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Thank you to NetGalley and Rowman & Littlefield Publishers for providing an e-Arc in exchange for an honest review.

Release Date: January 5th, 2016

Synopsis: The Search For the Man in the Iron Mask triumphantly solves an enduring puzzle that has stumped historians for centuries and seduced novelists and filmmakers to this day. Who was the man who was rumored to have been kept in prison and treated royally during much of the reign of Louis XIV while being forced to wear an iron mask? Could he have possibly been the twin brother of the Sun King? Like every other serious scholar, intrepid historian Paul Sonnino discounts this theory, instead taking the reader along on his adventures to uncover the truth behind this ancient enigma. Exploring the hidden, squalid side of the lavish court of France, the author uncovers the full spectrum of French society, from humble servants to wealthy merchants to kings and queens. All had self-interested reasons to hold their secrets close until one humble valet named Eustache Dauger was arrested and jailed for decades, simply because he knew too much and opened his mouth at the wrong time. Presenting his dramatic solution to the mystery, Sonnino convincingly shows that no one will be able to tell the story of the man in the iron mask without taking into account the staggering array of evidence he has uncovered over the course of decades.

I have to admit, I very rarely read non-fiction. If you’ve been following my blog you’ve probably already guessed this. Nothing thrills me more than a real-life historical mystery though. The last book I read which purported to have solved a centuries old mystery was Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper–Case Closed (2002), by Patricia Cornwell. Let’s just say I was bitterly disappointed. Happily, The Search For The Man In The Iron Mask is leagues ahead.

The question of who this mysterious figure forced to wear an iron mask while imprisoned for decades in the Bastille could have been, caused notable figures such as Voltaire to speculate as to his identity, and even more famously spurred Alexandre Dumas to immortalize him in The Man in the Iron Mask. While scholars, conspiracy theorists, and amateur historical detectives have argued and debated for centuries, no one theory has completely thrown off the shadow of uncertainty. Paul Sonnino, a well respected French historian, has written this after decades of research. The result is an entertaining and well written account of his journey. The first thing I appreciated was the conversational tone from the author. While this book is under 300 pages, it’s packed with dates, figures, and other historical facts. Because of the sheer number of these I did find myself having to go back and re-read a few passages in order to remind myself who was who. Sonnino discusses several theories that have been brought up and and discounted, including his own, before revealing who he now believes to be the most likely candidate and why. I’ve heard this particular name raised before, so it wasn’t a huge surprise that Sonnino has settled on him, but reading his account of how he reached his conclusions was fascinating. 

Despite being academic in nature, In Search Of The Man In The Iron Mask should appeal to anyone who loves a good historical puzzle, particularly if you’re a Dumas fan and grew up reading his thrilling adventures as I did. Paul Sonnino’s writing possesses a clarity and dry sense of humor which makes this an illuminating and entertaining read.