12 August 2010

Guest Post and Giveaway: For the King by Catherine Delors

Yesterday, in my review of For the King by Catherine Delors, I mentioned that police investigations in the 1800s were not technologically advanced affairs. True enough, but the same cannot be said for military weaponry.

In fact, the late eighteenth century and its revolutions saw a number of advances in weaponry and in execution methods. I'm not sure it was a particularly safe period of history to be alive.

Today, Catherine Delors talks a little bit about cutting-edge technology and what it had to do with Napoléon and the events she wrote about in For the King.

Air Guns: The Automatic Weapons of the Eighteenth Century

While researching For the King, I met air guns (fusils à vent) on several occasions. But I had long been familiar with these weapons as a reader of fiction—Conan Doyle’s novels, more precisely. Remember The Adventure of the Empty House? In this tale, Colonel Sebastian Moran uses an air rifle to murder his victim. It was still a rather exotic weapon in the first years of the twentieth century.

But air guns predate Sherlock Holmes by more than a century. They were invented in the 1780s by an Italian engineer, Girandoni. The same size as the regular muskets of the time, they used a completely different technology.

They were revolutionary weapons, powerful, noiseless, and smokeless, for the bullets were propelled not by the explosion of gunpowder, as in a musket, but by a removable compressed-air reservoir that gave the rifles their distinctive club-shaped butts. An automatic magazine, loaded from the breech, could shoot twenty bullets a minute.

They were extremely expensive, rather fragile, and not widely used by regular armies, except for the Austrians. However, they were certainly available—for the right amount of money—to anyone determined enough to acquire them. The Lewis and Clark Expedition may have been equipped with one such air rifle, in addition to muskets. Air guns were also much sought after by those bent on assassinating Napoléon Bonaparte, in particular the Chouans.

Napoléon traveled accompanied by a military escort, but he did not give much thought to his personal safety. He was, for one thing, a firm believer in his own lucky star and was used to facing death at close range on the battlefield. It is also possible that he, as an artillery specialist, was unconvinced of the threat of air gun technology.

Thus he apparently never considered equipping his guards with air guns, though he was well aware of the fact that his most determined enemies were purchasing these weapons. It turned out he was right: Air guns were never actually used in any assassination attempt, though they were purchased for that purpose.

I was so fascinated by these rifles that I could not resist giving them a part in the plot of For the King, both as a testimony to the ingenuity of eighteenth-century inventors and as a modest tribute to Conan Doyle.
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Thank you so much, Catherine, for this great post. It was just this kind of attention to detail that I loved in your novel For the King. It's always interesting to see who adopts the new technology of the age, who doesn't, and why. (Be sure to click on the photo to see the beautiful details of the air rifle.)

To learn more about Catherine Delors and her work, be sure to visit her website. A book club guide is available, as is a book trailer.

I am so pleased to be able to offer a reader in the United States or Canada a copy of For the King. To enter the giveaway, fill out the following form. All information will be kept private and deleted once the winner has been announced.




A winner will be picked using a random number generator on August 23 when I turn my computer on in the morning.

For the King at Powell's
For the King at Book Depository
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7 comments:

Sandy Nawrot 8/12/10, 7:05 AM  

I had no idea these guns were available back then. Your review really got me interested in this book...I'm crossing my fingers on the drawing!

bermudaonion 8/12/10, 10:57 AM  

It's too bad our weaponry has become more sophisticated.

Dorte H 8/12/10, 2:29 PM  

What an interesting piece on airguns!

wisteria 8/12/10, 5:45 PM  

Air guns..never heard of them. Thanks for the history lesson. :)

Jennifer 8/15/10, 1:48 PM  

That was definitely some interesting information. I don't know much about technology or guns for that matter. But my boyfriend is really into guns and now there's a little piece of trivia that I'll actually know!

Jennifer 8/19/10, 2:57 PM  

I do so enjoy learning, thank you for sharing this.

IntrovertedJen 8/22/10, 12:56 PM  

I had never heard of these, but the fact that they were silent makes them sound like the perfect thing for assassination attempts.

Thanks for the giveaway!

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