject.
    Enchante, Madam Sawyer.
    Tres heureux de faire votre connaisance, Monsieur Constant. Bon courage.

    1. Very impressed with the French ! LOL

    2. Merci, monsieur. le courage ne me manque pas, mais mon argent disparaît constamment!

  5. Hello Victor even without the aigrettes I think you look a very fine fellow. What did you make of Voltaire by the way - obviously you thought him capable of murder!Good luck with your promotion to brigadier.

    1. Good question about Voltaire...

    2. Hi Victoria, I was concerned that the body was found on the estate where Voltaire was living and in the absence of the owner he had the body carted off to the nearest magistrate without calling local officials in to examine it and the scene first. Add to that the fact that he knew the victim and just might have cause to be sexually jealous of him, and my hackles began to rise. Plus he was abominably rude to me at first, and since he was merely the son of a notary (exactly like me), I saw no reason to let him dominate the forces of the law in his insouciant fashion.

  6. Ah, mon cher Monsieur. I went back to my copy of "Voltaire in Love" by Nancy Mitford to check up on you. Indeed, there I found Mme du Châtelet, Voltaire and his lover. I saw them in a huddle discussing your intrusion into their privileged world. All I can say is: Watch your step! But I am sure of it now having met you. You will get your man.

    1. Wish I knew more French, my limit is Bonjour! :-)

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. Chère madame, enchanté que vous avez lu ‘Voltaire in Love’. My author read it when young and devoured it. Later, having read French biographies of both people, she found a mountain of inaccuracies in Mitford's account (eg she maintains Voltaire was a short man, whereas he was tall for his time) but Mitford makes up for all this with the liveliness of her account. And the French have written some very silly stuff too: eg 'Madame Voltaire' -- what an insult to Gabrielle-Emilie le Tonnelier de Breteuil to imply that she was merely the mistress of Voltaire: she was a physicist and mathematician who provided translations of Newton into French that have never been surpassed. With her help, I certainly expect to get my man (she has given great advice on ballistics).

  7. What an interesting interview. And a book that ticks a lot of boxes for me - 18th century, a detective who won't let a person's high social status stop him looking for the truth, a couple of philosophers - and one a woman! Definitely one for the tbr.

    1. Totally agree about the ticked boxes Lucienne!

    2. Hi Lucienne, thank you for your kind comments. Victor is certainly bowled over by Mme du C--it's lucky she was on his side rather than trying to pervert the course of justice, or even Victor might have been swayed in the wrong direction for a while.

  8. Very nice post. Interesting and captured my attention.

  9. Oh, my, what a dashing character! This is such an interesting concept anyway, interviewing one's characters. Thanks.

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  10. A cavalier, Marquise Du Châtelet, Voltaire, and eighteenth-century France — what's not to love? Adding this to my TBR list. I enjoyed reading a biography of the Marquise Du Châtelet, La Dame d'Esprit by Judith Zinsser, quite a few years ago and found it fascinating.
    And Steven, your French is impressive. I had 3 years of French in high school and can now recall a grand total of about 5 phrases! ; )

    1. Our TBR piles are getting higher! :-)

    2. Hi Alexandra, terrific that you've read Zinsser, who certainly took her subject seriously. The Marquis de Breteuil was very impressed with her and the biography. I found her a little prudish when it came to Emilie's affairs pre-Voltaire. Zinsser is of the opinion that she was never the lover of either Maupertuis or the Duc de Richelieu, but the French and others accept absolutely that these were important affairs. Also, one has only to read her correspondance. Zinsser obviously feels it diminishes her to imagine her cuckolding her husband with more than one lover--but the French don't think like that! Her husband was in fact a wonderful supporter of her interests and her work, and approved of Voltaire's staying at Cirey--except when he was being damnably indiscreet :)

  11. I commiserate regarding the bullet in your chest, monsieur. That in itself should compel your author to promote you to brigadier, IMO. Bonne chance, monsieur!

    1. I agree with you there Anna!

    2. Merci, madame, I comfort myself with the idea that if enough people read about me, I shall live on. Je souhaite pour vous la même destinée.

  12. This quirky approach to interviewing/reviewing entices one and, in fact is a spur to action. We have the novel on our Kindle and my partner has read and loved it - my turn to get going.

    1. Thanks for dropping by Kens - do browse back through from A for Aurelia (and continue dropping in for the rest of the alphabet!) We've some fantastic characters on here!

    2. Dear Kens, so happy your partner has loved it! Another blush from Victor.


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