By J. H. Bográn
In Judith Rock’s latest book, THE WHISPERING OF BONES, the last thing Jesuit Charles du Luc and his elderly confessor expect to find on an autumn day in 1687 when they go to pray in an ancient church crypt outside Paris is a murdered man—a very young man who was about to enter their order. Then another Jesuit disappears from the school Louis le Grand, where Charles teaches. And Charles discovers that a forged document from Poland, source of the dark myth gathering around the Society of Jesus, is circulating illegally in Paris. In the midst of this, the soldier who once saved Charles’s life enters the Jesuit Novice House, bringing Charles’s most shameful battlefield secret back to haunt him. As he tries to untangle this web, he sees that his efforts may well destroy his Jesuit future.
I must confess I fell in love with this book from the moment I first read it. I had the privilege to pose some questions to the author.
What can you tell us about Charles Du Luc, and his development for the fourth book in the series?
Charles was wounded in the battle of St. Omer in 1677. While recovering, he read about the life of St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus, and decided to become a Jesuit. He’s now twenty-nine and nearing the end of the long Jesuit training. After a lot of questioning and risking of his vocation, he knows that he wants to be ordained a priest—even though obedience has always been hard for him, and still is. As he faces the terrible secret from his army past, and is overtaken by the consequences of finding the body at the beginning of this book, he discovers that freedom is the unexpected other side of humility.
What kind of research did you conduct for the book?
The novels are based on my doctoral research. In Paris, in the 1980s, I researched the ballets, produced as part of teaching physical rhetoric, at the Jesuit school called Louis le Grand in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. (At that time, ‘rhetoric’ meant the art of communication, with no negative spin on the word.) For THE WHISPERING OF BONES, I went back to France—and the gorgeous Mazarine library—and read the 1678 edition of the anti-Jesuit document mentioned above. I also read the Paris ‘newspapers’ for the autumn of 1687. These were actually small books containing news, riddles, songs, poetry, fashions, and lists of new books. They were compiled every month and sent around France. Some of that news is used in the story—a riddle, a song, the color of a dress, and various happenings that people talk about in casual conversation.
The school Louis le Grand where your novels take place recently celebrated 450 years. Were you part of the celebration?
Louis le Grand (no longer Jesuit) is one of France’s most prestigious state secondary schools. Faculty and students are excited about the Charles du Luc novels, and did me the great honor of inviting me to speak at the school’s four-hundred-fiftieth Anniversary Colloquium on May 25, 2013. I talked about the ballets produced there when the school was Jesuit, showed video excerpts from the 1709 ballet L’Esperance (Hope) which I restaged in San Francisco in 1985, and spoke about the novels. It was a wonderful homecoming for me—and for Charles! (I even stayed in a room in the school!)
From choreographer to police officer to writer; they are quite the career moves. Can you elaborate a bit more about what prompted them?
Well, as my husband said once when I was packing to go somewhere for both dance and police work, “You’re the only person I know who travels with tap shoes and a bulletproof vest. . .” I think what connects the things I’ve done is that I’ve followed my imagination and my passion for making art. While, of course, trying to make at least part of a living!
Even the foray into police work ended up as art: I wrote a commissioned one-woman show called Response Time (about what happens when a middle-aged female artist hits the street as a cop) and toured it around the country in the 90s. I got into police work—after my dance career ended because of injury—by watching female police officers in New York City and wondering, “What would it be like?” And now, of course, police experience is very useful in writing mysteries, even historical ones!
Praise for THE WHISPERING OF BONES and Judith Rock:
“17th century Paris comes to life in Rock’s latest Charles du Luc mystery. A lavish setting is paired with a well-plotted, suspenseful mystery that keeps the reader enthralled. The characters are engaging and easy to identify with because of their complex yet very human personal backgrounds.”—Roseann Marlett, ROMANTIC TIMES
“[Rock] captures a city and time that is lively, dangerous, and politically charged, and makes it sing…”—KIRKUS (starred review) of THE RHETORIC OF DEATH
Artist (dancer, choreographer, playwright, actress, now novelist), and scholar (Ph.D. theology and art), the Charles du Luc books are made from everything I care about and know. Even the birds that fly in and out of scenes are there because I currently take care of injured birds at Save Our Seabirds in Sarasota. People usually say “write what you know,” but I say “write what you love.”
To learn more about Judith, please visit her website.