The Crimes of Paris is a book about just that: the crimes that took place in and around Paris from about 1880 to the beginning of World War I. The book’s “hook” is the theft of the Mona Lisa from the Louvre in 1911, but the bulk of the book deals with famous murders, murderers, detectives, and gangs of fin de sicle France. The 19th century was an era in which France, beset by numerous revolutions, changed drastically, and the urban landscape with it. The way that people interacted with each other changed, too, hence the number, and variety, of crimes that were carried out. Changes in technology and scientific thinking enabled detectives and the police to solve crimes that had previous remained unexplained.
If you come to this book expecting it to be solely about the theft of the Mona Lisa, you’ll be disappointed (watch out: the story of the theft itself is sort of a doozy). One of the crime’s suspects, briefly, was Picasso. You wonder why he was considered a suspect in the first place; he had no motive for stealing the painting, nor was he anywhere near the scene of the crime at the time it happened.
The book’s strength lies in its descriptions of other famous (and not so famous) crimes). The reader is introduced to a host of historical figures: Vidocq, France’s first real detective; Bertillon, who developed the science of anthropometry; the Bonnot gang, anarchists who were the first to escape the scenes of their crimes via car; Meg Steinheil, who murdered her husband in cold blood; and many more. As I’ve said, the “hook” of the book is the theft of the Mona Lisa, in reality unconnected to the other crimes related in this book. It would have been better had the book been described as it really was. Also, the authors make flimsy, superfluous connections between the theft and the murders. But other than that, I mostly enjoyed my trip to turn-of-the-century Paris. The book is accompanied by 14 pages of black and white reproduction photographs.
Also reviewed by: The Biblio Brat, Jackets and Covers, The Burton Review