Sunday, November 8, 2015

Book Review: Death in the City of Light by David King

Death in the City of Light is the gripping, true story of a brutal serial killer who unleashed his own reign of terror in Nazi-Occupied Paris. As decapitated heads and dismembered body parts surfaced in the Seine, Commissaire Georges-Victor Massu, head of the Brigade Criminelle, was tasked with tracking down the elusive murderer in a twilight world of Gestapo, gangsters, resistance fighters, pimps, prostitutes, spies, and other shadowy figures of the Parisian underworld.   
The main suspect was Dr. Marcel Petiot, a handsome, charming physician with remarkable charisma.  He was the “People’s Doctor,” known for his many acts of kindness and generosity, not least in providing free medical care for the poor.  Petiot, however, would soon be charged with twenty-seven murders, though authorities suspected the total was considerably higher, perhaps even as many as 150.
Who was being slaughtered, and why?  Was Petiot a sexual sadist, as the press suggested, killing for thrills?  Was he allied with the Gestapo, or, on the contrary, the French Resistance?  Or did he work for no one other than himself?  Trying to solve the many mysteries of the case, Massu would unravel a plot of unspeakable deviousness.  
When Petiot was finally arrested, the French police hoped for answers. 
But the trial soon became a circus.  Attempting to try all twenty-seven cases at once, the prosecution stumbled in its marathon cross-examinations, and Petiot, enjoying the spotlight, responded with astonishing ease.  His attorney, René Floriot, a rising star in the world of criminal defense, also effectively, if aggressively, countered the charges.  Soon, despite a team of prosecuting attorneys, dozens of witnesses, and over one ton of evidence, Petiot’s brilliance and wit threatened to win the day.
Drawing extensively on many new sources, including the massive, classified French police file on Dr. Petiot, Death in the City of Light is a brilliant evocation of Nazi-Occupied Paris and a harrowing exploration of murder, betrayal, and evil of staggering proportions.
Going back to my nonfiction streak, I recently read this fascinating and horrifying book. My OpenDrive hometown library system happens to have a LOT of nonfiction history books centered around WWII. I have no idea why, maybe that's what a lot of people request, but I'm okay with it. WWI and WWII is fascinating.

The book centers around the aftermath of a serial killer in Occupied France in the 1940s. The book was pretty easy to follow, written in a somewhat chronicologcial order. It starts off with the discovery, moves to the killer's background, and the background of his known victims, the hunt to find the serial killer, his arrest, and his trial.

I read a lot of reviews that said that the first part of the book was hard to get through but I would disagree. The whole book was fascinating in a detailed, horrifying way.If you're not keen on reading detailed descriptions of how people died or are found dead in brutal ways, I might pass on parts of this book. The author holds no punches, although a part of me wonders if it was really necessary or there for shock value? In any case, it made it all that more gruesome and terrible and more realistic in a way if you're writing about a serial killer.

I really enjoyed King's writing style in this book. It was very well written and you can can tell he did his research and displayed all the facts there for you to decide. And although I enjoyed him going into parts that didn't have much to do with the main focus of the book- like talking about French artists- it made the setting of the book all that much more real and helped shed some light on what Paris was like then if you didn't know much about Occupied France.

What struck me about that was that most stories I read about Occupied France focus on the millions of Jews taken from their homes, but I feel you don't hear all that much what like was like for the people who stayed behind in Nazi-controlled France. So I thought it was a different angle taken and I enjoyed that about this book.

I would say that King did a good job at bringing the characters to life. I think it could have easily have turned into a boring statement of facts. But especially in the trial, we saw Petiot really come alive. His wit and character came out and it was easy to understand why people reacted to him the way he did.

I also thought that Massu was easily brought to life although I was disappointed when he seemed to disappear from the narrative half way through and didn't have that much importance afterwards. Although I do understand because of the way history worked out, but it was still disappointing because I thought we had spent so much getting to know Massu, that I was sure he would be the one to help solve the case.

This must have been a fascinating story to research and I wonder how you would even begin to research such a thing. It seemed all so large and there were details in there that I think would have to have been inserted in by the author to help tie it all together.

One of the points that struck me was Petiot's insistence that he was a member of the resistance and how people in that day and age could take something like murder- even if done in the name of a cause- seemed to just go along with it. I guess it would have been hard to trust people and there would have been stories and cases that would have been hard to verify.

This story made me think about the books like Code Name Verity that center around WWII resistance agents and other spies fighting for the Allies. I think its a fascinating topic to explore, especially because I think if anything, there were spies and intelligence agents that did exactly what people like to think of in the movies, like the CIA.

Overall, I think King did a very good job and it was a fascinating and exciting story to read although on a horrible topic. I'm glad that I got to read it and see another side of WWII and see how twisted people could take advantage of the chaos and use it to their advantage.

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