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Mar 30, 2009

Review: "The Crimes of Paris : A True Story of Theft, Murder and Detection" by Dorothy & Thomas Hoobler

Publish Date: 4/27/2009
ISBN: 9780316017909
Pages: 384

The Crimes of Paris was an interesting read and I was not disappointed. Furthermore, it was unexpected. If you judge a book based on its cover, then you will not be disproved in this case. Yet, if you read the back then you may be in for a surprise. The Amazon summary (and on my back cover) is: “Turn-of-the-century Paris was the beating heart of a rapidly changing world. Painters, scientists, revolutionaries, poets - all were there. But so, too, were the shadows: Paris was a violent, criminal place, its sinister alleyways the haunts of Apache gangsters and its cafes the gathering places of murderous anarchists. In 1911, it fell victim to perhaps the greatest theft of all time - the taking of the Mona Lisa from the Louvre. Immediately, Alphonse Bertillon, a detective world-renowned for pioneering crime-scene investigation techniques, was called upon to solve the crime. And quickly the Paris police had a suspect: a young Spanish artist named Pablo Picasso...”

I was expecting the fact that Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa painting was stolen to be the central focus. But since the actual story of the crime was simpler than many had theorized this becomes a history of criminology in France as it details many crimes, criminals and the detectives, studying the evolution of each of these topics. It discusses notorious crimes that changed the path of criminology, intriguing the reader to delve into 19th and 20th century France. If you like the CSI television series for its technology, it is really inspiring to learn from the beginning just how crime solving techniques have evolved. As stated in the summary, we are taught about the painters, scientists, murderers, revolutionaries etc. Many details are given about the economic and social atmosphere of Paris so that we could better understand the harsh reality of the time.

The book focuses on major figures of the time such as Alphonse Bertillon, who was famous for how he started cataloging criminals. He also testified in the famous Dreyfus Affair which caused a stir with its political scandal damaging his good reputation. We look at figures of note such as Pablo Picasso and Matisse to follow the art culture of France, and the wild murderers and thieves of the Bonnot Gang.

What makes this book better than ordinary is the way the authors weave the characters in and out and bring them back together. It is not just a telling of facts; it contains many interesting subplots following the intellectuals, anarchists, artists and thieves of the time. All of this information we glean so that we can easily comprehend the attitudes of the times when the Mona Lisa was stolen from the Louvre in 1911. The drawback is that with all of these separate stories in one book, then with the solving of the Mona Lisa as an after-thought, it seemed a bit anti-climatic. But since this is non-fiction, perhaps I expect too much.

I always love a book with pictures, and there are some fascinating photos in the center of the book. I enjoyed the book for its easy-readability, for with the multitude of subject matter it tackled it could have easily become boring yet the authors wrote it deftly. Anyone interested in France’s historical information, her artistic cultures and influences, or the origins of criminology, will enjoy this book. I give this book 4 stars, I enjoyed the education very much.

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