Novel: Fantomas

Author: Marcel Allain & Pierre Souvestre, 1911
Genre: Crime, Pulp Fiction
Format: Paperback, 295 pages

Today I was surprised to realize that most of my classic readings this year consist of French literature. It is a rather interesting fact for me, because I have never paid much attention to French authors. However, I have been very familiar with this piece thanks to film. When I was a child, I used to love watching the series of French movies about Fantomas starring Louis De Funes as charming detective Juve. Of course those who are familiar with the actor will know that he turned the movies into hilarious comedies, rending his version of Juve as the obsessive and extremely unlucky detective. When I found a copy of Fantomas in a book form, I decided to go back to the legend’s routs. The day I received the book in the mail I anxiously began to read it. Am I ever glad i did!

The story begins in the early 20th century France, where we witness a horrific murder of Marquise de Langruen. The Marquise is found in her room with all the doors and windows shut and her valuables left behind in plain sight. The police struggles to understand the motive and execution of the murder. At first it seems that the murderer is found in the impressionable and young Charles Rambert, but then the investigation is taken over by brilliant detective Juve, who right away notices that the answer to this puzzle must be too easy for such a crime. Immediately he suspects a far more ingenious criminal – his archnemesis and master of disguise – Fantomas.

In this book, Fantomas is the perfect criminal, who kills and steals without pity or remorse, and changes his appearance like gloves – always a step ahead of persistent Juve. I thoroughly enjoyed the originality with which Allain and Souvestre invented new ways for Fantomas to evade the law or get a solid alibi. I was never sure that the character introduced in one chapter would not turn out to be somebody else in the next. Sometimes I couldn’t understand Fantomas’s motives either, other than plain old burglary, wondering why the authors would make him so vicious when his goals were so damn materialistic. He enjoyed playing with his victims the way a cat likes to play with a mouse before striking it. But somehow the grandeur of the crimes he committed made the reasons behind them insignificant. I guess Allain and Souvestre wanted to shock their readers with this fantastic persona they created, even if it meant exaggerating some facts. Check out this paragraph, where Fantomas is toying with Princess Sonia while in the process of robbing her. He keeps his cool, laughs at his victims fears, and mocks her by escaping capture in plain sight.

“I shall take my departure, not through the window like a lover, nor up the chimney like a thief, nor yet through a secret door behind the tapestry like a bandit in romantic tales, but like a gentleman who has come to pay his tribute of homage and respect to the most enchanting woman in the world – through the door.”

By any means, I do not mean that the storyline is all farce! It consists of many clever threads that tie together to create a rich sensation of constant thrill. Every page is an amazing feat of action, puzzle and adventure. I never found myself bored, but thirsting for more clues. Even though I kind of suspected the real murderer early on in the book, I couldn’t tell for sure if I was right. The final escape of Fantomas was splendid; a bit unbelievable, but still very entertaining. In the end, I am left with a few unanswered questions, but I guess the authors left those for the sequels to develop. Overall, a very pleasant read – a definite keeper!

What are you still doing here?! Go pick up a copy of Fantomas and read it now!

Rating: 5/5 – great pulp, will surely re-read this someday
Source: published by Penguin [ISBN-13: 978-0143104841]

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