Summary: A Citizen of the Country
(My agent is working on Things with the books and asked for summaries. It occurred to me that, if a person were to have read A Citizen of the Country some time ago and didn't have the time to read it again before Crimes and Survivors, a summary would be a handy thing to have.
(So this has SPOILERS. Big ones. All the spoilers.
(You have been warned.)
Spoilers are approaching in the distance.
Here they come.
1911. Reisden and Perdita now have a child, Toby, six months old. Reisden’s goal in life is to be worthy to be Toby’s father.
Jouvet is still in business, but repairs to the building have put Reisden far in debt. He could get money by selling secrets from the Jouvet archives, and everyone expects that. Instead he wants Jouvet to get a big military contract administering tests for the French army. He is applying for French citizenship.
Standing in his way is the famous actor, Maurice Cyron. Cyron is an ex-Army hero who has become a popular actor. Cyron wanted his stepson, André du Monde, to become a military man. Reisden encouraged André to act. André now runs a horror theatre under the name Necrosar, King of Terrors, and Cyron has never forgiven Reisden.
André is a strange man, crude, shy, half-crazy, expressing himself only as the King of Terrors. He's recently married, something Cyron wanted and he never did. Cyron is half in love himself, in an avuncular way, with André's new wife. But André distrusts Sabine, has apparently never slept with her, and has sent her down to his country house, Montfort castle in Flanders, near Arras.
Fix the marriage, Cyron tells Reisden, and you can have the contract.
Perdita and Toby leave for her first post-baby tour in America. Perdita is unhappy because she can’t bring money to her marriage. Gilbert can, but Reisden won’t have that. Reisden wants nothing to do with the Knights, which means he's cut off communication with Gilbert.
André’s chief actor is Jules Fauchard, the Most Assassinated Man in Paris. He's being blackmailed; the blackmailer is implying he and André are lovers. The blackmailer, Ferenc Gehazy, wants some military “secret of Montfort."
But there is no secret of Montfort. It has value only to the local witches, who use the Holy Well of Montfort (i.e. the castle well) in their ceremonies.
(André’s wife, Sabine, is not your ordinary young matron. She's a practicing witch and wants the Holy Well back. She has a crush on Necrosar—not André, Necrosar—and, because she’s a heiress, she’s been able to marry him. She believes she can see people who are about to die; a grey veil falls over their faces. She’s OK with this. She’s not OK with André refusing to sleep with her.)
Cyron makes a plan. André will film Cyron's play, Citizen Mabet, “the Scottish play” set in the Revolution. Sabine will play Lady Mabet. This will get André interested in Sabine. So Cyron hopes.
Reisden goes to Montfort with André. They see the boves, the enormous network of tunnels underneath the center of town. Reisden meets Sabine and her friend, Mlle Françoise, costumer for Citizen Mabet. Sabine's dress is missing a button. For her, clothes come off easily; she’s a girl one takes to bed. She’ll be wonderful in films.
Montfort castle is on a hill, surrounded by little buildings, sheds, memorials, crude statues all made out of the local chalk. There's no secret, but plenty of secrets. Sabine says André is going to be a father and will say it isn't his. André thinks Sabine is poisoning him. An American cowboy, who was handling horses for the film, was apparently Mlle Françoise's lover. The cowboy has disappeared.
And during the weekend, Mlle Françoise dies, poisoned.
Meanwhile, Perdita has arrived in Boston. She's written Gilbert but he hasn't contacted her back. Her old boyfriend, Harry, tells her to go away and has her concert cancelled. Gilbert and Perdita meet each other by accident and she realizes he hasn’t known she was in town. Harry has stolen her letters to Gilbert.
How lonely they all are without each other. Gilbert is asking her to give his last messages to Reisden; she refuses. “You must come to Paris.”
(Sabine’s child is actually that of an “incubus” she called up. The incubus, who is the disappeared cowboy, was asking her about secrets of Montfort. She saw a grey veil on his face, so once he had done what she wanted, she locked him inside the iron cage surrounding the Holy Well. He was going to die anyway; it’s not her fault.)
With the help of an Army general, Lucien Pétiot, Jules constructs a “secret of Montfort” and delivers it to Gehazy. Within hours, Jules is set upon and beaten so badly he can’t do the film. Cyron makes Reisden take Jules’s role in the film. “The next man blackmailed, I want it to be you.”
Gehazy now blackmails Reisden. If he doesn’t get the secret of Montfort, he’ll say Reisden is part of the Austro-Hungarian spy network. Reisden has to give in.
As he's about to leave for the film, Perdita arrives back in Paris. She tells Reisden that Gilbert wants to help Jouvet financially and has come to Paris too. Reisden is furious. He will not be Richard, and the money only makes it worse. He leaves for Montfort. Perdita and Toby join him, leaving Gilbert in Paris.
André learns that Sabine is having “his” child and reacts badly.
Germany starts a foreign war in Morocco, and the film company and crew divide into factions. Sabine encourages the men to fight by telling their fortunes. Reisden looks for the Montfort secret. There should be a secret. Arras should be defended somewhere along the Arras road, and Montfort is an ideal place.
The film’s trick guillotine arrives. Sabine adores the guillotine; it makes her feel “alive, alive, alive”; she wishes that André looked at her the way he looks at it.
André and Reisden visit the Holy Well, in the darkest, deepest of Montfort’s cellars, and discover T.J. Blantire’s body. Shocked by the discovery, André begins to grope his way toward sanity.
Pétiot tells Reisden he wants Gehazy to learn a particular “secret of Montfort.” He hints that it's something to do with an underground fortress. Reisden refuses to hear the secret but gets his reward anyway. He will be given expedited citizenship of France and get the Army contract. His financial troubles are over.
But nothing's signed yet, so nothing's certain.
Gilbert has come to Arras. Reisden persuades him to go back to America. Reisden doesn’t really want this any more than Gilbert does, but “I want Toby to be free of the Knights.” Perdita, Toby, Reisden and Gilbert, have one day together as a family. Perdita tells them not to give up each other; she feels their marriage failing as their family does.
Gilbert leaves, but not before André sees him and Reisden together. André notes their resemblance and wants to make a story out of it.
Jules's sister Ruthie finds evidence implicating Mlle Françoise in witchcraft; Sabine steals it.
Reisden deduces the secret of the underground fortress; he thinks Cyron and his friends have been digging tunnels around Montfort.
Pétiot asks Reisden for help to pass “the secret of Montfort” to Gehazy. Reisden again refuses to be told what the secret is, but takes a letter to the rendezvous. Gehazy doesn’t show up, and Reisden realizes that Gehazy, like Blantire and Mlle Françoise, is probably dead.
Ruthie talks with André about the evidence she found. He recognizes that it implicates Sabine and confronts her; “you are a murderer.” In a mirror, Sabine sees a grey veil over her own face. She tells Cyron that André is going to kill her. Cyron chooses Sabine over André and promises to have André locked up.
But first they'll finish the film, including the spectacular guillotine scene.
Cyron tells Sabine she doesn't need to do the scene. She sees her own rushes—how beautiful she is, like a flower on the screen, like being alive forever—and decides she’ll do it no matter what happens.
Perdita has a letter from a friend in Paris. Did you know Sabine ordered mourning before her father died? She investigates, and tells Reisden Sabine poisoned Mlle Françoise. Reisden just can't hear this. Accusing Sabine would lose him the Army contract. He and Perdita quarrel over his refusal to take Gilbert's help.
But he does ask Sabine about the rabbit, and she almost confesses. She tells her last fortune for him. “Somebody’s going to die. Somebody close to you. It could be change but it’s death.”
During the guillotine scene, Ruthie, Jules, and Reisden watch to make sure André does nothing. But the guillotine kills Sabine. A mob chases André into the boves and Jules and Reisden follow him.
The men don’t come out of the boves, for days, for a week... The search parties give up.
Perdita goes back to Paris, lays out her clothes to be dyed black, and calls Gilbert. She asks him to change his life for her, to stay in France and help her run the business, and he agrees. They will keep Jouvet going to honor Reisden’s memory. Perdita says a eulogy for Reisden to Toby—”your father never thought he was a good man, but he was”—and prepares to live the rest of her life without him, with Gilbert's help.
Lost in the boves, André, Jules, and Reisden run out of candles, matches, water. They are near death. Reisden allows himself to depend on somebody else at last—André, of all people—and André finds a way out.
In the cellars at Montfort, they find what appears to be the famous underground fortress. But, like the rest of Montfort, it’s a piece of theater. Cyron has never succeeded in building it. The best he’s been able to do is to make some spies think he has.
While they investigated, they’ve broken locks; it’s obvious they know there’s no secret of Montfort. Worse, André has frightened some servants at Montfort. Cyron will know he’s alive. André and Jules hide out. Reisden goes to Paris and overhears Perdita talking to Gilbert. He thought she’d go back to America, without him, and Gilbert would go with her. They’re staying for him. It humbles him.
Reisden gathers too many witnesses to deny, including Gilbert, and returns to Montfort. André and Jules have been captured. Reisden talks to Cyron as father to father: if Cyron doesn't intervene to save him, André will die. Cyron has never saved anyone who was a threat to him, Reisden says, not even Sabine. Can he do it now?
Cyron draws a revolver on him and Gilbert steps in from the hall and pulls Reisden out to safety. “Ne tuez le pas! Ne tuez le pas, Monsieur! Il est mon fils!”
He is my son. Gilbert says he couldn’t remember “nephew” in French, but their relationship has a name at last.
Cyron does intervene to save André. Sabine’s death is declared a horrible accident, no one’s fault. André will keep quiet about the secret of Montfort. Reisden asks Gilbert to invest in Jouvet, and Gilbert agrees.
André, watching Reisden with Gilbert, gives them a gift of a Necrosar-like story. Gilbert is Reisden’s secret father, André says. Reisden says, almost casually, that he is Richard Knight, the Vanished Child. He denies it the moment after. But he’s said it once.