"}
Words

Murder and Mesmerism

A true-crime tale

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

I am a sucker for long, descriptive nonfiction book titles (think Close to Shore: The Terrifying Shark Attacks of 1916 or Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex).  So when I saw the title of Steven Levingtson’s true crime tale, Little Demon in the City of Light: a True Story of Murder and Mesmerism in Belle Epoque Paris, I was immediately intrigued. 

The fact that the book sounded remarkably similar to another true crime account, The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic and Madness at the Fair That Changed America, by Erik Larson, was actually a plus, since that book stands up as an all-time favorite for its juicy historical detail and chilling, grisly suspense. Mix in the glamorous setting (Paris) and hypnosis, and it adds up to a perfect summertime read for anyone who enjoys mysteries, forensic science or courtroom drama.

The story begins with the scandalous murder of Toussaint-Augusin Gouffé, a wealthy Parisian widower, in 1889. The crime is ripe for lurid headlines—details emerge that Gouffé had been strangled with the silk cord of his mistress’s dressing gown. The mistress, Gabrielle Bompard, nicknamed “Little Demon” by the press, is charged as an accomplice. The accused murderer: her lover, Michel Eyraud, a con man with a cloudy past. Even more shocking is Bompard’s claim that Eyraud used hypnotism to mesmerize her into participating in the fatal deed.

This was a groundbreaking case, the first time that mesmerism (hypnosis) was put forth as a defense in court. Levingston delves into the history of hypnosis and the various schools of thought regarding the culpability of people who have been hypnotized. 

The case was for some time an unsolved mystery: Gouffé disappeared, and it wasn’t until his body was found, stuffed unceremoniously into a trunk and abandoned along a country road, that police knew a crime had been committed.

Levingston follows the detective work of inspectors from the Paris Sûreté as they piece together what happened, identify the main suspects, and track their movements after they fled to Canada posing as father and daughter.

Then the story becomes a courtroom thriller, pitting the prosecution against the defense, expert witness against expert witness. Particularly interesting is the way the chief of police manipulated the media in order to keep public attention and outrage to a fever pitch. The previous year, Jack the Ripper had readers agog from England to the Continent, and the French tabloids were quick to capitalize on the grim and titillating trial.

Christine Perkins is the executive director of the Whatcom County Library System.  Perkins reviews fiction for Library Journal and loves discussing books each month with friends in two local book clubs.

SVCR-0672 QMT_770x150 CW
More Words...
Cat's Pajamas
A pint-sized protagonist

There’s something extremely charming about a miserable, sassy almost-10-year-old bent on living her dream to become a jazz chanteuse. 

In Marie-Helene Bertino’s debut novel, 2 a.m. at the Cat’s Pajamas, Madeleine Altimari is no average kid. She’s a potty-mouthed chain smoker, dodging…

more »
Block Party
Making memories at Make.Shift

By the time this issue hits the streets, summer will be morphing into fall and everyone will be making their way inside to sip hot cocoa, knit scarves out of hand-dyed wool and count the rising number of falling leaves from their living-room windows.

Or not. With the Make.Shift Block…

more »
Memory Into Memoir
Red Wheelbarrow Writers tell their tales

It’s partially hidden by the leaves of a tall tree in summer months, but in cooler seasons, the mural of William Carlos Williams’ iconic poem “The Red Wheelbarrow”—and an accompanying visual depiction of the feathered fowl amid the gardening implements mentioned in the verse—stands out…

more »
Events
Today
Eat Local Month

4:00pm|Bellingham and Whatcom County

A gold medal standard

4:00pm

Whatcom Water Week

10:00am|Whatcom County

Little Women

7:30pm|Whidbey Playhouse

The Miracle Worker

7:30pm|Claire vg Thomas Theatre

The Music Man

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

Wild Things

9:30am|Whatcom Falls Park

Quilt & Fiber Arts Festival

10:00am|La Conner

Parkinson's Dance Class

10:00am|Ballet Bellingham

Spanish Storytime

10:30am|Lynden Library

Ferndale Farmers Market

1:00pm|Cherry Street

Get an edible education

4:00pm

Autumn Celebration Dinner

5:30pm|Bellingham Senior Activity Center

Love, Loss and What I Wore

7:30pm|Heiner Auditorium

Hellingham

8:00pm|Upfront Theatre

Handling the truth

9:35pm

CW BOB 2016 Andrew Subin
Tomorrow
Whatcom Water Week

10:00am|Whatcom County

The Miracle Worker

7:30pm|Claire vg Thomas Theatre

The Music Man

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

Little Women

7:30pm|Whidbey Playhouse

Quilt & Fiber Arts Festival

10:00am|La Conner

Get an edible education

4:00pm

Love, Loss and What I Wore

7:30pm|Heiner Auditorium

Hellingham

8:00pm|Upfront Theatre

Handling the truth

9:35pm

Run Like a Girl

8:00am|Fairhaven Park

Twin Sisters Farmers Market

9:00am|Nugent's Corner

Mount Vernon Farmers Market

9:00am|Riverfront Plaza

Anacortes Farmers Market

9:00am|Depot Arts Center

Cabbage Class

9:00am|Garden Spot Nursery

Model Train Show

9:00am|Northwest Washington Fairgrounds

Benefit Garage Sale

9:00am|T.G. Richards Building

Healthcare Film

9:30am|Bellingham Public Library

Bellingham Farmers Market

10:00am|Depot Market Square

Fall Family Fun

10:00am|Glen Echo Garden

Skagit Valley Festival of Family Farms

10:00am|Skagit County

Porpathon

10:00am|Salish Sea

Whatcom Artist Studio Tour

10:00am|Whatcom County

Blaine Gardeners Market

10:00am|Peace Portal Drive

Fermentation Fun

10:00am|Blaine Library

Birding Walk

10:00am|South Whatcom Library

Fall Fruit Festival

10:00am|Cloud Mountain Farm Center

Film is Truth Anniversary Party

10:00am|Bellingham Public Market

Buddy Walk

11:00am|Fairhaven Village Green

National Geographic's 50 Greatest Photos Opening

12:00pm|Whatcom Museum's Lightcatcher Building

Boating Center Open

12:00pm|Community Boating Center

Banned Books Week Read-In

12:30pm|Village Books

Artist Lecture

1:00pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

Intro to NaNoWriMo

1:00pm|Bellingham Public Library

Matched Makers Opening

2:00pm|Museum of Northwest Art

Traditional Jazz

2:00pm|VFW Hall

Timber Rose

2:00pm|North Fork Library

Blessing of the Animals

3:30pm|Cornwall Park

Poetry Palavers

4:00pm|Village Books

Matzke Art Auction

5:00pm|Matzke Fine Art Gallery and Sculpture Park

Edison Opening

5:00pm|Smith & Vallee Gallery

Celebrating Jack Prelutsky

5:30pm|Western Library

USA Dance

7:00pm|Presence Studio

Fred Morrison

7:00pm|Littlefield Celtic Center

The Aimees

7:00pm|BAAY Theatre

Bellingham Chamber Music Society

7:30pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

Tannahill Weavers

7:30pm|Lincoln Theatre

Folk Dance Party

7:30pm|Fairhaven Library

George Winston

7:30pm|McIntyre Hall

Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1 Village Books
Sunday
The Miracle Worker

7:30pm|Claire vg Thomas Theatre

Little Women

7:30pm|Whidbey Playhouse

The Music Man

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

Quilt & Fiber Arts Festival

10:00am|La Conner

Love, Loss and What I Wore

7:30pm|Heiner Auditorium

Handling the truth

9:35pm

Model Train Show

9:00am|Northwest Washington Fairgrounds

Benefit Garage Sale

9:00am|T.G. Richards Building

Skagit Valley Festival of Family Farms

10:00am|Skagit County

Fall Fruit Festival

10:00am|Cloud Mountain Farm Center

Whatcom Artist Studio Tour

10:00am|Whatcom County

Boating Center Open

12:00pm|Community Boating Center

Rabbit Ride

8:00am|Fairhaven Bicycle

Community Breakfast

8:00am|Rome Grange

Fueling Education Fun Run

9:30am|Washington Park

Sunday Market

1:00pm|Alger Community Hall

Walk the Wall

1:30pm|Lake Padden

Take a Kid Mountain Biking Day

2:00pm|Lake Padden Park

Bruce Molsky

7:00pm|YWCA Ballroom

White Christmas Auditions

7:00pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Sunday Night Fusion

7:00pm|Presence Studio

see our complete calendar »

{/exp:stash:get_list} Bellingham Farmer’s Market Northwood Steak and Crab Andrew Subin Swinomish 2016 Mount Baker Theatre Zoots Side Bar CW BOB 2016 Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1 Village Books Artifacts Wine Bar Everybody’s Store