Under the Streets of Nice Audio Cassette – Audiobook, October 1, 2002
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More or less respectable is more or less accurate, the prose is far from great, but the story itself is absolutely fascinating. It tells of an astounding bank heist in Nice, France in the summer of 1976. A gang of twenty criminals, under the direction of a self-mythologizing right-wing dreamer named Albert Spaggiari spent two months digging a 25-foot tunnel from the city sewer system into a bank vault. Once in, they proceeded to spend the weekend breaking into safe deposit boxes before leaving with some $8 to $10 million in cash, gold, and jewelry and daubing the phrase "sans haine, sans violence et sans arme" on the wall! The book focuses on the heist and the small details that led to Spaggiari's eventual capture. He's a fascinating figure, an ex-paratrooper, OAS member who came within a phone call of assassinating President de Gaulle, but also a photographer who rubbed shoulders with the city elite and had connections with the underworld. The improbable end to the story includes his escape from imprisonment and subsequent flight to Paraguay, where he lived a life of high style and luxury.
The book speaks frequently about how Spaggiari heist and escape was received with general applause by the European public, and how he became a kind of folk hero. Much of this can be attributed to the general human affection for those who poke fun at the authorities (Spaggiari granted numerous magazine interviews until his death in 1989, always taunting the police) without causing any violence. But this obscures the rather darker question surrounding his connection to underground far-right organizations. The book is a little frustrating due to murkiness surrounding the affair. There are some disturbing mistakes made by the police and several indications that Spaggiari was well-connected to France's right-wind elite. In the following years, there were several similar heists elsewhere in France and Europe, including one executed only a month after the Nice job and thus could not possibly be a copycat. There's even an appearance by the CIA!
It would be interesting to know if any further details have come to light in subsequent years. Spaggiari has written at least one memoir of his own (Fric-frac: The Great Riviera Bank Robbery) but this is not likely to be very truthful. The entire affairs is perfectly suited to the movies, and indeed, a French film called Les égouts du paradis (The Sewers of Paradise) was released in 1979. More recently, there are some indications that Warner Bros. is developing a new version with the title "Under the Streets of Nice".
This is not a novel, nor historical fiction, the account is almost entirely documentary style, although the description of breaking into the vault is clearly fictionalized. At points it seems that every other sentence begins with "And", or "But", and the French narrator of the audio version hits each one of these as though led by a drum roll.
It is what it is: An interesting account of a real event which is "stranger than fiction"--if not so well written as fiction. If you like non-fiction accounts of real events, this is pretty good.
This was written many, many years ago based on a true crime, and you should put yourself in 1973 or whenever this was written when you read it.
Fans of Ken Follett should get this book.