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Fantomas (Penguin Classics) Paperback – December 26, 2006

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In the mode reminiscent of Sherlock Holmes and his ineradicable nemesis, the virtually immortal Professor Moriarty, Inspector Juve dedicates himself to the relentless pursuit of that evil genius Fantomas. He is, as they say in petrified Paris, "Nothing. . . Everything. . . Nobody. . . Somebody." And what does he do? He "spreads terror," diabolically, craftily beyond all imagining: slashes throats of kindly old ladies; stuffs strangled British socialites into trunks; boldly robs Russian princesses in their hotel rooms; pushes witnesses off speeding trains to their deaths. Can Juve prevail against that hellish power? Men masquerade as women; suicides return from the dead; ladies wail "What am I to do?" and faint from surprise and shock. Juve finally hunts Fantomas down. But a surprise awaits, leaving the charmed reader of this French bestseller hoping to see more of the weird pair. Ashbery's introduction not seen by PW.
Copyright 1987 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


[Fantomas is] like going on a roller coaster: you know what to expect but you scream, with fear and pleasure, anyway. . . . They don’t write’em like that anymore. (Michael Dirda)

Fantomas is still scary (The Washington Post Book World)

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Product Details

  • Series: Penguin Classics
  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; Reprint edition (December 26, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143104845
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143104841
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.7 x 7.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #378,427 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Ian Fowler on August 26, 2006
Format: Paperback
Paris is the grip of fear. One name is at the root of this panic: "Fantomas." In a matter of days, a wealthy heiress is hacked to death in her room. A young guest, Charles Rambert stands accused by his own father of the crime, and commits suicide. A Russian princess is robbed in her room. An English lord, a veteran of the Boer War, goes missing. One detective, Juve, knows that Fantomas is the mastermind of so much misery. Can he unmask the criminal in time? Or is this all a figment of Juve's mind?

Pierre Souvestre and Marcel Allain's creation "Fantomas" is the pinnacle of pulp brilliance. He's one of the great literary super-villains, a shadowy crime-lord who "spreads terror" for the absolute pleasure of it. He doesn't want to rule the world. He makes his living from crime, but clearly enjoys the notoriety his crimes bring him. In a sense, Fantomas is a break-point between the fantastic qualities 19th century pulp, and the down-to-earth crime fiction of the mid-20th century.

The first novel is a rip-roaring ride of horror and intrigue, as Fantomas layers scheme upon scheme, murdering and stealing for the pleasure of it. A master of disguise, Fantomas moves through the novel as an ambiguity, appearing as various people, usually people he has murdered, forwarding his loathsome schemes. Juve, also a master of disguise, is obsessed with capturing the fiend. He also moves as a shadow, under the guise of beggars and criminals, investigating each lead that might bring Fantomas to the guillotine.

The novel is episodic, naturally, as it was originally serialized. There is an almost maddeningly number of interconnected plot-lines. Juve and Fantomas play a bloody game of cat and mouse, each hidden under impossible disguises.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Damian Kelleher on July 22, 2007
Format: Paperback
Fantômas is everywhere. He is a master killer, a criminal genius, capable of being in multiple places at once. He can pretend to be anyone - even female - or so the story goes. And there are many, many stories of Fantômas. He is the everyman killer.

Or so Marcel Allain and Pierre Souvestre, partners in writing, would have the reader believe when they created Fantômas, in 1911. A massive success, the two would go on to write thirty-one more Fantômas novels after the first, and when Souvestre died, Allain wrote eleven more. Parisian appetite for stories of Fantômas's dastardly deeds was insatiable, 'a work of popular fiction whose popularity cut across all social and cultural strata', says John Ashbery, who wrote the introduction to the Penguin Classic edition.

Fantômas was the first novel in a series written by the Allain and Souvestre. It catapulted the genius criminal to stratospheric popularity, as well as all but creating the modern criminal novel. The plot revolves around the mysterious killer, of whom very little is known at the beginning - and, delightfully, even less is known at the end. Indeed, the antagonist throughout the novel may not even be Fantômas, one of the many strokes of genius in this novel.

Charles Rambert waits anxiously to meet his father, who he has not seen in many years. The evening before his father's arrival, Charles learns the story of Fantômas, a master criminal who may or may not exist, who may or may no longer be active as a killer. Excited by these stories, he sleeps poorly, and in the morning, after he has collected his father from the train station, it is revealed that the Marquise de Langruen has been brutally murdered. 'Mme. de Langrune's throat was almost entirely severed by the blade of some sharp instrument.
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24 of 28 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 14, 1999
Format: Mass Market Paperback
For some reason, Fantomas never figures in the genealogy of the detective story, where Borges, with his 1942 story 'Death and the compass'is credited with completely reversing the traditional elements of detective fiction (crime,investigation,solution, resolution), to create a new post-modern genre, 'anti-detective fiction', followed by Nabakov, Pynchon etc,which is characterised by a lack of or a compromised resolution, an unknowable world (Holmes, Poirot etc. always knew the world they operated in), and a hugely fallible detective who is unable to control the plot, and is usually destroyed by his own detection. Fantomas does all this 30 years earlier. In the first book, we don't even know who Fantomas is - there is enough textual evidence to suggest that he is not Etienne Rambert-Gurn, that we can never know who he is. We have only Juve's word for it, and he is constantly admitting that this may be a figment of his imagination. The form itself is also revolutionary - instead of following a single narrative to its resolution, the narrative is continually splintering, with different stories on the go at once. Juve manages to connect them all to Fantomas, but to accept this is to ignore the special contrapuntal magic of the text, which through repitition, doubling, mirroring, achieves a terrifying loss of control on the part of the reader, who is frequently in the dark as to which character is which. Even if Gurn is Fantomas, the ending is hardly the cosy resolution of Agatha Christie, say. An innocent man is executed, and a homicidal lunatic is on the loose.Read more ›
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