The French Executioner by C.C. Humphreys-Review

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To writers, and I fancy myself to be one, good openings are the holy grail. The rest of the story has to hold up, but I want an author to grab my attention immediately. I don’ t necessarily mean drop me into the middle of a fight scene. Too many people think you have to start with action. You don’t. You have to start with an interesting voice.

Chris Humphreys’ voice in The French Executioner ensnared me from the beginning. How could it not?

It was unseasonably cold for a late May night, but the gibbet’s former occupant was too dead to care and his replacement too unconscious.

Who is the replacement and why? A gibbet is a terrible way to die.

The following pages only support my first thought, “this is going to be interesting”. Then, when the arch bishop and his henchmen leave and the mad gibbet keeper scampers out of a pile of refuse to dance around the new occupant and beg him for a story, Humphreys has me.

“Make it dark, make it grim, make it tough, but then for the love of God, tell a joke.”–Joss Whedon.

Mr. Humphreys has been paying attention. I couldn’t help but laugh at the odd character and be dismayed at the same time that our poor hero’s fate rested in the hands of this lunatic with his pet crow.

Jean Rombaud is one of the best. So, when Anne Boleyn is granted a last boon by Henry VIII to have a French executioner, the grim task falls to him. Rombaud takes his work seriously and follows a ritual with each of his clients. He prefers not to call them victims. He meets with them beforehand to get to know them and answer any questions they may have. They are assured he will do his best and they will not suffer.

He’s seen it all, terror, false bravado, unacceptance, but he’s never encountered a woman like the queen. She seems more concerned about him than herself. She jokes, she walks with him, she reassures him all is well. Then she extracts a vow. Take her six-fingered hand and bury it at a sacred crossroad in France. Do not allow it to fall into the grasp of unscrupulous people.

That is exactly what has happened at the opening of the book. Rombaud successfully removed the hand and retrieved it, he thought unseen. Archbishop Cibo saw it and now he has the hand. Rombaud has been left to die in a gibbet and his fate lies with the madman who wants a story.

The story, Anne’s story is enough to win his freedom and the pair set off to recover the hand. Cibo, who is convinced the hand is the key to eternal life, isn’t about to give it up easily and is willing to destroy anything and anyone to unlock the secret.

Rombaud gathers two other travelers along the way to complete the quest and each character is as fully realized as the previous with their own demons to face and battles to be won.

Humphreys’ attention to historical detail is sumptuous without feeling like you’ve been dropped in a history class. This is hard to pull off as too many authors want to include every cool detail they run across and wind up with a hodge podge of semi-interesting tidbits loosely connected by a vapid story.

If I could give this ten quills I would, but my rating only goes to five. Five quills it is.

This Post Has 10 Comments

  1. Lennon Faris

    A Joss Whedon quote, woot! I don’t usually read the genre of this book but I liked the review… I’m lurking from the JR blog 🙂

  2. Julie Weathers

    Lennon,

    Thanks so much for stopping by. I’m glad you liked the review. I haven’t read this historical era in years, but it came so highly recommended I couldn’t resist and I’m glad I didn’t.

  3. John Davis Frain

    Great, and my TBR pile is already looking like a certain tower in Pisa, but oh my dog, who can resist a story with that opening line.

    You are correct, Julie (and spot on as usual) that good openings are like the holy grail. Sounds like this story certainly has one.

    I am, unfortunately, one of those weak humans who cannot read fiction and write fiction at the same time. And since I’m outlining my next work right now, I fear it will be a while before I get to this tale. But thanks for the review. I’m putting the title on the list in my phone. Be well!

  4. Barb

    Historical fiction is not my favourite genre, mostly because I always want to know what is fact and what is fiction. But I have to say this story sounds very intriguing! You’ve convinced me to add it to my ever lengthening TBR pile. Thanks for the review.

    1. Julie Weathers

      Barb,

      I think Chris laid a good foundation in his research and I appreciate that. I think all he writes is historical. I had him at a blue pencil session in Surrey and brought an excerpt from The Rain Crow, my new WIP that is a Civil War piece. It’s a scene from the aftermath of the first Manassas battle. He loved the writing, but what really struck home was when he said I nailed the essence of the battle scene.He’s a stickler for research.

      Obviously, there are going to be some things that are fictional, and he points them out, but he has some author notes about his research and historical characters and such. It adds a lot to the story.

      Regarding the growing TBR pile, I so sympathize. I have another 40 books on my wish list I will probably order before long. I better live a long time.

  5. Julie Weathers

    John,

    I have to be careful also that certain authors don’t influence me while I’m writing. I’m certainly under the influence now because I’ve read so many diaries of women in the Civil War era, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing. It’s lending a certain air of authenticity to Rain Crow.

    However, for the most part, I’m able to keep things compartmentalized. I can’t read Gabaldon while I’m writing. It depresses me and makes me not want to write because I feel so inferior.

    When you get time, though, I do think you’ll enjoy The French Executioner. He kept upping the stakes and turning up the heat. There were many, “Oh Noooooos” shouted here. There were also a lot of laughs and an author who can insert laughter in with the high stakes is a keeper for me.

    Good luck with the book!

  6. donnaeve

    This is a book I would never have thought to consider – until NOW. Boy, not only did you do a great job detailing the horror/humor end of it, but it reminded me how much I loved that movie, The Boleyn Sisters. I’m so damn glad I didn’t live back then…

  7. Julie Weathers

    Donna,

    Thanks so much for stopping by. I know. Life, even for royals, survived by a thread. It really is a good book. Chris does a lovely and unique job.

  8. Carol

    Of course when I’m trying to lower the amount of books on my Reading List I find this post! It sounds like a very fascinating read and I love that someone wrote a book about Anne Boleyn’s executioner.

  9. julieweathers2014

    Carol, oh I understand that. I had to buy the next book in the series and some Jack Absolute books. My bookcases groaned. Thanks so much for stopping by.

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