2016: 38. Death in the City of Light

“A thick black smoke streamed into Jacques and Andree Marcais’s fifth-floor apartment at 22 rue Le Sueur in the heart of Paris’s fashionable 16th arrondissement.”

Death in the City of Light, David King

A non-fiction account of a serial killer, Dr. Marcel Petiot, who operated during the Second World War in Paris. A truly gruesome story - his apartment was found to contain a death chamber with at least twenty-seven different corpses, all dismembered and covered in quick lime.  And one with some historical interest, because many of the people he killed were people he had promised to help escaped the Nazis.  Instead, he stole their money and butchered them, and no one noticed because so many others were disappearing in the middle of the night.  So there is something interesting about war and what does murder even mean when thousands are being slaughtered daily, and such.  And King does raise some of these issues, which to me is the most interesting part of the story.

BUT, he gets so slogged down in the details of the case - particularly the eventual trial, in which Petiot’s wit and intransigence, which was allowed to flourish in the complicated French judicial system,  let him run wild and turn the whole thing into a circus.  There is so much we hear from Petiot, that he almost becomes the hero rather than the villian of the story.  And when the books loses focus and spends so, so much time on the trial, it became a bit of a slog.  I mean, if you like true crime (which, so sue me, I do, especially if it’s historical), you might like this, but it’s definitely a library book, not a purchase.  The details of the case are explored in excruciating detail, but the bigger picture gets lost along the way. 

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017