Cover image for A citizen of the country
A citizen of the country
Smith, Sarah, 1947-
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First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Ballantine Books, 2000.
Physical Description:
420 pages ; 25 cm
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"Stunning," raved the New York Times of Sarah Smith's first novel, The Vanished Child. USA Today called her second book, The Knowledge of Water, "as satisfying a mystery as the Mona Lisa's smile." Now the bestselling author of two New York Times Notable Books has created a new, intricately plotted story of intrigue, passion, love, and the most terrible of betrayals. "My wife will murder me unless I murder her first." In the ancient, bloody region of French Flanders looms Montfort castle, home of Count André du Monde, owner of a famous Paris horror theatre. To repair his fortunes, he marries an heiress. Sabine is young, blameless, beautiful, and rich, a perfect leading lady for André's first film--but the eccentric count suspects his wife is a practicing sorceress. Then the Grand Necropolitan Theatre is suddenly stricken with disasters: an unexpected death, a puzzling disappearance, and the savage beating of lead actor Jules Fauchard. André believes Sabine has placed him under a curse. No one believes him, not even his old friend, Alexander von Reisden. To watch over the couple, Reisden agrees to take a part in their film--and finds his own secrets threatened and his marriage becoming as poisoned as theirs. Amid escalating tension, the players assemble at Montfort to begin filming André's movie. Then, within the deep medieval basements of Montfort, life and fiction intersect--as the Grand Necropolitan becomes a true theatre of horrors. Filled with a host of unforgettable characters whose agendas tangle as secretly as the underground tunnels of Flanders, A Citizen of the Country is a compelling novel of desire, poisonous secrets, and love gone terribly wrong.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Smith completes her trilogy dealing with lives disrupted by the complexities of pre^-Word War I France. (The first two entries in the series, The Vanished Child [1992] and The Knowledge of Water [1996], were New York Times Notable Books.) This time she tells the story of a count who rejects a commission in the army in favor of running the smallest theater in Paris, specializing in works of the macabre. The count of Montfort's own life is filled with sinister melodrama. His beautiful, wealthy wife, he believes, is trying to murder him. His playhouse is filled with real-life plots, counterplots, suspicious accidents, and murder. The novel has a nineteenth-century feel to it, reminiscent of Dracula and The Phantom of the Opera in its gas-lit horrors. Although Smith takes the melodrama a bit over the top here, the story will appeal to fans of historical suspense. --Connie Fletcher

Publisher's Weekly Review

Set within both the city of Paris and mysterious fictional Montfort Castle in Flanders on the eve of WWI, this stylish and literate historical drama rings down the curtain on Smith's popular trilogy (The Vanished Child; The Knowledge of Water) that illuminates society in early 20th-century France. Dark snatches of memory still trouble Alexander Reisden, director of Jouvet Medical Analyses, an eminent Parisian mental health clinic. Did he murder his grandfather? Is he the heir to an American fortune? As war threatens, Reisden's personal troubles are pushed into the background. On the verge of procuring an important contract with the French army for the mental competency testing of soldiers, he learns that former military hero Maurice Cyron stands in his way. Cyron, who intended a military future for his stepson, Andr‚, the count of Montfort, blames Reisden for encouraging Andr‚'s theatrical bent. Fascinated by death (for reasons Smith eventually reveals), Andr‚ channels his dark thoughts into his work at the Grand Necropolitan Theatre, where he is driven to act out his obsessions. Though recently married, he ignores his seductive wife, Sabina, and accuses her of trying to poison him. While struggling to appease Cyron and help Andr‚, Reisden strives to satisfy his own wife, Perdita, a legally blind concert pianist who wants to resurrect her career with a trip to America, where she hopes to compel Reisden to come to terms with his past. When Andr‚ and Cyron join forces to make a military film on the grounds of Montfort Castle in Arras, with Reisden's participation, Smith ratchets up the tension. In addition to providing fascinating background on early filmmaking, the author adds French military secrets, murder, blackmail and witchcraft. Though the buildup to the revelation of Reisden's dilemma seems unnecessarily complicated, readers will care about the splendidly realized characters, whose fates are decided in an eminently satisfying conclusion. Agent, Jane Otte. 3-city author tour. (Aug.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Now that he and his concert pianist wife have a young son of their own, physician Alexander von Reisden wants more than ever to wipe out a past full of hidden identity, tangled relationships, and murder, but a dangerous blackmailer forces him to confront his demons and accept himself and a family relationship he has tried desperately to forget. The trouble starts when von Reisen is forced to take on the case of the deeply disturbed Andr du Monde, sponsor of the Grand Necropolitan Theater, whose ghoulish productions feature his young wife. Smith's concluding volume to her "Vanished Child" trilogy, set in a bellicose France on the brink of World War I, is a murky and sinister tangle of political and domestic intrigue, witchcraft, and murder. It will resonate more with readers familiar with The Vanished Child (LJ 2/1/92) and The Knowledge of Water (LJ 8/96), but it offers compelling reading for everyone. Highly recommended.DCynthia Johnson, Cary Memorial Lib., Lexington, MA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



How do you tell your baby you have committed murder?         Murder didn't define Alexander Reisden any more. He had got over being guilty of it (got over, he thought, as one might get over a heavy cold); he was well, more or less. But in his work, he saw how murder affects families. It is a disease, claiming victim after victim. And Toby was so little, and Toby's fingers, with the perfect little nails, grasped his father's thumb so trustingly; and Reisden adored his baby boy; and someday, some terrible day, Toby would know. Toby might forgive him, might perfectly understand. But how would it affect him? Reisden had committed his murder at eight years old. He had had excuses; it had been necessary; but no one knows that when he is eight years old. Toby would learn, but Reisden desperately wanted to save him from it until he was much older than eight. This was morbid. Toby was only seven and a half months old. You could have held him up and said into his face "Your papa killed his grandfather," and he would only have giggled and tried to grab your nose. He wanted, really, never to tell Toby anything, never to let anyone tell Toby; he wanted Toby never to hear about mad William Knight or William's grandson or the horrors that can happen to children. He wanted to keep his boy safe. There is a story like this, about loving parents and a curse and all the spindles in a kingdom, but Reisden didn't know it. He only knew a father is supposed to protect his child. So should a mother, Reisden reflected, and Perdita wasn't protect- ing Toby. The first thing she'd said after Toby was born was how glad Gilbert would be. She wrote to Gilbert every week. She sent news of Toby, pictures of Toby, a curl of Toby's baby hair bound with thread. Don't, Reisden thought silently, my G-d, don't curse Toby with Gilbert Knight. Gilbert had the discretion to keep away, but Perdita insisted on writing. Reisden snapped at her about her eyesight, which was not fair. Perdita insisted on going out in the Paris streets with nothing but Toby and her white cane. "Let him go with his nurse." "But I like getting out," she said mildly, "and I must learn the streets." "Not with him." "Don't you believe I would be careful, Alexander?" He did not believe it. She was not careful. She could see only colors and shadows; she could push Toby's pram out into the street, not seeing the bus or the horse that would kill them both. He could feel the impact in his own flesh. He was terrified for his son; sometime, somehow, something terrible would happen to his son. She is risky, he thought once of the intelligent, stubborn, beautiful girl he had loved before she had become his son's mother. It saddened him. He loved her. This was morbidity too; this, he thought, was perhaps murder itself, the slow death that murder leaves in families. "Are you afraid for your children?" he asked other fathers. Yes, they said, of course they were. It was as close as Reisden could come to talking about what was wrong with his family. Financial security, at least, one can give. General Lucien PÈtiot looked like Father Christmas in a sky blue uniform; he had a cloud white beard and twinkling blue eyes and was in charge of procurement (Medical Section) for the French army. General PÈtiot bought miles of bandages, barrels of mercurochrome, trainloads of cough pastilles--and tests for the French army. Intelligence tests, tests of mental competence; every man in France served three years in uniform, and the army needed to identify potential officers and potential problems. They had just decided to centralize. Reisden's company, Jouvet Medical Analyses, did competency testing for the courts and specialized neurological testing for hospitals all over Europe. Jouvet could administer Berthet's intelligence test to large groups. In September 1910, just after Toby was born, Reisden first approached PÈtiot. "We want to supply medical tests and neurological work to the army." "You're an ambitious man." "I have a son." For six months the men ate lunches and dinners together, spent afternoons talking about the state of medicine in France, traded opinions, deplored the government, and tested each other. PÈtiot toured Jouvet's half-completed building, under reconstruction after the Paris floods. "You want the money," PÈtiot said, admiring the expensive new lab. "I want the job," Reisden said. "Let me talk to your staff," PÈtiot said. Through the winter, PÈtiot became as familiar at Jouvet as the concierge's cat, poking his nose into staff meetings, sniffing at a technician's bench, hovering outside the locked door of the famous Jouvet medical archives. On a cold day at the beginning of April, PÈtiot came to Reisden's office at Jouvet and dropped his bomb. "There's only one trouble with Jouvet's proposal, Reisden: it's you. Your background." They were sitting on packed boxes of books in the middle of chaos, the wallpaper half up, the paneling still tacky with varnish, the air damp with the smell of wet plaster. "This is a bad time politically," PÈtiot said. "Germany threatens us, with Spain and Austria-Hungary behind her; the French army is small and underprepared; and at that very moment, the most intelligent of von Loewenstein's Orphans decides he wants to throw in his lot with us. One wonders what you mean by it. Isn't that what Leo von Loewenstein used to say?" "The Orphans are a myth." "A myth, oh dear, yes," said PÈtiot. "But one of the mythical Orphans owns a French company that does medical analysis, of a kind that would give it access to embarrassing information about army men, government officials." PÈtiot frowned. "Certain people are very distressed." Excerpted from A Citizen of the Country by Sarah Smith All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.