Thursday, April 25, 2013

Five Years of Forgotten Books, Day 25

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!
In 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?

There’s no 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.

6 comments:

Kieran Shea said...

Fantômas!

Absolutely the best panel at Noir Con three years ago.

Fantômas!

pattinase (abbott) said...

I remember it well!

pattinase (abbott) said...

I remember it well!

John said...

Love these books. So flat out fun. though the claim that the Fantomas novels "served as the model for American pulp fiction" I think is a gross exagerration. Arthur B. Reeve, Frank Packard and several others were writing similar action packed master criminal stories at the same time as Allain and Souvestre.

michael gregorio said...

What a great idea! Here's one for you: Yardie by Victor Headley - http://www.michaelgregorio.it/16-Blog.html

Ron Scheer said...

The French movie serial still exists. Attended a Fantômas discussion and screening at the Hammer Museum in LA a while ago and covered it here: http://buddiesinthesaddle.blogspot.com/2011/01/fantomas.html