Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

FANTOMAS Marvel Allain and Pierre Souvestre

FANTOMAS. Marcel Allain and Pierre Souvestre. Introduction by John Ashbery. First published 1911. Penguin Classics.

This is the first in a series of many, many novels concerning the French master criminal and master of disguise, Fantomas. As the novel begins, there is some question as to whether Fantomas actually exists, but police inspector Juve is convinced that he not only exists but is behind several diabolical crimes. The first of these is the ghastly and brutal murder of the Marquise de Langruen in her locked bedroom, then the murder of Lord Beltham, who is found locked in a trunk. Major characters include Etienne Rambert, who is convinced that his son, Charles, who was so fascinated by Fantomas, is the killer of the Marquise. Then there's the man, Gurn, who may have been the lover of Lady Beltham and may be involved in her husband's death. Juve is eventually able to unmask Fantomas and tell exactly which people the criminal genius was impersonating, but Fantomas has the last laugh and escapes the guillotine via truly despicable means. He "himself was shaken by the horror of the plot he contrived" -- although it's hard to believe the cruel and sociopathic Fantomas would be shaken by any deviltry. Altthough Fantomas and its sequels have been dismissed as mere entertaining pulp stories, this first book in the series, besides being clever and suspenseful, reveals an interesting knowledge of human nature, and the book is quite well-written. The novels were made into several silent serials as well as several sound pictures.

Verdict: Watch out for Fantomas -- he could be anyone! ***.

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