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The Coral Thief: A Novel Hardcover – Bargain Price, September 15, 2009

4.1 out of 5 stars 33 customer reviews

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Hardcover, Bargain Price, September 15, 2009
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. At once an engrossing historical, a love story about an unlikely passion and a novel of ideas that lucidly presents philosophical speculation about natural science, Stott's second novel (after Ghostwalk) is a powerful offering from an immensely talented writer. Narrated by young Englishman Daniel Connor, fresh out of medical school and traveling to a coveted research position in post-Napoleonic Paris in 1815, the novel begins with his realization that his scientific credentials, including a priceless coral specimen, have been stolen by the beautiful woman who sat next to him in the coach. She turns out to be Lucienne Bernard, a notorious thief being pursued by the chief of the Bureau de la Sûreté, Henri Jagot (based on a real figure and bound to make readers think of Javert). A cat and mouse game ensues, as Jagot tries to enlist Connor to trap Lucienne, but Connor falls deeply in love with the philosopher-thief and eventually makes a decision that might cost him his career, his freedom and his spiritual beliefs. Vividly atmospheric, propulsive and intricately plotted, this is a surefire page turner with literary heft and wide appeal. (Sept.)
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Review

“A powerful offering from an immensely talented writer…Vividly atmospheric, propulsive, and intricately plotted, this is a surefire page turner with literary heft and wide appeal.”–Publishers Weekly, starred review

“Stott again skillfully combines an intriguing love story, complex scientific concepts, and a beautifully realized historical setting…Riveting on all fronts, from its suspenseful plot to its elegant presentation of evolutionary theory.”–Booklist, starred review

“Stott once again juxtaposes science with a tale of love, mystery and intrigue, setting this volatile mix against a backdrop of critical events in post-Revolutionary France… Skillfully embeds early 19th-century culture, history, and attitudes into a story that flows like the Seine and floods the senses.”–Kirkus Reviews, starred review
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Spiegel & Grau; 1 edition (September 15, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 038553146X
  • ASIN: B005ZOJD0Y
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,340,704 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
By the time I had read this novel, I'd already seen that it had hit the trifecta of book reviews--starred reviews in Publisher's Weekly, Booklist, and Kirkus. Further, the reviewers had all commented on the novel's mix of science, history, romance, and mystery. All I could think is, "I've got to read this book!" Ah, but raised expectations are a brutal thing. Rebecca Stott addresses the issue herself:

"It depends," I said, "On your expectations. Whether they are low or high."
"Oh, my expectation are, I believe, unusually high."
"Well, then, many things will not be as good as they seem."

And that was my experience exactly. I think that had I come to The Coral Thief with no expectations whatsoever, I would have enjoyed it more.

The novel opens with 21-year-old protagonist Daniel Connor on his way to Paris from his home in Edinburgh. The year is 1815. Napoléon has just been defeated at Waterloo. And Daniel Connor is striking out on his own for the first time to continue his medical and scientific studies at the renowned Jardin des Plantes with the famed Dr. Cuvier. He comes bearing gifts of rare coral specimens, a translated manuscript, and letters of recommendation from his former professor.

As he travels by mail coach, Daniel meets a most extraordinary woman. It takes him a while, in the dark, to realize that she is quite beautiful, though she's about twice his age. She speaks knowledgeably, if controversially, about science. She is like no one he has ever known. When he awakes in the morning, the woman is gone. So is the bag containing his specimens and the rest of the precious items in his charge. Oddly, she's gone out of her way to leave his money.
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Format: Hardcover
If Rebecca Stott's goal was to create a vivid feel of Paris after the Napoleonic wars, this novel is a complete success. As for the plot and characters she builds this vibrant setting around, they definitely take a backseat in her vivid re-creation. Her story starts as an intriguing mystery novel, young scientist Daniel Connor heads to Paris to study with the greats in a nexus of brilliant and important thought of the day, Paris. On the train into town, he is near hypnotized by a beautiful stranger, and ends up having some priceless fossils stolen from him. When he tries to recover his items, he meets the Police Chief, a corrupt and former master thief who has his own agenda concerning this robbery. The novel quickly morphs into a caper story with who is using whom elements.

This narrative is interspersed with an imagined tale of Napoleon's journey to exile which Stott doesn't even bother to connect to the story in any real way beyond a few casual comments. Its almost as if you are watching a an Oceans Elevens/Departed type movie and your spouse keeps changing the channel to an documentary on Napoleon's exile and Post Revolutionary Paris. You don't get bored with one program or the other, but the mixture feels somewhat bumpy at best. The plot seems heavily contrived and the romantic scenes lack heat. Daniel Connor also makes one inexpiable decision after another which doesn't help.

The writing however is great, and Stott consistently uses several phrases that light up. The Police Chief (who is based on fact in a stranger then fiction turn), and some of the scenes that describe Revolutionary violence are the story's fabulous and moving highlights.
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Format: Hardcover
Post-Napoleonic Paris seethes with intrigue, daring scientific ideas and lawlessness. The head of the police is a former thug, the dread and fear of The Terror still linger and the intelligentsia scheme to hold onto the art and artifacts looted by Napoleon.

Into this heady maelstrom comes the naïve, ambitious narrator, English medical student Daniel Connor, fresh from the University of Edinburgh, to study anatomy with the great Cuvier at the Jardin des Plantes.

But on the coach to Paris young Connor meets a beautiful older woman, Lucienne Bernard, an intellectual who fills his head with the exciting and heretical ideas of another Jardin des Plantes scientist, Lamarck, precursor to Darwin. Beguiled by the woman, Connor falls asleep and wakes to find the precious fossils and papers he was to deliver to Cuvier have been stolen.

Without them his budding career is at an end. Connor reports the theft, but the menacing head of police, M. Jagot, proves more ruthless than the beautiful thief. Jagot has a personal vendetta against Bernard and her circle of outlaw intelligentsia and he's perfectly willing to bring down Connor along with them.

An affair naturally ensues between the mysterious Bernard and the young man and Connor soon becomes entangled in her fate. He also excels at his new duties assisting Cuvier's catalogue of nature, while carousing most nights with his fellow student or Bernard, drinking and talking of the new philosophy of evolution.

Stott's writing is visual and eloquent. She brings the intellectual excitement of the era alive as well as the post-Napoleonic letdown and unrest and the lingering paranoia of The Terror.

The book's problems stem from the narration.
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