Sunday, June 15, 2014

'Little Demon in the City of Light'

After immersing myself in so many mystery/thriller novels lately, I thought that a non-fiction crime story would pale in comparison to a fiction writer's sordid imagination.

Boy, was I wrong...

Real life crime is more horrible than any fictional creation, of course.  You read it and realize that a real person has died.  You read and watch news broadcasts of the reaction of the victim's family and friends. You read about rumors, vicious and otherwise, and you find so much more about it online. Photos, testimonies, trial records.  On and on and on...

But when you read about a murder that was committed so many years ago, the impact is still chilling.

'Little Demon in the City of Light' by Steven Levingston, is just that type of read. Taking place in 1889 France, the book follows the 'adventures' of con-man Michel Eyraud and his mistress, Gabrielle Bompard.  Together, they tricked a wealthy bailiff with promises of sex, and then murdered him.  They put the corpse into a trunk and dumped it on a riverbank near Lyon.  

And then they escaped to the United States, where, in San Francisco, Eyraud found another potential victim.  But Gabrielle, victimized by Eyraud, escaped his clutches and returned to France, where she turned herself in.  

The news made almost every paper in the world, and although the trial lasted a long time, it made for interesting reading.  That particular era in France was full of people hungry for sensationalism (much like today, I'm sad to say). They bought tickets to the trial, they made plans to meet at the dreaded guillotine.  I wanted to shake my head and sigh because nothing has really changed, has it? 

But the claim that Gabrielle was under the hypnotic influence of Eyraud made the whole story all the more interesting.

Levingston's impeccable research shines throughout, but it was his medical exploration that really had me turning the pages.  Of course, it could have turned out to be a very 'dry' read, but his explanation and back story of the pioneers of brain research truly enhanced the whole story.  

Not only was the medical aspect so appealing, but I also appreciated his research into the policemen who stayed the course and kept dogging the criminals, despite the setbacks and naysayers.  
Author Steven Levingston

However the main question is this:  Could hypnosis force people to commit crimes against their will?  Now we know that a hypnotic subject will not do something which goes against their free will, thanks to the pioneers of brain research.

But in 1889 France, it made for a good defense.

'Little Demon in the City of Light' is available at your local library and independent bookstore.  ISBN 978-0-385-53603-5.  

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