The Unspeakable Crimes of Dr. Petiot

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Overview

Was he a sadistic mass killer who lured innocent people to their deaths, or a hero of German-occupied Paris who liquidated members of the Gestapo and helped persecuted Jews escape from tormented France? This was the question as one of the twentieth century's most sensational murder cases came to trial in Paris in 1946. Thomas Maeder meticulously reconstructs one of the most horrifying true stories in the annals of crime: the vile crimes themselves (presumably Dr. Petiot dismembered his victims, then buried them ...

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Overview

Was he a sadistic mass killer who lured innocent people to their deaths, or a hero of German-occupied Paris who liquidated members of the Gestapo and helped persecuted Jews escape from tormented France? This was the question as one of the twentieth century's most sensational murder cases came to trial in Paris in 1946. Thomas Maeder meticulously reconstructs one of the most horrifying true stories in the annals of crime: the vile crimes themselves (presumably Dr. Petiot dismembered his victims, then buried them in a lime pit), an incisive psychological portrait of the doctor, and a re-creation of his Daumieresque trial, in which he was charged with luring twenty-seven people with the promise of escape, then murdering them for plunder. Just how the murders were committed was a secret Dr. Petiot took to his grave; why he committed them remains to this day a chilling mystery.

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Editorial Reviews

Newsweek
Maeder takes the available information as far as it will go, but refrains from sensationalizing on the one hand and moralizing on the other. This book reads like a shocking psychological thriller, all the more powerful for being true.
Buffalo News
Author Maeder assembles a mass of detail about the shadowy life of the doctor, his victims, relatives and cohorts. Despite the many puzzles that swirled about Petiot's horrors and which persist to this day, the book is first-rate.
Chicago Sun-Times
Author Thomas Maeder handles his material perfectly. His low-key, matter-of-fact style perfectly frames the horror of the investigation and trial; there are none of the crime writer's usual slam-bang embellishments. Nor does he try to tie up all the loose ends with idle speculation and strained analysis.
The Washington Post
Maeder's book, tight as a drum, is filled with interesting sidelights. These sidelights include a great many unanswered and unanswerable questions, but these, in Maeder's hands, merely add to the bizarre appeal of the case.
The Dallas Morning News
Maeder gives Dr. Petiot his due in a superb Grand Guignol sufficient to horrify the most avid devotee of true crime. Moreover, his charm and wit make delightful reading. And he provides an unforgettable glimpse of Parisian life during the Occupation and through the post-liberation political comedies.
The Times Literary Supplement
The simple dogged psychopath is often deeply dull; his killings seem almost an existential necessity, something to define his life, to make him special, and their continuance is necessary to prolong that precariously established identity. Petiot was quite different, and this difference makes Thomas Maeder's lively and readable study of the case all the more gripping. It isn't easy not to succumb, as his victims did, to the bizarre, bullying charm of Marcel Petiot.
— Julian Barnes
Saturday Review
With the skill of a novelist, Maeder develops the case around the question that remains unanswered: Were the brutal murders of more than 60 victims the accomplishment of an ardent Resistance leader, as Petiot claimed, or the deeds of a demented and brilliantly resourceful scoundrel?
Atlanta Journal-Constitution
In the accomplished hands of Maeder, who interviewed the few surviving participants and had access to the official dossier, the case of Dr. Petiot becomes a spellbinding book of true crime.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
In the accomplished hands of Maeder, who interviewed the few surviving participants and had access to the official dossier, the case of Dr. Petiot becomes a spellbinding book of true crime.
William Steig
Maeder's book is about such a remarkable scoundrel, such a tricky bastard, such an extravagantly rotten human being, and is so well-written, with so much involvement, so much tact and wit, that I read it with unwaning fascination and excitement.
The Times, (London) - Julian Symons
Thomas Maeder's excellent full-length study of the case makes a complicated story perfectly intelligible, and gives the best possible view of Petiot's personality.
Times Literary Supplement - Julian Barnes
The simple dogged psychopath is often deeply dull; his killings seem almost an existential necessity, something to define his life, to make him special, and their continuance is necessary to prolong that precariously established identity. Petiot was quite different, and this difference makes Thomas Maeder's lively and readable study of the case all the more gripping. It isn't easy not to succumb, as his victims did, to the bizarre, bullying charm of Marcel Petiot.
The Buffalo News
Author Maeder assembles a mass of detail about the shadowy life of the doctor, his victims, relatives and cohorts. Despite the many puzzles that swirled about Petiot's horrors and which persist to this day, the book is first-rate.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781566637978
  • Publisher: Dee, Ivan R. Publisher
  • Publication date: 8/22/2008
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 1,323,788
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

A graduate of Columbia University, Thomas Maeder has also written Crime and Madness, Adverse Reactions, and Antonin Artaud, a biography of the poet and drama theorist that first piqued his interest in the infamous Dr. Petiot when he came across a story of the case in an old Paris newspaper. Mr. Maeder lives near Philadelphia.
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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 28, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    One of history's mysteries

    My introduction to Doctor Petiot was when I found this book while wandering through Barnes and Noble. I found the book very interesting and a quick read. The author's research into the victims, while some times a bit dry, certainly added to the curiosity of Petiot's choices, particularly if one is attracted to the doctor's side of the story.

    A friend told me he found the book dull and that it didn't provide much new information. However, he was well acquainted with this story. But for a newbie to this bit of history, I can recommend the book even with the not-entirely-engaging style. The mystery and thrist to know the end of the story overcame that for me. A brief search turned up no other book on Petiot, so certainly this fills a gap. There is plenty of info on the internet, which only tells the story briefly. So if you are familiar with Petiot or only want the surface story, this is not the book for you. If you haven't heard of Petiot and like true crime stories, while not an outstanding book, it's worth a read.

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