The Coral Thief by Rebecca Stott

August 17, 2011

Plot summary (with spoilers): Told from the point of view of 23-year-old medical student Daniel Connor, the main story takes place in the post-Napoleonic Paris of 1815. Young Daniel is on his way from Edinburgh to assume a research position at the Jardin des Plantes under renowned scientist Georges Cuvier, carrying in his possession some very valuable fossils that will serve to win Cuvier’s good graces. But on the stagecoach during the final leg of the journey, he meets the exotic Lucienne Bernard, and lulled into hypnotism by her special charms, falls asleep leaving his bag unguarded. Daniel wakes to find the fossils missing and his future in jeopardy.

Daniel reports the theft to the police, and is introduced to the head detective, M. Jagot. Jagot, a former thief himself, knows the ways of the underground, and upon hearing Daniel’s story and description of the woman, immediately knows her to be part of the Society of Ten Thousand, a ring of thieves who take on only big, daring jobs that are worth more than 10,000 francs. Jagot gets Daniel to agree to help nab Lucienne.

What Daniel doesn’t count on is falling in love with the woman. He runs into her at the Louvre a few days later, and she tells him her amazing history: how she comes from an aristocratic family, how she barely escaped death at the guillotine, how she traveled with Napoleon’s team of scholars and philosophers — disguised as a man — to collect treasures from Egypt. Daniel is attracted to her worldliness, experience, and intellect as well as her beauty, and the two soon begin an affair.

Though Daniel tries to throw Jagot off the trail by saying that the fossil “theft” was actually a big mistake and that everything has been returned, the wily detective doesn’t buy it. He has had Daniel followed, and knows of the illicit meetings with Lucienne. Furthermore, Jagot has his own ulterior motives for wanting Lucienne under his control: he’s trying to blackmail her.

The rest of the novel then follows these various storylines to their conclusions. We see Lucienne plan a major heist to steal the biggest diamond then known to man, and we learn what kind of power Jagot wields over the woman. Finally, we learn if Daniel and Lucienne end up living happily ever after.

Warning: Spoilers below!

Liked:

  • I thought the setting was terrific. Stott did a wonderful job of evoking the sights, sounds, and general feelings of Victorian France, so I was drawn into that era almost immediately.
  • Some elements of the diamond heist were pretty entertaining, though by that time my overall interest in the book had already waned down to practically zero.

Disliked:

  • Daniel was one of the most boring characters I’ve ever come across in literature! He was completely passionless and seemed bored by his own story. If this was how he felt, having lived through all the events, how are readers supposed to feel hearing about these things after the fact? What a waste.
  • I didn’t buy the love affair between Daniel and Lucienne. What could that woman possibly see in this young, naive boy? He had absolutely nothing to offer her, so why did she waste her time on him?
  • There was simply not enough action to sustain my interest through the entire book. I lost the narrative thread somewhere in the middle, so from that point forward, I was basically just reading the words without really understanding their full meaning or implication on the story as a whole. Frankly, I’m surprised I made it all the way through to the end.
  • WTF was the point of all those cutaway scenes to Napoleon pacing the deck of his ship?? I thought that was going to tie into the main story somehow, but it never did. Huh??!! Why even waste the reader’s time with that nonsense!

Rating:

I’ve been reading quite a few historical fiction novels recently, and since my library had The Coral Thief, I decided to give it a try. Boy, was I disappointed! The main character was a dullard, the romance was unbelievable, and the action was barely existent. I kept turning the pages hoping for something good to happen, but was not rewarded for my persistence. I give this novel 2 stars out of 5.

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