ALEXANDRE DUMAS, père – Joseph Balsamo. (Mémoires d’un médecin: Joseph Balsamo, 1846–1848, a.k.a. Memoirs of a Physician, Cagliostro, Madame Dubarry, The Countess Dubarry, or The Elixir of Life.)


    By the way, Small’s movie (Black Magic, in the previous post) opens with a framing sequence of Dumas père (Barry Kroeger) kvetching to Dumas fils (Raymond Burr!) about how hard it is to write a book about Cagliostro and the Queen’s Necklace. Well, it just so happened I had that book on my TBR shelf, so I took it down and read Dumas’s 1843 thriller Joseph Balsamo.

    It’s quite good, actually, Better, I think, than the ballyhooed The Last Cavalier. Balsamo creates up an intriguing cast of characters — most of them figures from history — sets them at odds against each other, then lets them develop real personalities.

    The result is pleasant melodrama and fascinating history. There’s an extended sub-plot-line of Madame DuBarry getting herself formally presented at court over the objections of Marie Antoinette that I found more exciting than any of the sword-fights and tiger hunts in Cavalier. And Dumas’ portrait of Louis XV (That “martyr to boredom” whose dimness and self-absorption were equaled in modern times only by George W. Bush) is humorous, unflinching, and oddly engaging.


    Unfortunately, as I got further and further into the 575 pages that make up this tome, I began to realize not much was happening with Cagliostro and the Queen’s Necklace. And as I got towards the end, I found Joseph Balsamo was only one of four hefty volumes Dumas spent spinning out this tale.


    I’ve said it before: when I read a book, I want to read a book; not make a down-payment on a mortgage. So you can well imagine my disappointment. Still, the writing here was good enough, the characters real enough, that I might try another installment….