Monday, December 28, 2020

Mini Reviews | Belle Epoque Murder and Mayhem

I don't typically care to read much about France unless we are talking 900 years ago and Eleanor of Aquitaine. But I recently read a great book that I'll be discussing shortly, which lead me to books specifically about certain crimes described in that book. Overall they were hit-or-miss, and I think from here on out I will stick to the era of the first Plantagenets.

 Rating ⭐⭐⭐⭐

This book is so much more than a collection of vignettes about various crimes that occurred in the City of Light during the Belle Époque. Despite being considered this 'beautiful time' of artistic and cultural advancement/comfort before the abject horror of WWI, Paris was also a violent place filled with criminals - much like every other major city in the world.

The initial focus of the narrative is one of the greatest heists ever - the stealing of the Mona Lisa from the Louvre. Based on this, I assumed incorrectly that much of the book would focus on her disappearance, but instead I got so much more. Early on we are introduced to Alphonse Bertillon, a Paris detective who would transform investigative techniques with his system that recorded several markers of each person arrested and catalogued that information in order to identify culprits of future crimes.

Several other crimes and notorious criminals are discussed as time goes on, with the narrative coming back around to advancements Bertillon and others made in techniques, as well as to give progress or lack-of in regards to the Mona Lisa. One group I was interested in learning more about was the Bonnot Gang and their reign of terror as they rampaged across the city, stealing and killing. The shoot-out which eventually claimed Bonnot's life was quite the intrigue and I decided to find a book that detailed the evolution of the gang, its members, and their crimes.

Despite all of the above, I don't think this book can truly be classified solely as a true crime book, as there is so much cultural history here as well. The authors did what must be a fantastic amount of research in order to really set the tone to immerse their readers in the world at the time. There is a gritty feel here as we see the dark side of the city, but there is also light.  The political climate plays a role as well, and anarchists seems to rule the day, but we also see the rich artistic and intellectual culture that flourishes.

Definitely recommend for those who enjoy history of this kind.

 Rating ⭐⭐⭐

This was one of the stories touched on in the above book, so I was delighted to find it when I was at the library to pick up another book on a similar topic.

At the heart of this story is not the brutal murder of court official Toussaint-Augustin Gouffe and the search for his killers, but the idea of hypnotism and whether or not someone can:

a) commit crimes such as murder while under hypnosis
b) be held accountable for said crimes if determined to be acting under hypnosis

This story was really hard to stay with sometimes. There would be sections that were really tantalizing and I couldn't put the book down. But other times it was such a snooze-fest that I skimmed sometimes pages at a time - especially when it came to the hypnosis information itself and the competing schools of thought who did believe it was possible to get someone to commit criminal acts/violations against a person's own morals when hypnotized vs. those who said it was impossible. Either way, all boring.

But, like I said, that was kind of the heart of the story because it determined whether Gabrielle Bompard would face execution or not for Gouffe's murder. Bompard  insisted she had been hypnotized by her lover, Michel Eyraud, a much-older married con-man. The couple was short on money and a scheme was devised where Bompard would lure Gouffe to a room set up in which to kill him in. Eyraud hid behind a curtain in the alcove as Gouffe and Bompard sat on the couch. What happened next was a matter of who you believe. Bompard insists Eyraud grabbed the loop from her hands and hoisted Gouffe in the air, but when the ceiling beam broke, he fell and Eyraud strangled him with his bare hands. Eyraud insisted it was Bombard who put the fashioned noose around the man's neck herself. Either way, Gouffe was dead. They stuffed his body in a trunk after discovering they did not get the money they thought they would in the robbery, then took a train to Lyon and dumped the trunk on the riverbank.

When Bompard and Eyraud were finally in custody - and no longer together - the whole sordid affair captivated society who dubbed Bompard the "Little Demon". The sexism is obvious to us now, even though it was not considered an issue at the time.

Overall I found the writing inconsistent. It's not a terrible book, but there are parts that really dragged. I'm not sure why, because there was such potential for something really good here. If you're interested in whether or not the hypnotism defense worked, give it a read. If not, you're not missing out.

 Rating ⭐⭐

So...the city of Paris may have been gripped by the terror of the crime spree that occurred over sixth months in 1911 and 1912, but this book is the opposite of gripping. Who knew anarchy was so boring?

I first learned of the Bonnot gang in the first book I reviewed in this post. I thought surely the entirety of the story would be as interesting as the pages devoted to it there. How wrong I was.

The entire first section of the book was devoted to biographies of each of the anarchists who would figure in prominently later. I skimmed a lot of that because I didn't feel it was important - I was right - and it was not written in an engaging way. I did not care about their backstories.

The narrative picks up a bit in the second and third parts when they begin their crime sprees. They spread out across the city, robbing banks and wealthy members of society and killing anyone who tried to stop them. Not too sympathetic, but it really seems like the author tries extremely hard to wring some sympathy from the reader, but no thanks. I tend to not feel bad for murders who die in gunfights with police.

Unless you are SUUUUUPER interested in a bunch of anarchists who were thieves and murderers, you can pass on this one. It was boring and I found The Crimes of Paris to be better in telling the story because it was not bogged down with dreadfully boring details that I did not care about.


  1. I think especially with that first one I might be more interested in the details about the city at that time rather than the crime stuff. But then I love reading about Paris so there's that. :)

    And this. "Who knew anarchy was so boring?" Right??? Anarchy should be funnnnn... but seriously though they sound like bad people so I don't want to make light. I guess I'll pass on these!

    1. I think you would like the first one. The atmosphere of Paris was really there. The other two, not so much.

  2. I love it when books lead to other books. Great post!

    1. Thanks Judy, I love it too...but it is also the reason my TBR is so out of control, lol.


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