Little Demon in the City of Light: A True Story of Murder and Mesmerism in Belle Epoque Paris
Booklist Reviews 2014 February #1
In belle epoque Paris, mesmerism, the ability to hypnotize others to do one's will, was quite the rage, and it wound up being quite the defense for one of the two accused of robbing and strangling wealthy widower Toussaint-Augustin Gouffé. Was the petite démon (little devil) Gabrielle Bompard, a good girl turned good-time girl, in thrall to bamboozling raconteur Michel Eyraud? Certainly, it made a great story then, one that the tabloids worldwide emblazoned in lurid headlines for months, and one that Levingston tells here, filled with clever and determined detectives (quotes from Sûreté chief Marie-François Goron's own memoir are included), theories about criminology, opinionizing by such luminaries as writer Émile Zola, and the ambience of an era that arguably can't be matched for its guilelessness. Levingston's smartly chipper prose and fine attention to detail—down to the otter trim on Gabrielle's hat—add an entertaining and authentic sensibility to this re-creation of a culture, a crime, and the first time an accused murderer had put forward a hypnotism defense. Copyright 2014 Booklist Reviews.
LJ Reviews 2014 March #1
Journalist Levingston's (The Kennedy Baby; Historic Ships of San Francisco) latest title is a fascinating and easy-to-read true crime story about a sensational murder connected with hypnotism in late 19th-century Paris.He weaves historical details of the grisly murder of a court official by a con man and his mistress, the discovery of the body, the worldwide search for the suspects, and the subsequent trial with background information about the rise of hypnotism in the scientific world. In the style of books such as Erik Larson's The Devil in the White City, Levingston's writing is entertaining yet informative, and clearly produced from years of research into Gabrielle Bompard, the woman called "The Little Demon" by the French press, and her lover/hypnotist, Michel Eyraud. This title also explores the sensational reaction by the public and the press to not only the missing victim, but to the unique defense claimed in court by Bompard. VERDICT Recommended for historic true crime fans, readers interested in 19th-century history, media historians, and general readers.—Amelia Osterud, Carroll Univ. Lib., Waukesha, WI[Page 105]. (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
PW Reviews 2013 December #3
The titular figure in this lively popular history is Gabrielle Bompard, a young woman who became infamous as the accomplice in a garish and notorious murder in 1889 Paris. Mistress of the con man Michel Eyraud, Bompard and her tragic story became a historical footnote; her case at trial rested on a precedent-setting hypnotism defense. In seeking to absolve her of responsibility, the reference to hypnotic suggestion (then an intensely researched subject in the medical community) brought into the spotlight opposing scientific camps, represented by Jules Liégeois—a law professor from Nancy who argued that the hypnotized criminal was not morally culpable—and the eminent Parisian neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot, onetime mentor of Freud, who insisted the hypnotist could not override an individual's moral makeup. Before reaching the spectacular trial, however, journalist Levingston (coauthor of The Whiz Kid of Wall Street's Investment Guide) spends the first two-thirds of the book meticulously recounting the crime, principal characters, and relevant cultural context. Though limited as a cultural history, the book is lovingly constructed from available sources, including newspapers, memoirs, and secondary histories, and immerses the reader in a period whose newfound obsessions—science and pseudo-science of the mind, criminal forensics, mass media, the macabre, and fame—have a seminal connection to our own time. Agent: Daniel Lazar, Writer's House. (Feb.)[Page ]. Copyright 2013 PWxyz LLC