Nothing says "love" like warding off a swarm of plague-infected rats
Have Mercy On Us All concerns a plot to make Parisians believe they are being infected by bubonic plague. Vargas, herself a researcher on the epidemiology of the plague, offers a guide to the superstitions by which people sought to ward off the disease in the middle ages. Rich people, it transpires, suffered less than poor people did because their better-made houses were less hospitable to the rats that carried the plague than were the wretched quarters of the poor.
Rich people also wore more jewels, and the belief grew, we are told, that the jewels themselves warded off the plague. Then, as now, diamonds were the most precious jewels, "Which is why," Vargas has a character explain, "a wealthy man would give his beloved a diamond to plight his troth, so as to save her from the scourge. The habit's stayed with us, but nobody has the faintest idea anymore why we buy diamond rings."
True? I don't know, but it's a hell of a story and unlikely to turn up in jewelers' ads any time soon.
© Peter Rozovsky 2007
French crime fiction