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The Cast of a Hand: Based on a True Story of Love and Murder in Second Empire France

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At dawn on the outskirts of Paris in 1869, Hortense Kinck lies buried alive and surrounded by five of her children. Violently attacked, tormented and trapped, she sifts through the truths and deceits of her marriage to self-made industrialist, Jean Kinck. Why had he lied? France, snug in the prosperity of Napoleon III’s Second Empire, is shocked by the vicious destruction At dawn on the outskirts of Paris in 1869, Hortense Kinck lies buried alive and surrounded by five of her children. Violently attacked, tormented and trapped, she sifts through the truths and deceits of her marriage to self-made industrialist, Jean Kinck. Why had he lied? France, snug in the prosperity of Napoleon III’s Second Empire, is shocked by the vicious destruction of the bourgeois Kinck family. Under pressure from his superiors, the Chief of Police, Monsieur Claude, must unravel the baffling connections between the family and a mysterious young man, Jean-Baptiste Troppmann, a cold case, a famous palmist and France’s rising tide of dissatisfaction with the Emperor Napoleon III. The Cast of a Hand is an unforgettable love story and a murder mystery based on one of the most shocking crimes of 19th century Paris. GS Johnston’s razor sharp prose interweaves and cross-pollinates the two narratives, both desperately trying to arrive at the truth.


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At dawn on the outskirts of Paris in 1869, Hortense Kinck lies buried alive and surrounded by five of her children. Violently attacked, tormented and trapped, she sifts through the truths and deceits of her marriage to self-made industrialist, Jean Kinck. Why had he lied? France, snug in the prosperity of Napoleon III’s Second Empire, is shocked by the vicious destruction At dawn on the outskirts of Paris in 1869, Hortense Kinck lies buried alive and surrounded by five of her children. Violently attacked, tormented and trapped, she sifts through the truths and deceits of her marriage to self-made industrialist, Jean Kinck. Why had he lied? France, snug in the prosperity of Napoleon III’s Second Empire, is shocked by the vicious destruction of the bourgeois Kinck family. Under pressure from his superiors, the Chief of Police, Monsieur Claude, must unravel the baffling connections between the family and a mysterious young man, Jean-Baptiste Troppmann, a cold case, a famous palmist and France’s rising tide of dissatisfaction with the Emperor Napoleon III. The Cast of a Hand is an unforgettable love story and a murder mystery based on one of the most shocking crimes of 19th century Paris. GS Johnston’s razor sharp prose interweaves and cross-pollinates the two narratives, both desperately trying to arrive at the truth.

51 review for The Cast of a Hand: Based on a True Story of Love and Murder in Second Empire France

  1. 4 out of 5

    Elisabeth Storrs

    Macabre, suspenseful and poignant - GS Johnston is expert in drawing the reader into a story that explores both a chilling set of murders as well as the tender devotion of an ill fated mother for her husband and her slain children. Set in the Second Empire of France, the novel is written from two perspectives that are interwoven seamlessly: Hortense, the murdered wife, and Monsieur Claude, the driven Chief Inspector. As Claude hastens to unravel the mystery of whether the enigmatic Jean-Baptiste Macabre, suspenseful and poignant - GS Johnston is expert in drawing the reader into a story that explores both a chilling set of murders as well as the tender devotion of an ill fated mother for her husband and her slain children. Set in the Second Empire of France, the novel is written from two perspectives that are interwoven seamlessly: Hortense, the murdered wife, and Monsieur Claude, the driven Chief Inspector. As Claude hastens to unravel the mystery of whether the enigmatic Jean-Baptiste Troppmann is indeed the architect of the brutal crime, I found myself drawn inexorably to the final moments of Hortense's life as though watching a movie - one hand over my eyes to avoid the sight of inevitable horror yet unable to stop peeking. Johnston is adept at portraying Troppmann as vulnerable, manipulative, cruel and yet ultimately courageous while always keeping the reader's sympathies firmly with Hortense. Rich in history that has clearly been rigorously researched, Johnston brings Paris to life in a time where corruption remained deeply entrenched despite the veneer of newly paved boulevardes and grand buildings. From the electrifying beginning where the dying Hortense lies in her shallow grave, to the grotesque denouement in a Paris jail, A Cast of a Hand grips the reader in a way the ensures tired eyes from reading late into the night and thereafter pondering the melancholic intricacies of murder, justice and a woman's love.

  2. 4 out of 5

    IAN W THOMSON

    We live in a world where the media reporting of the college shootings, serial killers and crimes of passion often grasp at our attention for their online headlines. But how better to set the horror of such dramatic acts into context, than to explore the archetypal nature of such crimes and their perpetrators. In G. S. Johnston’s historical recreation of the murder of Hortense Knick and her children on the outskirts of Paris in the 1860’s, the author offers us a complex and insightful ‘blick’ int We live in a world where the media reporting of the college shootings, serial killers and crimes of passion often grasp at our attention for their online headlines. But how better to set the horror of such dramatic acts into context, than to explore the archetypal nature of such crimes and their perpetrators. In G. S. Johnston’s historical recreation of the murder of Hortense Knick and her children on the outskirts of Paris in the 1860’s, the author offers us a complex and insightful ‘blick’ into the interweaving of the social, medial, legal and political machinations that follow the gruesome discovery and the pursuit of the suspected murderer. But all is not as it may first seem, as the complacent husband, the mercenary suspect, the forensically minded investigator and the self-affirming palmist become hurtled down a labyrinth of questions about whether we are forced to, or born to kill. A historical view on the ‘nature or nurture’ question of murder, that is a relevant today as it was during the trial at the turn of the 19th century. Riveting reading.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Kelly

    Fantastic Read! Had me up several nights reading! Fast paced. I enjoyed the way the story went back and forth. Made me eager to research this case further.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Susan

    4.5 stars- I received this book free in a giveaway, but this is still an honest review. I loved the characterizations in this book, especially police chief Claude and his wife Catherine. The story was fascinating and heartbreaking, the more so because it was true. I felt the pace bogged down a little at times, but we walked through it with Claude in this way. A very thought provoking book, especially within it's setting- I would definitely recommend, especially if you like historical fiction. 4.5 stars- I received this book free in a giveaway, but this is still an honest review. I loved the characterizations in this book, especially police chief Claude and his wife Catherine. The story was fascinating and heartbreaking, the more so because it was true. I felt the pace bogged down a little at times, but we walked through it with Claude in this way. A very thought provoking book, especially within it's setting- I would definitely recommend, especially if you like historical fiction.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Caraline

    It is no secret that I absolutely loved The Skin of Water, the author's previous novel. So this book had a big hill to climb. I am pleased to say it did not disappoint me. The split narration really suits reading in good chunks, so set some time aside and step back in time to 19th century France. Join Antoine Claude as he pieces together the mystery behind the bodies the field. Walk with Hortense Kinck on her inexorable journey. The puzzle draws you in, and the finale is so well written, it is im It is no secret that I absolutely loved The Skin of Water, the author's previous novel. So this book had a big hill to climb. I am pleased to say it did not disappoint me. The split narration really suits reading in good chunks, so set some time aside and step back in time to 19th century France. Join Antoine Claude as he pieces together the mystery behind the bodies the field. Walk with Hortense Kinck on her inexorable journey. The puzzle draws you in, and the finale is so well written, it is impossible to guess how things will end. Despite the fact the opening chapter tells us Hortense died, it is a testament to the author's brilliance just how invested I became in her story, whilst knowing her ultimate fate. The male 'hero' is the Paris Chief of Police, and whilst he is not as alluring as The Skin of Water's Zeno, his good moral character and devotion to his wife, his job and this case make him almost as attractive. (Almost.) This novel is so much more than a historical whodunnit or a period romance. The evocative writing transports, but it also informs and embroils the reader, which makes it such an enjoyable book. Like The Skin of Water, The Cast of a Hand stays with you, haunting in a different way, but still leaving us hoping the author doesn't keep us waiting too long for his next novel.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Kathy Shaw

    An actual crime in France in the 1890’s This book was wonderfully written using two different people, the murdered wife, and the Chief of Police of Paris. This actual mass murder of an in tire family sent shock waves throughout France and the case was rushed by higher authorities for a solution in order to placate the population. There were many people hindering the Chief of Police thereby rendering his investigation flawed.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Literary

    I am always moved by a true story and this one held my attention from the beginning to the very end. There is a keen-sighted look at the events that are well thought out in two simultaneous stories that go from scene to scene with transparent ease. Jean, Hortense and Jean-Baptiste's personalities really develop over the course of the book and I found I particularly liked Claude who seem to add an interesting dynamic. Overall it is interesting, eerie, touching and worth the time to read! I am always moved by a true story and this one held my attention from the beginning to the very end. There is a keen-sighted look at the events that are well thought out in two simultaneous stories that go from scene to scene with transparent ease. Jean, Hortense and Jean-Baptiste's personalities really develop over the course of the book and I found I particularly liked Claude who seem to add an interesting dynamic. Overall it is interesting, eerie, touching and worth the time to read!

  8. 4 out of 5

    Severine

    I'm not a big fan of historical fiction or crime mysteries and I don't really read independently published books that much because the quality varies drastically. But G.S. Johnston is legit, he is a talented writer with an impeccable imagination, and I enjoyed reading this book thoroughly. Johnston's writing is beautiful, nuanced, vivid. The characters are complex and multi-faceted. Attention is paid both to the plotline, and the currents of the time that complicate the picture further. And most I'm not a big fan of historical fiction or crime mysteries and I don't really read independently published books that much because the quality varies drastically. But G.S. Johnston is legit, he is a talented writer with an impeccable imagination, and I enjoyed reading this book thoroughly. Johnston's writing is beautiful, nuanced, vivid. The characters are complex and multi-faceted. Attention is paid both to the plotline, and the currents of the time that complicate the picture further. And most importantly, Johnston managed to take an obscure (especially to the anglophone reader) but fascinating true crime case from 150 years ago, and explore it in a way that's intriguing, eye-opening, and mesmerizing. As I finished reading and dug further, I discovered that the case had a massive influence on the revolutionary thought in Russia. Dostoevsky, Bakunin and Kropotkin made references to the case in their work. I'll definitely delve into that deeper because I think that the issues of unjust incarceration, of seeing humanity in perpetrators, of establishing guilt, are all very current and valid today. By the way, Johnston's novel actually reminded me of Dostoevsky's writing. And maybe Leonid Andreyev's. The pathology of human nature is a complex feat, and Johnston managed it with a dedication that's fresh but also sadly deemed old-fashioned, something that contemporary authors at times forego for the sake of recursion. The only thing that saddened me was that Johnston did not try to delve deeper into the mind of Troppman. I understand that it would be a different project altogether, but Troppman's embodiment of the other in so many ways was just so raw and interesting.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Vanessa Di Stefano

    I actually really enjoyed this book, found it hard to put down. I liked the way the journey through the investigation was interspersed with the development of events in Hortense's life, with the latter slowly catching up to the criminal investigation into her death. It was very well done, and kept me guessing until the end. Even when it became clear what had happened, there was still enough tension in the story to keep me interested. Only one of the very last scenes jarred a little, the reaction I actually really enjoyed this book, found it hard to put down. I liked the way the journey through the investigation was interspersed with the development of events in Hortense's life, with the latter slowly catching up to the criminal investigation into her death. It was very well done, and kept me guessing until the end. Even when it became clear what had happened, there was still enough tension in the story to keep me interested. Only one of the very last scenes jarred a little, the reaction of one of the protagonists to a pivotal event, but, maybe under the circumstances, such a reaction is possible. Sorry to be vague, but I do not want to write any spoilers!

  10. 5 out of 5

    Tena

    I won a kindle version #GoodreadsGiveaway

  11. 4 out of 5

    Estella

    I won this book through goodreads. I love historical mysteries and this is a good one. Based on a true story. It kept my attention from beginning to end.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Bettye McKee

    A most unusual story set in Napoleon III's French Empire Based on a true story (using real names), this intriguing mystery follows a twisting trail. It takes several chapters for the story to start making sense. But just when you think you are beginning to understand where the story is leading, the facts change. Don't blame the author who is only writing down the story. If you research a bit on the internet, you can find photos of the victims and more information about Troppmann. M. Claude, who in A most unusual story set in Napoleon III's French Empire Based on a true story (using real names), this intriguing mystery follows a twisting trail. It takes several chapters for the story to start making sense. But just when you think you are beginning to understand where the story is leading, the facts change. Don't blame the author who is only writing down the story. If you research a bit on the internet, you can find photos of the victims and more information about Troppmann. M. Claude, who investigated the murders, became obsessed with learning the truth. Highly recommended, especially for fans of historical crimes. If I had proofread this book, I would have corrected 24 errors.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Elspeth G. Perkin

    Slight tweaks and spins of historic fact are expected in any historical fiction novel and there is no doubt The Cast of a Hand: Based on a True Story of Love and Murder in Second Empire France is an ambitious and bold work but I can’t honestly say I found this book worth this reader’s effort to finish. I feel terrible to go against so many glowing and enthusiastic reviews but I finished this book irked, confused and just plain disappointed. The story started out strong and the course of events f Slight tweaks and spins of historic fact are expected in any historical fiction novel and there is no doubt The Cast of a Hand: Based on a True Story of Love and Murder in Second Empire France is an ambitious and bold work but I can’t honestly say I found this book worth this reader’s effort to finish. I feel terrible to go against so many glowing and enthusiastic reviews but I finished this book irked, confused and just plain disappointed. The story started out strong and the course of events flowed straight with buildups of desired mystery but once the novel moved into seriously spinning with history, adding flourishes of sadly predictable conspiracy elements and concluding with a possible hidden agenda message- that is when this book completely lost me. There were also specific details and evidence shared in the beginning of the novel that were a part of this true-life horrendous tragedy that I was interested to see later in the story with creative (but well-researched and plausible) explanations but these were frustratingly discarded (and it seems the reader is just supposed to forget those specifics and other real and imagined details) and in place more sympathetic passages aimed at the accused were found. I will say that although not all the characters were vividly drawn, Hortense’s personality came shining through as I read and I appreciated the author not falling into that modern expectation that all female characters need to defy their settings and need to be painted with current sensibilities and thoughts. Unfortunately the other characters were pale in comparison and the 19th-century France atmosphere seemed oddly off or just didn’t stand out for this reader but I think the slightly modern sounding dialogue and surprising non-national “-isms” may have had a lot to do with that sadly. Finally I just couldn’t stop shaking my head at the anachronistic detective and forensic details and topics that kept breaking through but all negatives I may have found may be not so noticeable by other eager readers. I won’t say The Cast of a Hand: Based on a True Story of Love and Murder in Second Empire France should be avoided, on the contrary it really isn’t a bad book (it really has an absolutely gripping plot and served as a decent winter’s day read) and it may be well worth someone's time. So give it a spin if you’re interested, you just may love it like so many others. ~*~For more reviews see http://asthefinalpageturns.blogspot.com

  14. 5 out of 5

    John

    I tend to read a variety of books but I particularly like crime thrillers. I have just finished The Girl on the Train and enjoyed it a lot. I’m glad my follow-up book was The Cast of a Hand because it just was suspenseful and enjoyable. Like trying to put the pieces together in a jigsaw puzzle, the author of The Cast of a Hand skilfully guided and teased me through a cat and mouse game of hopeful leads and dead ends in the quest for the truth behind the grisly murder of the Kinck family. You exp I tend to read a variety of books but I particularly like crime thrillers. I have just finished The Girl on the Train and enjoyed it a lot. I’m glad my follow-up book was The Cast of a Hand because it just was suspenseful and enjoyable. Like trying to put the pieces together in a jigsaw puzzle, the author of The Cast of a Hand skilfully guided and teased me through a cat and mouse game of hopeful leads and dead ends in the quest for the truth behind the grisly murder of the Kinck family. You experience the main characters’ emotions – the victim’s confusion and betrayal and the police chief’s exasperation as their lives spiral around the identity of the killer and his twisted motivations. If you enjoyed The Shadow of the Wind, this book has the same atmospheric, nourish mystery quality. I highly recommend The Cast of a Hand to mystery and suspense readers.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Traci Browne

    This story is told in two narratives, an approach that most writers do not do very well. Johnston, however, weaves the two together so well you hardly even notice you are bouncing between them. It's a flow that is not only natural, but amazingly right for this story. I always love how he writes his characters in his books. He gives you just enough description to paint your own picture, not force the author's image on you. That said, somehow he manages to make every character so rich and vibrant. This story is told in two narratives, an approach that most writers do not do very well. Johnston, however, weaves the two together so well you hardly even notice you are bouncing between them. It's a flow that is not only natural, but amazingly right for this story. I always love how he writes his characters in his books. He gives you just enough description to paint your own picture, not force the author's image on you. That said, somehow he manages to make every character so rich and vibrant. You'll swear he described them in detail because you see them in your mind as if they were right in front of you. You understand them. You pity them, you love them, and at times you hate them. Settle in if you open this book up...you're not going to want to put it down.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Jackie

    4.25 stars I'm not really a fan of the history/mystery genre but since it was written by G.S.Johnston and I loved his book The Skin of Water AND He sent me a free copy; I thought I would give it a try. I'm not big on writing long reviews but I will say this; the author clearly did quite a bit of research and wrote these characters with defined and interesting personality. All along I felt I was there, transported to this time in history. As I conveyed to the author, truth really is stranger than f 4.25 stars I'm not really a fan of the history/mystery genre but since it was written by G.S.Johnston and I loved his book The Skin of Water AND He sent me a free copy; I thought I would give it a try. I'm not big on writing long reviews but I will say this; the author clearly did quite a bit of research and wrote these characters with defined and interesting personality. All along I felt I was there, transported to this time in history. As I conveyed to the author, truth really is stranger than fiction!!

  17. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

    Very enjoyable fictional account of a real case. The period is well transmitted, along with the frustrations of the protagonist, a police detective trying to solve the murder of a woman and her several children. Just when the detective thinks he has it figured out, his main suspects turn up dead -in unexpected ways. Political machinations do nothing to assist our protagonist who must satisfy his superiors (all the way up to the Emperor) while struggling to do justice for the victims.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Gloria

    Mystery of a brutal, vicious murder. Liked this book because it was based on a real mystery in 19th Century France. The author really gets into the character and minds of all the victims.i could not put the book down as the story flowed with detail. The characters came alive.

  19. 4 out of 5

    sharon murray

    This was a book that intrigued me and at many times frustrated me also. But what a fanastic book! You should buy it!!

  20. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer Lewis

  21. 5 out of 5

    Martha

  22. 5 out of 5

    Linda Kent

  23. 5 out of 5

    Sherwood E Bridges

  24. 5 out of 5

    Barbara

  25. 4 out of 5

    Nissa

  26. 4 out of 5

    Mary

  27. 4 out of 5

    Kerry

  28. 4 out of 5

    Sybil Oliver

  29. 4 out of 5

    KarnagesMistress

    I received this book for free through Goodreads Giveaways. It is a Kindle book.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Cheryl

  31. 5 out of 5

    Susan

  32. 4 out of 5

    Pam Macrae

  33. 5 out of 5

    Joanne Brogan

  34. 4 out of 5

    Lexy

  35. 5 out of 5

    Erin

  36. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

  37. 5 out of 5

    Vmacd

  38. 5 out of 5

    Chuck

  39. 4 out of 5

    Ashley M

  40. 4 out of 5

    SUE BARATTA

  41. 5 out of 5

    Marty OConnor

  42. 4 out of 5

    graveyardgremlin

  43. 5 out of 5

    Jinx:The:Poet {the Literary Masochist, Ink Ninja & Word Roamer}

  44. 5 out of 5

    Julianne Negri

  45. 5 out of 5

    Evan Shapiro

  46. 5 out of 5

    Kara

  47. 4 out of 5

    Mell

  48. 5 out of 5

    Melissa

  49. 4 out of 5

    Tammie McGlothlin

  50. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

  51. 4 out of 5

    Peggy

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