Death in the City of Light: The Serial Killer of Nazi-Occupied Paris

Death in the City of Light: The Serial Killer of Nazi-Occupied Paris

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by David King
     
 

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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,See more details below

Overview

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.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"One of history's most macabre bouts of serial killing . . . David King, the author of Vienna 1814, has more than just fresh eyes and imaginative speculation to power his revisiting of this long-forgotten true crime."
New York Times

"If you like true crime, put this book at the top of your reading list. . . . An exceptional piece of crime reporting backed by a gut-wrenching narrative that is masterful, haunting, and an incredible literary achievement."
King Features Syndicate

"Unprecedented detail . . . The detail with which King explores the story is aided by the fact that not only did he have access to trial materials, including a stenographic record no one thought existed, but also the complete police dossier, which had been classified since the investigation began."
—Seattle Post-Intelligencer

"A page-turning, detective/manhunt/courtroom drama . . . King tells it with the skill of the best police and courtroom beat reporters, mixed with the sweeping eye of a social historian."
Lexington Herald-Leader

“A new masterpiece of true crime writing . . . the most startling impression left by Death in the City of Light is of Paris itself, confronting the bestiality lurking behind its supremely civilized facade, and of the handful of Parisiennes who tried to serve justice in spite of it.”
—Salon.com

“Required reading.”
New York Post

“Weirdly fascinating.”
—Bloomberg.com

“This nonfiction account tracks the extensive manhunt and sensationalized trial of Dr. Marcel Petiot, who lured his victims by promising them safe passage out of Nazi-occupied Paris. King gained access to classified French police files in order to re-create this story of terror against the chaotic backdrop of war.”
Goodreads September 2011 Movers & Shakers list

“Erik Larson's tour de force of narrative nonfiction hasn't been matched—until now…While this work is painstaking in its research, it still has the immediacy and gasp power of a top-notch thriller. True-crime at its best.”
Booklist (starred review)

“A gripping story…this fascinating, often painful account combines a police procedural with a vivid historical portrait of culture and law enforcement in Nazi-occupied France.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Gripping….expertly written and completely absorbing”
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“David King's anticipated crime history.”
–NPR.org

Praise for VIENNA, 1814: How the Conquerors of Napoleon Made Love, War, and Peace by David King

“Reads like a novel. A fast-paced page-turner, it has everything: sex, wit, humor, and adventures. But it is an impressively-researched and important story.”
—David Fromkin, author of Europe’s Last Summer

“Superb…a worthy contribution to the study of a critical historical event long neglected by historians. It should be in every European history collection.”
Library Journal (starred review)

“A great story….richly narrated.”
San Francisco Chronicle

“Deftly paced and engagingly written.”
Publishers Weekly

“A teeming…personality-rich panorama of the first truly international peace conference.”
Kirkus Reviews

“An outstanding addition to European history collections.”
Booklist

Gene Santoro
David King…has more than just fresh eyes and imaginative speculation to power his revisiting of this long-forgotten true crime. Piqued by a contemporary account he found at an antiquarian bookshop, he gained access to the extensive police records of the case, which had been classified for six decades. The wealth of quotidian detail suffusing his well-paced narrative is one rewarding result of his sifting. Another is the sweeping cast of characters in Death in the City of Light: they reflect the moral, political and personal tangles in Paris that the Nazi occupation fostered and that the French, after liberation, selectively pursued or buried.
—The New York Times Book Review
Publishers Weekly
In 1944, when Parisian police entered a mansion littered with dismembered, rotting bodies, they thought of the Gestapo, but it turned out to be a purely French affair. Historian King (Vienna 1914) has mined the resulting global media circus (not only in France; Time magazine covered it) and extensive official records to tell a gripping story. The villain was a textbook psychopath, Dr. Marcel Petiot: a charming but heartless liar. Despite spending 20 years in and out of police courts, he won elections to local offices in the provinces only to be dismissed for petty crimes. Moving to Paris, he sold narcotics to addicts under the guise of treatment. During the German occupation, he offered to smuggle people out of France, murdering them when they arrived for the journey carrying their valuables. He went to the guillotine proclaiming himself (despite overwhelming evidence) a resistance hero, who killed only Nazis and collaborators. This fascinating, often painful account combines a police procedural with a vivid historical portrait of culture and law enforcement in Nazi-occupied France. Illus. (Sept.)
Library Journal
A mild-mannered physician by day, Marcel Petiot spent his nights hacking up at least 27 victims and possibly dozens more. He was finally brought to justice by the dedicated Commissaire Georges-Victor Massu of the Homicide Squad. What makes this story particularly unsettling is that Petiot committed his ugly crimes in Nazi-occupied Paris. Sounds like something Erik Larson would write—and like an entirely absorbing read.
Kirkus Reviews

The gripping narrative of a twisted serial killer preying on the most vulnerable citizens of Paris during the Nazi occupation.

In King's third work of historical nonfiction (Vienna, 1814: How the Conquerors of Napoleon Made Love, War, and Peace at the Congress of Vienna, 2008, etc.), he turns to World War II and the city of lights, narrating a frightening tale. When a chimney fire led to the discovery by Paris police of countless bodies hacked into pieces, they immediately suspected the home's owner, the respectable doctor Marcel Petiot, of committing these unspeakable crimes. A manhunt ensued, and Petiot managed to elude authorities for a time. Set against the backdrop of the Allied invasion of Normandy and the Nazi's retreat from Paris, King successfully weaves together the search for Petiot with the world-changing events surrounding the chase. The second half of the narrative focuses on Petiot's trial, during which the atmosphere in newly liberated Paris had changed drastically. The author demonstrates that while Parisians were ecstatic to be free from Nazi occupation, the stink of collaboration was everywhere. People were desensitized to the details of Petiot's crimes because of the abhorrent details that had reached them of the Nazi treatment of Jews. King writes history in an engaging manner; the narrative is fresh and clear, told succinctly, but with a befitting level of detail. The tale never drags as the author accelerates the suspense, revealing Petiot's staggering crimes at an appropriately stirring pace. However, King succeeds in never allowing Petiot's murders to overwhelm their context.

The author's successful transition into the true-crime genre—expertly written and completely absorbing.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780307452900
Publisher:
Crown/Archetype
Publication date:
06/05/2012
Pages:
432
Sales rank:
362,744
Product dimensions:
5.30(w) x 7.84(h) x 0.96(d)

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