Tuesday, June 12, 2012

A Monster in Paris

OK, so you weren’t among the winners of last week’s drawing for three free copies of J. Robert Janes’ new historical mystery, Bellringer. Get over it, because we have another contest beginning today.

This time, though, we’re going to give away copies of a true-crime book, Death in the City of Light: The Serial Killer of Nazi-Occupied Paris, by David King, which was just released in a Broadway Paperbacks edition.

Here’s part of what Salon senior writer Laura Miller said about King’s book after its original publication last fall:
“Death in the City of Light” recounts the infamous case of Marcel Petiot, a physician believed to have killed over 60 people in Paris between 1942 and 1944, under the Nazi occupation of the city. King presents the story as a procedural, beginning with the day in March 1944 when residents in the chic 16th arrondissement complained of a foul smoke billowing out of a neighboring townhouse. When attempts to rouse the house’s inhabitants proved fruitless, the fire department was called. In the basement, they found a coal stove with the “charred remains of a human hand” sticking out of it. Body parts and bones littered the floor. Further police investigations discovered a pit in which numerous corpses in various stages of decay had been covered with quicklime. In total, over 11 pounds of human hair would be gathered from the remains.

If King’s book has a protagonist, it’s police detective Victor Massu (an inspiration for Georges Simenon’s Inspector Maigret), who picked up the case at the beginning. Determining, capturing and convicting the culprit, however, would prove supremely challenging in a city whose civil institutions were hopelessly compromised under Nazi rule. It was difficult for anyone to sort out wrong from right. For example, the patrolmen initially dispatched to the scene allowed a man claiming to be the brother of the owner to enter the building and take away some undetermined piece of evidence. Why? Because he assured them that the house was a Resistance outpost and that the bodies inside it were the remains of “Germans and traitors to our country.”
The publisher’s description picks up the plot from there:
The main suspect was Dr. Marcel Petiot, a handsome, charming physician with remarkable charisma. He was the “People’s Doctor,” known for his many acts of kindness and generosity, not least in providing free medical care for the poor. Petiot, however, would soon be charged with twenty-seven murders, though authorities suspected the total was considerably higher, perhaps even as many as 150.

Who was being slaughtered, and why? Was Petiot a sexual sadist, as the press suggested, killing for thrills? Was he allied with the Gestapo, or, on the contrary, the French Resistance? Or did he work for no one other than himself? Trying to solve the many mysteries of the case, Massu would unravel a plot of unspeakable deviousness.

When Petiot was finally arrested, the French police hoped for answers. But the trial soon became a circus. Attempting to try all twenty-seven cases at once, the prosecution stumbled in its marathon cross-examinations, and Petiot, enjoying the spotlight, responded with astonishing ease. His attorney, René Floriot, a rising star in the world of criminal defense, also effectively, if aggressively, countered the charges. Soon, despite a team of prosecuting attorneys, dozens of witnesses, and over one ton of evidence, Petiot’s brilliance and wit threatened to win the day.
All of this makes me want to pick up King’s book right away, locate a quiet corner in which to read, and find out what happened next.

If you’re similarly inspired, and would like to win a copy of Death in the City of Light, then you are in luck. King’s publisher has agreed to send three free editions to Rap Sheet readers. To have a chance at scoring one, all you need do is e-mail your name and snail-mail address to jpwrites@wordcuts.org. And be sure to write “Death in the City of Light Contest” in the subject line. Entries will be accepted between now and midnight next Monday, June 18. Winners will be chosen at random, and their names will be listed on this page the following day. Sorry, but this drawing is open to U.S. residents only.

Don’t dally. Get your entry in right away!

1 comment:

Greg M. said...

Anyone interested in serial killers, police procedurals, and WW II France should pick it up. I had to pick it up in hardcover, and it was a fantastic read. Lots of twists and turns in the story.