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Death in the City of Light: The Serial Killer of Nazi-Occupied Paris Hardcover – Deckle Edge, September 20, 2011

3.8 out of 5 stars 183 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"One of history's most macabre bouts of serial killing . . . David King, the author of Vienna 1814, has more than just fresh eyes and imaginative speculation to power his revisiting of this long-forgotten true crime."
New York Times
"If you like true crime, put this book at the top of your reading list. . . . An exceptional piece of crime reporting backed by a gut-wrenching narrative that is masterful, haunting, and an incredible literary achievement."
King Features Syndicate

"Unprecedented detail . . . The detail with which King explores the story is aided by the fact that not only did he have access to trial materials, including a stenographic record no one thought existed, but also the complete police dossier, which had been classified since the investigation began."
—Seattle Post-Intelligencer
"A page-turning, detective/manhunt/courtroom drama . . . King tells it with the skill of the best police and courtroom beat reporters, mixed with the sweeping eye of a social historian." 
Lexington Herald-Leader

“A new masterpiece of true crime writing . . . the most startling impression left by Death in the City of Light is of Paris itself, confronting the bestiality lurking behind its supremely civilized facade, and of the handful of Parisiennes who tried to serve justice in spite of it.” 

“Required reading.” 
New York Post

“Weirdly fascinating.” 

“This nonfiction account tracks the extensive manhunt and sensationalized trial of Dr. Marcel Petiot, who lured his victims by promising them safe passage out of Nazi-occupied Paris. King gained access to classified French police files in order to re-create this story of terror against the chaotic backdrop of war.”
Goodreads September 2011 Movers & Shakers list

“Erik Larson's tour de force of narrative nonfiction hasn't been matched—until now…While this work is painstaking in its research, it still has the immediacy and gasp power of a top-notch thriller. True-crime at its best.”
Booklist (starred review)

“A gripping story…this fascinating, often painful account combines a police procedural with a vivid historical portrait of culture and law enforcement in Nazi-occupied France.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Gripping….expertly written and completely absorbing”
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“David King's anticipated crime history.”

Praise for  VIENNA, 1814: How the Conquerors of Napoleon Made Love, War, and Peace  by David King
“Reads like a novel. A fast-paced page-turner, it has everything: sex, wit, humor, and adventures. But it is an impressively-researched and important story.”
—David Fromkin, author of Europe’s Last Summer
“Superb…a worthy contribution to the study of a critical historical event long neglected by historians. It should be in every European history collection.”
Library Journal (starred review)
 “A great story….richly narrated.”
San Francisco Chronicle
“Deftly paced and engagingly written.”
Publishers Weekly
“A teeming…personality-rich panorama of the first truly international peace conference.”
Kirkus Reviews
“An outstanding addition to European history collections.”

About the Author

DAVID KING is the author of the acclaimed Vienna, 1814 and Finding Atlantis. A Fulbright Scholar with a master's degree from Cambridge University, he taught European history at the University of Kentucky for several years. He lives in Lexington, Kentucky with his wife and children.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Crown; 1 edition (September 20, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307452891
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307452894
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.4 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (183 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #440,270 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

By Michael P. Lefand VINE VOICE on September 22, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
An unpleasant smell accompanying a thick black smoke is permeating the apartments and houses in a section of Paris during the German occupation in March of 1944. Police are called to investigate and discover the source is emanating from an unoccupied house. Entering the house police find bits and pieces of bodies strewn about a basement floor where a coal stove has a roaring fire containing the burnt remains of more body parts. The basement reeks of putrefying flesh.

Thus begins a horror story, not fiction, but a true story, of a heinous crime committed by a serial killer as told by historian David King in his new book "Death in the City of Light: The Serial Killer of Nazi-Occupied Paris"

The main suspect is Doctor Petiot who the investigating police belief may have been taking advantage of Jews and others looking to escape Nazi persecution. By offering them a way, for a substantial amount of money, to leave the occupied France and obtain passage to Argentina, Petiot was able to lure his victims into positions where he could dispose of them and confiscate all of their worldly possessions.

King chronicles the lives of some of the victims and those who knew Petiot. King traces the investigation from its sordid beginning to its dubious conclusion. Was Doctor Petiot really guilty? Read David Kings book "Death in the City of Light" to find out and draw your own conclusions.

King's book would have benefited the reader greatly if he would have included photos of the major people involved (Kings mentions how photographers were taking pictures in the court room) and areas around Paris where the crime was committed.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
*2.5 stars*

During the years of Nazi occupation of Paris, Marcel Petiot, a seemingly respectable doctor, murdered an unknown number of people. Was he a German sympathizer, using his own form of a "final solution" on innocent Jews who merely wanted to escape the city? Was he a member of the French resistance, acting as judge and executioner towards those he saw as friendly towards the Nazi occupiers? Or was he merely a cunning sociopath who took advantage of the chaos of the times to inflict as much horror and sadistic torture on those victims he managed to convince to walk through his door? What follows is a complicated, often convoluted trek through the oppressed streets and shadowy corners of Paris as the author attempts to answer those questions.

While the book does lay out, quite vividly, the incompetence of the French police force and the near-absolute ineffectiveness of the court system during those crazy, confused times, what the book doesn't do is create a compelling, coherent story. It's obvious the author did an exhaustive amount of research; what's not obvious is some sort of thread binding the story together. King attempts to illustrate the desperate gaiety exhibited by the glitterati who stayed in Paris despite the tramping of Nazi boots down her vaunted (some would say hallowed) streets by interspersing chapters detailing the plays put on by Sartre and Picasso in intimate salons for the edification and entertainment of a select few of Paris society; he also inserts chapters illustrating the desperate last stand of the French government and its leaders as they tried to keep German forces away. However, instead of creating a well-rounded view of this particular era in history, these chapters seem...awkward and jarring.
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Format: Hardcover
The comparisons of this book to Erik Larson's The Devil in the White City are inevitable. Both nonfiction books deal with serial killers who went undiscovered for much too long, both are set in large cities with major events happening, and even the titles are similar. While Devil was set against the happy backdrop of the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Death was set a half century later in the horrible time when Nazis controlled Paris.

A serial killer, Marcel Petiot, during a time when so many were being tortured and murdered by a government headed by a maniac - people just disappeared all the time, so who would think it was the result of a serial killer rather than Hitler and minions? Especially when Dr. Petiot claimed to be part of the Resistance, helping people escape.

Given the similar stories, the books are quite different because of the writing. Mr. King details lots of facts, so many that I had trouble keeping up. He has a habit of referring to places by their street addresses, and that was also hard to keep straight, as was the abundance of references to different people, especially when I didn't know which were going to be key players and which were not. Given that, I very much appreciated references to well-known people such as Sartre and Camus.

There were many references to the costs in francs, but I would have appreciated a comparison to current value, because the value of a franc in 1940s occupied Paris means nothing to me, and I'm probably not alone in that.

The writing was straightforward, usually a refreshing change from some of Larson's overblown phrases, but it did sometimes lapse into dryness.
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