Book Review: Casanova and the Faceless Woman by Olivier Barde-Cabuçon

A compelling thriller set in pre-revolutionary France with engaging characters that you are never entirely sure if you can trust” – a CUB must-read! 

1759. Outside the gates of the magnificent Palace of Versailles, the city of Paris sits submerged in squalor and crime. One night, a young woman’s body is found with ghastly mutilations that shock onlookers to the core. The Inspector of Strange and Unexplained Deaths begins investigating this unusual and macabre case. But the clues he uncovers draw him into a deadly web of intrigue and bring him face-to-face with notorious adventurer and seducer, Giacomo Casanova. When a second butchered corpse is discovered, the Inspector finds his life in grave danger and his revolutionary past exposed. Can he navigate between the factions secretly warring for power and find a way to the truth?

The setting of this novel is a pleasant breath of fresh air for your reading palette, particularly if you don’t often read literature of this kind. Set in mid-18th century pre-revolutionary France in the time of Louis XV (15th), you feel utterly transported to the cobbled streets of Paris and the royal palace of Versailles. It is interesting how Barde-Cabuçon has utilised the historically reported womanising nature of the monarch, not only to recreate the likely scandalous air that surrounded Louis, but also to generate a key element of the plot. The book is also set in the time of the Enlightenment with a clash between religious faith and science. The characters of the monk, Comte de Saint-Germain, and Chiara were brilliant at demonstrating the thirst for scientific knowledge in the period, particularly in the art of chemicals, potions and alchemy. It was especially enjoyable to see that a woman was not only fascinated by this field of education, but also understood it and was good at it. 

The plot is very tense and intriguing, with two burning questions in your mind throughout: who are the faceless women, the victims of these heinous murders? And who killed them? The occasional sword fights throughout reminded me of The Three Musketeers and if you enjoy that kind of literature, then this is definitely a book for you! Barde-Cabuçon does a superb job of keeping you engaged and guessing to solve this mystery, and does not reveal all until the final few pages of the novel. There were some very shocking revelations at the end that left me feeling satisfied and wanting more; considering this is the first case for the Inspector of Strange and Unexplained Deaths, it is implied that more novels will follow and I can’t wait to read more! 

Barde-Cabuçon’s descriptions are vivid, especially in regards to fashion and characters’ clothes.  The wealthy characters are very chic and you can clearly visualise their outfits as if this book has been adapted into a BBC drama. Houses and homes were also narrated in great detail which completely immerses you into the world of this book. 

The character of Casanova is a very complicated one in how you respond to him. He fancies himself a ladies’ man and is therefore arrogant in his sexual conquests. As a result, I disliked him and my loathing was intensified by his advances towards Chiara. On the other hand, his presence and involvement is crucial in solving the Inspector’s case, and you gradually begin to endure and accept him for who he is. 

 The Inspector, Volney, is a very likeable character. His determination to see the case through to the end and to get to the truth no matter the cost is uplifting to read. He is an honest and honourable man who values justice and prioritises what is right for the country of France. His mysterious past also lends him an air of “je ne sais quoi” which intrigues you all the more. Volney’s partnership with the monk is simultaneously heart-warming and humorous. I felt that their collaboration on the case reminded me very much of a Holmes and Watson relationship; they understand each other very well and where one has less knowledge or a weakness in one area, the other compensates for that which enables them to work together harmoniously. 

Overall, Casanova and the Faceless Woman is a compelling thriller which immerses you in the world of pre-revolutionary France. With engaging characters that you are never entirely sure if you can trust, this book will keep you guessing until the last page. 


Rating: 5/5   

Casanova and the Faceless Woman is available in paperback and Kindle editions from 28th March. 

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