Forensics in 1800 Paris

By Catherine Delors

The investigation into the Rue Nicaise bombing attack, which is the topic of FOR THE KING, is considered the first modern police investigation. As I researched it in great detail, I was struck by the modernity of the investigators’ thinking.

For instance, their first reflex was to look for the license plate of the cart where the bomb had been detonated, or for any witnesses who might remember the number. Yes, in 1800 Paris, all horse-drawn carts and carriages had license plates, just like modern cars. In this case, however, the license plate had been blown apart by the explosion, and no one had noticed the number.

The investigators made full use of the scientific techniques available to them. Letters from Georges Cadoudal, the famous royalist insurgent who had directed the conspiracy from afar, were identified by handwriting analysis. The gunpowder found in a barrel at the home of one suspect was analyzed and found to be of English manufacture.

But what fascinated me about the investigation was the first clue: the mare pulling the cart where the bomb, the infernal machine, had been brought to the scene. Little remained of the poor animal. But the head and one of the forelegs was intact. And, lo and behold, the hoof had been newly shod! Does it not remind you of a car with a brand-new tire?

It was the perfect clue, of course. All the police had to do was to round up all of the blacksmiths in Paris. Sure enough, one of them remembered three men bringing a little mare to get shod. The blacksmith identified the remains of the animal, and was able to provide a precise description of the three men who had taken her to his smithy. Soon it was posted all over the streets of Paris, with a reward of 2,000 gold louis, an enormous sum. It was only a matter of weeks before the assassins were caught…

Catherine Delors was born and raised in France. She graduated from the University of Paris-Sorbonne School of Law and became the youngest member of the Bar of Paris at the age of twenty-one. Her second novel, For the King, (Dutton Adult) was released July 8, 2010. Catherine is currently writing on a third novel, a prequel to Mistress of the Revolution. She is also researching a fourth one, which shall revolve about Jane Austen and her French connections. To read more about the book and the author, please click here.

IMAGE: Bombing attack at Rue Saint-Nicaise, Paris, 24th December 1800

Congratulations to the following W & M winners of this book:

Eric, Karen, and Carol


  1. says

    I’ve been dying to read this book and would love to be entered to win a copy! I’m addicted to crime dramas, so a historical novel with a crime drama twist — yum!

  2. Linda B says

    Interesting post – loved the bit comparing a new horseshoe w/ a new tire. Thanks for the giveaway. I’d love to read this novel.

  3. Eric says

    Sounds like a great read. Just found this blog through AHA blog website and what they’re reading. Added this blog to my feeder.

  4. says

    I had no idea horse-drawn carts had license plates! I just love those kinds of details, and I have a feeling I’d love this book. I just found you through the AHA web site; added you to my feed. Thanks for the chance to win a copy!!

  5. Carol Wong says

    Would love to read this book. I grew up in a house that had a stable behind the backyard. It was a very old house, I still dream of it.

  6. says

    This was a great book (don’t enter me) and I was fascinated by the corrupt look at the police system back in their day. It was so sad to realize how far back (& up) the corruption goes.

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