Horace Grondin, deputy head of the Sureté, is in fact Charles Bassicousse, sentenced sixteen years earlier for a murder he did not commit and obsessed with wreaking his revenge on Antoine Tarpagnan, the man he believes did commit the crime. Tarpagnan, an army captain, has fallen in love with Gabriella Pucci, the mistress of Paris's greatest villain. As Tarpagnan searches the underworld for Gabriella, unknown to him, Grondin is searching for him. Reminiscent of Victor Hugo's LES MISERABLES, with the zest for characterisation of Dickens, Vautrin's novel revels in the chaos and passion of the period culminating in the savage repression of the Commune. The final climactic moments between Grondin and Tarpagnan take place on the barricades as Paris descends into a fury of bloodletting and panic. Fiction on a grand scale, Vautrin's multi-peopled novel exuberantly recreates the moment.