Book review: The Lost King of France

The Lost King of France by Deborah Cadbury

The Lost King of France by Deborah Cadbury combines my passion for historical mysteries, cold cases, and forensics.

Many have claimed to be the Dauphin as many claimed to be Anastasia Romanov. Both, at last, have been proven dead by DNA.

But before we had the DNA test results, we had to contend with more than 45 men claiming to be the long-lost Dauphin. We had to watch how they acquired a following, threw lavish parties, and addressed themselves as King. Painful as it was for the world to watch this, it was nothing compared to how cruel this was to his sister, Marie-Therese.

As if her life was not hard enough; the only reason for her release from the Tower was to exchange her for French prisoners held in Austria. Following the self-serving advice from her uncle, she entered into a loveless marriage that was doomed from the start.

After her release from the Tower, she went through agony every time a new Dauphin showed up, yet another man claiming to be her long-lost brother, who miraculously escaped from the Tower and who claimed his rightful place in her heart, in her life, as Head of the Family, and, of course, claimed his share of her wealth.

She went through immense troubles to explore whether they possibly could be Louis-Charles. She sent trusted servants of her father to seek out these men. She armed them with lists of questions to which only her brother would know the answers. More than once, these servants were stymied by the current regime, and the lists intercepted, as the current regime had no use for another King or a true contester for the Throne.

The heart of this cold case, the unsolved homicide, which included the missing body of Louis-Charles, finally reached a stage where questions could be answered by evolving forensics and the determination of men of trust who had no ulterior motive but to seek the truth. Men without pretenses, without false or hidden agenda’s, men who wanted just the plain truth. And it is all about the heart for the answers in this historical mystery come straight from the heart, from Louis-Charles’ heart.

After the orphan in the Tower, whose arrival there was documented, died, an extensive and meticulous autopsy was carried out on his badly neglected and abused body. During the autopsy, Dr. Phillippe-Jean Pellatan gave in to his urge to steal the heart of the boy. Pellatan was not an ardent royalist, but it was tradition that the hearts of all Kings were embalmed and placed into the crypt in Saint-Denis.

Possibly sensing that the little boy truly was the rightful King, the Dauphin, and deserved to be treated with dignity, Palletan smuggled the heart out of the Tower and placed in an urn filled with distilled wine alcohol as preservative.

The heart’s journey is as heartbreaking as the condition of the little boy’s body during the autopsy. Cadbury describes it with an agony that makes you want to jump back into history to help get answers in this historical mystery.

the heart of Louis-Charles
The heart of Louis-Charles (Image: Pierre-Emmanuel Malissin et Frédéric Valdes)

The last people involved in the search for answers are scientists assisted by Pelletan’s son. After tests involving an arm from a man claiming to be Louis-Charles and hair from the Habsburg family, dead and alive, finally the truth came out.

The stolen heart had the same unique trace of mitochondrial DNA as the entire maternal line of the Habsburg Family. Finally, the heart of the Dauphin has found its resting place, surrounded by his family members, in the crypt at Saint-Denis.

A brilliant book that left me moved and in tears. No child should ever have to face the fate of the Dauphin as retaliation for what his parents represented.

Highly recommended reading.

After Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving 2020I hope you all enjoyed a safe Thanksgiving. We didn’t have our normal celebration with international faculty, students, friends, etc. as we cannot risk anyone’s life during the pandemic.

So, why not change the whole menu?

The result was Nasi Goreng (top left) with Telor in coconut sauce (top right) and Pad Thai (bottom). Needless to say these are also our leftovers for today.

This time of year also marks the beginning of my ‘Writing with WordPress’ period. On November 24, 2009 I started the website Defrosting Cold Cases. It felt like a jump into the deep end of the pool but I soon learned where the lifesavers were located. You can read here why I started it.

I wondered whether I should write another year review. I have not. The pandemic has changed a lot. Working or being at home doesn’t mean you have more time. The situational anxiety we all feel doesn’t always provide the right mood to write. If I look at my stats it is clear that I wrote less in 2020. It wasn’t intentional as my list with writing requests is huge.

I am also behind with writing book reviews. Unfortunately, this year for the first time I experienced book reviewer bashing. I really believe that if you don’t want to know what others think of your writing you should not have published your book. If you hold it so close to your heart and cannot bear that anyone points to a mistake or honestly tells you why they didn’t like it, maybe don’t offer your book to reviewers. To cut a long story short, several emails landed in my inbox with comments online. It has made me more careful with whom I work on manuscripts.

So, the plans after this Thanksgiving? An inventory of what was left behind in 2020 and planning for 2021. But first, we eat leftovers!


The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher Mindmap AdSMy professional writing requires reading lots of books, reports, newspaper articles, etc. to find out what we miss and what we need in old, unsolved homicides: case analyses.

The way to absorb all the information before I can write down my thoughts, is a process all on its own.

If the case doesn’t have a lot of things to read, a few notes or a list might suffice. However, if there is a lot going on, books were written, movies were made, or various investigative organizations explored the case, etc. then I need mindmaps. 

EARONS initial analysisMindmaps allow me to wander across the pages of my notebook while I try to sort my thoughts.

I write down keywords, main characters, evidence pieces, questions that pop up, to try to connect the dots.

I use this technique too when I read to write book review. It helps me follow plotlines.

Stephanie Crowe fountain pen Mindmap AdSThe big advantage for me is questioning myself. Once I start writing, I have to ask myself why I made that connection, why I added a keyword to a person’s name, or why I think that there was something missing, etc.

What do you do when you have to absorb a good chunk of information? Do you use mindmaps?