Home > 2010, 21st Century, Crime Fiction, French Literature, Gatel Coline, Historical Crime Fiction, Polar, Thriller > The Rhône River Murders by Coline Gatel – French CSI in 1897

The Rhône River Murders by Coline Gatel – French CSI in 1897

The Rhône River Murders by Coline Gatel (2019) Original French title: Les suppliciées du Rhône.

I am forever late with my billets this year and I was tempted to write a crime fiction post about The Rhône River Murders by Coline Gatel, Black Run by Antonio Manzini and The Black Echo by Michael Connelly. But I’m always reluctant to mix several books in a billet, even if I enjoy other bloggers’ omnibus reviews.

The Rhône River Murders is Coline Gatel’s debut novel. It’s not available in English but it’s an easy read for a foreigner who understands French. Coline Gatel was invited at Quais du Polar and participated to a panel with Fabrice Cotelle, the head of the French CSI. This talk about the early days of criminology was fascinating and I wrote about it here.

After attending this conference, I purchased and got signed Coline Gatel’s crime fiction book, set in Lyon in 1897. Young women are murdered in the city, pregnant and most probably after visiting a faiseuse d’ange, a backstreet abortionist. (The French term is more poetic for such a bleak business, it means angel maker.)

At the time, Alexandre Lacassagne is a pioneer in forensic medicine and criminology. He’s convinced that autopsies are a way to gather clues about the cause of death. He instigated techniques to find material clues on the corpses and on the crime scene. Lacassagne is one of the fathers of CSI but he was also interested in sociology and psychology, linking them with scientific investigation methods.

While the police remain incompetent and absent, Lacassagne asks his best student Félicien Perrier to investigate the case. He will work on it with his roommate Bernard and a young journalist, Irina Bergovski, an emigrant from Poland.

Coline Gatel takes us to the Lyon of that time and for those who know the city, it’s a nice journey into the past. We see Lacassagne teaching at the Lyon Faculty at the Hôtel Dieu. We enter the opium salons of the city, something I wasn’t aware of. We see the hospices and the streets. We learn about early criminology and that the morgue was actually on a boat on the Rhône River. Coline Gatel peppers her book with anecdotes and trivia. This is where I learnt that in the 19thC, women couldn’t wear pants unless they had a special police authorization to do so. Without the appropriate pass, women could be arrested for wearing pants. Unbelievable.

I’m a good public for this type of books because I love hearing about everyday life in previous centuries. (I had a great time with What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew: From Fox Hunting to Whist—the Facts of Daily Life in 19th-Century England by Daniel Pool) And I enjoyed reading about Lacassagne who is now more than an avenue name to me.

The plot was well drawn, I kept reading, I was eager to know the ending. It had an unexpected turn in the end, one I didn’t see coming. The Rhône River Murders is a pleasant read, a nice way to dive into the Lyon of the Belle Epoque with a gripping murder story.

A perfect holiday read.

  1. July 7, 2019 at 2:03 pm

    This does sound good. I don’t think its in English language translation yet – I’ll keep my fingers crossed.


    • July 7, 2019 at 3:23 pm

      No, it’s not available in English but it was published in French in 2019. So, fingers crossed, yes.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. July 7, 2019 at 5:08 pm

    Arrested for wearing pants? So I did a quick look at George Sand. From wikipedia:

    “Sand was one of many notable 19th-century women who chose to wear male attire in public. In 1800, the police issued an order requiring women to apply for a permit in order to wear male clothing.”

    Apparently she did NOT apply for a permit.


    • July 7, 2019 at 10:04 pm

      How do you know form this sentence?
      Then maybe the police chose to turn a blind eye because she was an artist.


      • July 8, 2019 at 2:02 am

        They might have. Apparently there were REASONS women wore trousers so perhaps they had to add a reason when they got a permit.
        Are you asking me if the sentence is correct? Because if you are, it looks good to me.


        • July 8, 2019 at 5:55 am

          Typo, sorry. I meant “how do you know FROM this sentence” and I meant my sentence.

          And yes, they could wear pants legally with a permit and they could get a permit if they could give reasons why they needed to wear pants. (profession…)


  3. July 13, 2019 at 8:09 pm

    Added to my TBR, thank you for your review, Emma. I don’t think they made it available in Lebanon, though Préludes is sold here but I’m definitely placing an order.
    I’ll look forward to your review of Manzini if you ever post it; I completely disliked his book and I read him in French (Maudit Printemps, I believe) which, to me, elevates the level of enjoyment I get from a book.


    • July 15, 2019 at 9:28 pm

      Don’t expect literary crime fiction but it’s a good historical crime fiction book.

      I wasn’t fond of the Manzini, I disliked his character.


      • July 15, 2019 at 9:32 pm

        Oh me too!


        • July 15, 2019 at 9:33 pm

          Did he sound like a chauvinist pig to you too?


          • July 17, 2019 at 6:24 pm

            Oh absolutely, and my Goodreads status update when I first started the book clearly reflects my disappointment with it.


            • July 20, 2019 at 5:03 pm

              Glad to see I’m not the only one.


  1. July 23, 2019 at 11:55 pm
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  5. July 30, 2019 at 2:41 pm
  6. April 4, 2020 at 10:35 am
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