Aphrodisiacs and palmistry might be harmless indulgences for indolent courtiers, but when the foremost fortune-teller in Paris also trades in arsenic and abortion, and will summon the devil on her clients’ behalf, the sinister underside of Louis XIV’s glorious reign is ripe for exposure.
Athenais, Madame de Montespan, has been the King’s mistress for over a decade but with the arrival at Versailles of a beautiful and much younger rival she doubts her ability to keep his love. Her sister is ready to go to any lengths to preserve Athenais’ position but the past is about to catch up with them. As fortune-tellers across Paris are interrogated, tortured and burned to death in the Place de Greve, prisoners in the Chateau de Vincennes are more than willing to name names.
At first the Superintendent of Police hesitates to report rumors of Athenais’ involvement to the King, but his assistant Louis Bezons has much less patience and no love of the rich court at Versailles. Bezons has also promised to secure a pardon for the damaged daughter of one of the fortune-tellers, in return for details of her mother’s clients.
But the girl has her own secrets: secrets ripe for exploitation by the magician Lesage who cannot wait to save his own skin by assisting the police with their investigation.
CHARLATAN is based on the Affair of the Poisons that scandalized Paris in 1679.