Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Crimes of Paris Review

The Crimes of Paris by Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler

From the back of the book:

'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 Bertillio, 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 who called himself Pablo Picasso...'

I found this book fascinating. It talks about the theft of the Mona Lisa and keeps coming back to that theme throughout the book but that is not really what the book is about. It starts by setting the scene of Paris and the social and political climate at the time. It talks about art, and how it was changing, and the emergence of cubism. It talks about the life of Pablo Picasso and his friends and contemporaries. And it talks a lot about crime and how that was changing too. From the first time a car was used as a get away vehicle to the first private detective to the beginnings of the use of science to solve crimes. Normally, I would think that there were too many vastly different topics to fit together in one cohesive book. But I did not find that the case here. None of the pieces made you wonder what they were doing there. Instead you saw how they all were interconnected. There were no improbable jumps or abrupt changes of subject as if the author was trying to shoehorn in every piece of information they happened to know no matter how unrelated. And there is a lot of information. You can tell that a lot of time went into researching this book. But even though there is a lot to digest I found the writing easy to read, it didn’t get dull or dry and it flowed well so the book moved quickly. I loved learning all the little tidbits like how cubism found its way into the military, or when the word detective was first used. I also liked that it wasn’t all just facts and dates and that you got to see some of the events in the context of people’s lives, having seen their background and how they got to where they were. There is a part of this book that is true crime in that it talks about a lot of cases and gives some specifics of each one, but it is also a history and talks about the anarchists and the political climate, it explores the culture of the time in the talk about art and the love of crime fiction. It may not be for everyone but I think it has appeal for several different interests. I don’t think you ever really forget the fact that this is a non-fiction book but at the same time it is definitely a good story. And it may not be filled with heart stopping thrills but there is a bit of mystery about it and it does keep you interested until the very end.

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