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Fantômas by Marcel Allain
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Fantômas (1911)

by Marcel Allain, Pierre Souvestre

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501431,697 (3.63)39
A noblewoman is hacked to death in her chateau, a Russian princess is boldly robbed at a posh hotel, and a lord's lifeless body is found stuffed into a trunk. Everyone recognizes the deeds of Fant#65533;mas, a master of disguise whose daring and diabolical crimes paralyze Parisians with terror. One man has sworn to bring the phantom killer to justice: Inspector Juve, who ventures from dark alleys to brilliant salons in his relentless pursuit of the evil genius. The first volume in a series of wildly popular French thrillers, Fant#65533;mas created a sensation in pre-WWI Europe. The original pulp fiction, its appeal transcended every level of society. Cocteau, Colette, and Picasso were avid readers, and subsequent generations of artists, writers, and musicians have drawn inspiration from this enduringly stylish and suspenseful novel.… (more)

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» See also 39 mentions

Showing 4 of 4
Here's the problem with this book: I never really got any idea why Fantomas was doing all this shit. I mean, he gets up into these elaborate disguises so he can kill one person or another, but why does he want that person dead? Not really explained. And he also makes some pretty stupid mistakes for being such a genius mastermind. Shit Moriarty would never have put up with.

I'm just saying, if you're writing a book about a criminal genius, the criminal should do genius things. Not just really convoluted things.

And there's quite a deus ex machina there at the end, too. Trail of the Serpent did it better, yo.

Entertaining enough, sure. Just not really a must-read. ( )
1 vote AlCracka | Apr 2, 2013 |
Many thanks to the 1001 book list because I would have never read this book had it not been on the list and missed out on a gem.

Fantomas is a master criminal, ruthless and brilliantly clever,able to take on any disguise seemingly at will, a real fictional anti-hero long before they became popular. Juve is a quirky but brilliant detective who has made it his life's work to catch this criminal, seeing links in seemingly unconnected crimes where no one else can spot them. But even at the very end of the book, which is both cleverly constructed and yet horrifying in its simplicity, you still have no real idea who Fantomas is or even whether or not that he even exists at all other than in Juve's mind. Is he real or a sort of Boogie Man created to scare the upper tiers of Parisian life?

This book was first published in 1911 and became an instant hit across all levels of French society, but then it is so much more than a simple criminal tale. It also shows Parisian in particular, and French in general, avant-garde life in all its many shades which in itself made it all the more interesting to me at least. At times the language and plot-line feels a little dated, a bit formulaic and as if it was written in a rush, which it was, Allain and Souvestre had a deadline to meet but this should not really detract from the overall quality of the read. I mean Agatha Christie and Sherlock Holmes are a little dated now too despite their many reincarnations on screen.

The only thing that stops it getting full marks is the fact that the story is incomplete, it is after all only the first one in the series and there are another 40+ books to follow and I am unsure whether or not I will ever get around to reading another. ( )
  PilgrimJess | Feb 26, 2013 |
On the 1001 List, I knew nothing of this, being sent it through the 1001-Library. A mystery about famed mysterious criminal, Fantomas, and Juve, the detective determined to catch him. Three seemingly unlinked crimes, 2 rather gruesome, are connected by Juve and he sets off to find evidence.

The first murder is that of Marquise de Langruen, brutally killed in her bedchamber. The main suspect is Charles, the son of Etienne Rambert, a friend of the Marquise. Rambert senior arrives by train from Paris the morning after the grizzly death, and believes that Charles might be as unhinged as his mother, who Etienne had committed to an asylum years before. They disappear before Charles can be changed.

Juve believes that a second crime, in which a dead body is found in a trunk due to be sent overseas. It contains the missing Lord Beltham. The third is a bold burglary, Princess Sonia is accosted while in the bath, a large sum of money and her jewels are taken, with a certain panache. The thief makes a cunning escape, using his power of disguise, another fact which makes Juve sure of Fantomas' involvement.

Juve is a good detective, but it seems that he is a step behind the master criminal, not helped by the fact that his colleagues don't always share his beliefs. Fantomas is a new sort of criminal, for the time in which the book was written. He is not a gentleman thief, nor does he commit crimes of passion, he seems to kill or steal for enjoyment.

The action is fast paced, jumping from one crime to another, from one fiendish plot to another. While there are better books in the genre, apparently this book was the inspiration for those which followed, this is great fun. ( )
  soffitta1 | Aug 18, 2011 |
The introduction is largely positive about the popular appeal and long-lasting influence of the Fantômas stories on French and European fiction, film, and culture, including the fascination of many artists in the Surrealist movement. At the same time, the writer is adamant about distancing himself from the actual novel, repeatedly pointing out the authors’ pulp origins, denigrating the quality of the writing, and sneering at the coincidences that the plot hinges on.

But, at least in this newly tuned-up translation, the book is a shining example of a pulp mystery -- shocking murders occur, scandalizing society and devastating families. Our hero, Inspector Juve, appears and disappears, trying to understand the pattern of events and draw together the seemingly independent threads to knot together a net to capture the evil mastermind that only he seems to truly believe in -- Fantômas!

As we’d expect from the first in what came to be along series of books, films, and other realizations, all is not what it seems, and seeming triumphs may not be all that we might hope for.

The novel’s Fantômas is really quite tame compared with the reputation the character builds over the ensuing tales. Evil, yes, but some of his motivations are quite pedestrian (illicit love, greed). Still, the crimes he seems to have committed in pursuit of these goals show the beginnings of a truly dangerous psychopath.

If you like pulp fiction, reading Fantômas is a must. Knowing a bit about the character’s cultural influences might make the task appealing even if the prose were not an enjoyable read, but for me, at least, I enjoyed every minute I spent on the book, and would gladly read more if the translations were available. ( )
2 vote cmc | Feb 4, 2008 |
Showing 4 of 4
An unusual detective story... Vivid and tense.
added by Sylak | editCourt Journal
 
To have crime, mystery, and clever characterization in one volume is to have the material for a capital novel. And this is what we have in 'Fantômas.' ... The last capter leaves us full of puzzlement and hope for further series.
added by Sylak | editManchester Courier
 
Appreciators of detective novels should not miss 'Fantômas.' It is a story that grips the reader.... I loudly ask for more.
added by Sylak | editEvening News
 
For a baffling and beguiling detective story commend me to 'Fantômas'
added by Sylak | editThe Referee
 
By far the best detective story that I have read for a very long time... At the end there is a thrilling surprise.
added by Sylak | editSphere
 

» Add other authors (11 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Marcel Allainprimary authorall editionscalculated
Souvestre, Pierremain authorall editionsconfirmed
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First words
"Fantomas."
"What did you say?"
"I said: Fantomas."
"And what does that mean?"
"Nothing . . . Everything!"
"But what is it?"
"Nobody . . . And yet, yes, it is somebody!"
"And what does the somebody do?"
"Spreads terror!"
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Fantômas - Juve contre Fantômas - Le Mort qui tue–L'Agent secret–
Préface - Le train perdu - Les amours d'un prince - Le bouquet tragique - Le jockey masqué.
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