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The Crimes of Paris: A True Story of Murder, Theft, and Detection Hardcover – April 27, 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
The 1911 theft of the Mona Lisa serves as the centerpiece for the Edgar Award–winning Hooblers' (In Darkness Death) unwieldy account of life and crime in belle époque Paris. But the Hooblers devote so much time to the history of detection, in both fiction and real life, that the prized painting's disappearance soon slips the reader's mind. The authors locate the French obsession with the painting's disappearance in a general fascination with crime, from the fictional thief Arsène Lupin, the hero of popular serials, to real 19th-century figures such as Vidocq, a former criminal turned investigator who inspired Poe—and Alphonse Bertillon, whose criminal identification system based on body measurements was a precursor to the science of biometrics. A lengthy look at the Parisian art scene is overly digressive, though Picasso and his pal Apollinaire's tenuous connection to the Mona Lisa theft provides one of the book's rare dramatic sections. When the painting is finally recovered in Florence in 1913, the reader is left as unsatisfied by the Hooblers' scattered history as by the Italian-born thief's dubious rationale for the theft. 16 pages of b&w photos. (Apr. 3)
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"[An] engrossing forensic history...[its] lively portraits...[and] anecdotes buzz with energy."―The Washington Post
"... A thorough and at times disturbing view of turn-of-the-century Paris, and its crimes and passions...Francophiles and true-crime lovers will find the book a fascinating read...a fulfilling read for those of us who like to stalk the wild side from a cozy armchair, perhaps with a side of pâté."―Minneapolis Star-Tribune
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The writing is first-rate and one is carried along on a roller coaster of famous and infamous characters indirectly and directly involved with the theft of the famous painting and the crime raging Paris in the nineteeth century.
Particularly interesting are the portions which tell about public executions before the guillotine was retired for good. The "portraits" of the various characters are beautifully defined and they seem to come off the page with vivid imagery. At times it has the atmosphere of "Film Noir" and this is interesting as what we know as "Film Noir" had not yet been invented.
It is hard to put this book down. Each chapter tantalized and mesmerizes with a Paris none now could have known but is every much a part of how it evolved as a city of great fascination for generations of visitors.
I was impressed by the author's lack of the use of hyperbole and gushiness which is so often a disappointing feature of this kind of book.
One if left with many images and thoughts about Paris and Parisians not usually of the travel book variety. A absolutely wonderfully put together "real life" story with "real life" people. So many times I thought of Inspecter Maigret and Georges Simenon. First rate!
Blerio flies his tiny airplane across the English channel, we meet both Poincares - the mathematician and the premier, Guillaume Apollinaire is busy promoting his new Spanish painter friend, Pablo Picasso, and both become involved, more or less innocently in the purchase of Etruscan statuettes stolen from the sleepy Louvre, while Marcel Proust leaves his cork-lined room to sit in on a sensational murder trial.
The Crimes of Paris begins and ends with the story of the crime of the century - the theft of Mona Lisa from the Louvre. That event provides the two bookends - the crime itself in the beginning and its spectacular resolution, sure to shock you even today, in the end. In between, you see a caleidoscopic picture of Parisian underworld. Prostitutes lure johns to their deaths; a gang stages the first ever escape from a bank robbery in a car; and you discover how long it takes to put three condemned criminals through a single guillotine - 40 seconds. You meet great criminologists, such as Bertillon and Vucetic, and sit in on the Dreyfus trial and re-trial.
The fast-paced action, engaging writing, and a great sense of history make this book a piece of brain candy, addictive and impossible to put down. The authors' ability to weave so many strands into a cogent whole makes for a very pleasurable read.
My one gripe: one of the earlier reviewers called the book `scattered.' In fact the book is wonderfully impressionistic but very clearly woven together. That guy reminded me of a yahoo who stands in front of a Matisse or a Picasso and mutters, `my kid could paint that.'
You are in for an engaging and pleasurable read!
The book’s strength lies in its descriptions of other famous and not so famous crimes. We’re introduced to a host of historical figures: Vidocq, France’s first real detective; Bertillon, who developed the science of anthropometry; Picasso, who was accused of stealing the Mona Lisa, (although he wasn’t anywhere near the scene of the crime); the Bonnot gang, anarchists who were the first to escape the scenes of their crimes via car and more.
A minor negative of the book is the vaguely linked connections between the Mona Lisa theft and the other described crimes.
The book is so mesmerizing that I read it in three evenings. I couldn’t sleep until I finished it. Hopefully, it will have the same effect on you.
Fun Fact: In 2001, Tom Hoobler (who co-authored the book with his wife) appeared on the TV show, "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" and with help from his wife (who was his phone-a-friend) he won $500,000. The Hooblers used part of the money to spend a month traveling in Italy and decided to use the rest to try to write a book for adults.
I found 'The Crimes of Paris' to be solidly written, with an objective, factual narrative that brought the facts across without slant. Additionally, I found the book to be an informative historical and sociological study on turn-of-the-century Paris, and France in general. After all, much can be learned from examining the crimes of a society (and said society's reaction to said crimes).
Thanks to the authors, the publishers, and the book's subjects.