Kathryn Miller Haines is the author of THE WINTER OF HER DISCONTENT and THE WAR AGAINST MISS WINTER, a series set in 1940s New York. (bio from 2008)
FANTOMAS by Pierre Souvestre and Marcel Allain.
Looking for a nefarious villain, a surreal plot, and more absurd gadgets than a Rube Goldberg fire sale? Look no further than Fantomas
by Pierre Souvestre and Marcel Allain. Heck, the whole series (32 books
authored by both men, 11 additional ones by Allain alone) is worth
picking up, if you can find them (the first five have been reissued and
are available through amazon.com).
The initial, co-authored
series was published in Paris between 1911 and 1913 – one a month, if
you can imagine – and features one of the most popular characters in
French crime fiction. Part master criminal, part serial killer, part
gang leader, Fantomas is the kind of character who seemed ready made for
comic books (in fact he makes in appearance in The League of
Extraordinary Gentlemen). Utilizing plague infested rats and sulfuric
acid infused perfume as readily as knives and revolvers as his weapons
of choice, Fantomas is a master of disguise, clever enough to wear the
skin of a dead man long before Hannibal Lecter came up with the idea.
And yeah, you find yourself rooting for him, in some sick and twisted way. Vive le Dexter!
the first book alone, Fantomas murders a Marquise, woos the wealthy,
robs royalty, and frames an innocent man by utilizing his impressive
skills with theatrical makeup. Of course he has an arch nemesis: the
good-hearted Paris policeman Inspector Juve who’s always a day late and a
dollar short when it comes to tracking him down. But then, what fun
would there be in locking up the master criminal?
psychoanalysis here; Souvestre and Allain aren’t interested in why
Fantomas does what he does. Moral order is never restored and
incongruities are often never explained. But Fantomas isn’t just silly
fun. He inspired the surrealist movement (Magritte painted pictures of
him) and served as the model for American pulp fiction.
And for those
of you already familiar with the series, don’t miss David L. White’s
Fantomas in America (Blackcoat Press, 2007), a new Fantomas tale
inspired by the lost 1920s American serial film based on the character.