2014: 23. Little Demon in the City of Light

"The experiments were chilling.  In one, a woman was hypnotized and ordered to shoot a local government official."

Little Demon in the City of Light: A True Story of Murder and Mesmerism in Belle Epoque Paris, Steven Livingston

This is a historical true crime story, one about one of the "crimes of the century" that got everyone obsessed, but since it's a story from France, instead of England or America, it's a new story (to me at least).  And since it's written by the nonfiction editor of the Washington Post, it's a charm to read - which is more than you can say for most true crime, which often seems like it's written by people who've never read a book before.  

It's the story of the trunk crime murder - where lovers Micheal Eyeraud and Gabrielle Bompard (the "little demon" of the title) coerced Toussaint-Augustin Gouffle into their Paris apartment (he thought he'd be sleeping with Gabrielle, and then garrotted him, hanged him, stuffed him a trunk and dumped the trunk in Lyons.  They then fled to America - but, alas for them, the case was taken up by very thorough and dogged officials in France - oh, and they both basically either 1) returned to the scene of the crime or 2) cracked and started sending letters to the cops.  What makes the story more than just a sordid murder (though the description of Belle Epoque police work is interesting enough for the price of entry) is that, once caught, Gabrielle's defense was newsworthy.  Which is to say, she claimed she'd been hypnotized by Eyeraud, and was functionally innocent.  This lead to a whole sideshow about hypnosis - which was a hot subject at the time - could a person be hypnotized into committing a crime? Could she actually be innocent?  Not to mention that Gabrielle herself commanded attention - how could such a young vibrant girl (from a good family) be caught up in such sordid doings?

As you can tell, it's a pretty good story, especially if you like historic crime, which I do.  It's also written by someone who knows how to tell a nonfiction story - you can tell he has sources, you never raise an eyebrow (as in, how could anyone possibly know that).  The prose is a little breathless as first, as it's getting going and describing the crime, but it settles down as we get to the detective/trial portion - and all in all, I quite enjoyed it.  Recommended for fans of The Devil in the White City, or The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017