The Eighth Day Brotherhood by Alice M Phillips
In Paris, 1888, the city prepares for the Exposition Universelle and the new Eiffel Tower swiftly rises on the bank of the Seine. One August morning, the sunrise reveals the embellished corpse of a young man suspended between the columns of the Pantheon, resembling a grotesque Icarus and marking the first in a macabre series of murders linked to Paris monuments.
In the Latin Quarter, occult scholar Remy Sauvage is informed of his lover’s gruesome death and embarks upon his own investigation to avenge him by apprehending the cult known as the Eighth Day Brotherhood. At a nearby sanitarium, aspiring artist Claude Fournel becomes enamored with a mesmerist’s beautiful patient, Irish immigrant Margaret Finnegan. Resolved to steal her away from the asylum and obtain her for his muse, Claude only finds them both entwined in the Brotherhood’s apocalyptic plot combining magic, mythology, and murder.
I do enjoy a bit of historical crime fiction, especially when there is just a hint, the tiniest suggestion, of something supernatural about the proceedings. The Eighth Day Brotherhood promises exactly that. The debut novel from Alice M. Phillips features a series of despicable murders, an enigmatic cult and a frantic race against time. What more could a fan of the spine-tingling ask for?
The vast majority of the novel takes place, over the course of a single bloody week where the Eighth Day Brotherhood reveal a series of artistic masterpieces that use kidnapped models as a centrepiece. The art that is the inspiration for these homages are all based on mythological scenes, and tend to require a human element that has been transfigured in some morbid fashion. Bodies are horribly mutilated and disfigured all in the name of art. As each day passes, there is a growing sense of unease among the populace of the city. What horrific tableau will the Brotherhood create next? Who else will suffer for their gruesome art?
Prompted by very personal reasons to uncover the truth, local bookseller, Remy Sauvage, is resolved to capture the culprits. His unique specialist knowledge initially casts the shadow of suspicion in his direction, but the authorities soon realise that Sauvage is a valuable resource in their investigations. There is a grim determination to Sauvage’s character. He cannot fail, whatever the cost to himself. The author peppers the story with little details about Sauvage. He dresses in an anachronistic fashion. He carries a sword cane. You get the impression he likes everything just so. He has the kind of mind that lends itself well to investigation. He manages to be both methodical but also intuitive when he needs to be.
Elsewhere a young artist named Claude finds himself also drawn into the Brotherhood’s dark conspiracy. A chance meeting with a potential muse puts him in direct conflict with the dark scheme that is unfolding.
The author’s attention to her characters makes it extremely easy to visualise them all. In particular Sauvage and Claude come across as well rounded, almost vividly alive. There is a raw emotional quality to both men that feels almost palpable. In each case there is little doubt about the motivations that drive them to solve these brutal crimes.
There are some other interesting themes scattered throughout the narrative. The artistic community, still mourning the death of literary titan Victor Hugo, are horrified at the march of progress. They view engineering innovations like the Eiffel Tower with a vocal distrust. There is a developing culture clash as the city races towards the new century. Everywhere there is evidence of the battle between the traditional versus the new. Paris is a city in a constant state of flux. It seems the ideal backdrop for a mysterious cult to unleash their unspeakable plan. I love how evocative the descriptions of the city and its denizens are.
As I’ve mentioned before in previous reviews, I like to find a suitable musical companion to go along with reading a novel. My recommendation to accompany The Eighth Day Brotherhood is ‘Borne in Blood’ by Alex Roe. This soundtrack album does a grand job of matching the overall mood of the narrative with a gothic feel and sinister undertone. The title also seems entirely apt as well.
I do hope there will be more novels featuring Remy Sauvage. There is a wonderful throwaway line at the book’s conclusion which suggests that very thing may happen. I’ve long been of the firm belief that history and crime are genres that complement one another extremely well. The Eighth Brotherhood only reinforces that opinion. Alice M. Phillips has proven with her debut novel that she can craft a tale that is both engrossing and perfectly paced. If you enjoyed books like The Unseeing by Anna Mazzola, or Mayhem and Murder by Sarah Pinborough, then The Eighth Day Brotherhood should feature on your reading list.
The Eighth Day Brotherhood is published by Black Rose Writing and is available now.