Death in the City of Light: The Serial Killer of Nazi-Occupied Paris

This book happens to combine two of my reading interests: serial killers and the Nazis.

I’m not sure what that says about me and I should probably keep talking in the hopes that you don’t think I’m a total creep.

Full disclosure though: I have read about a number of serial killers. I read about Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka (that is a creep tale), the first serial killer in North America, and Charles Manson (naturally) to name a few. I can’t help myself. Tough reading material to work into the conversation at a cocktail party though. One time I started talking about serial killers to this guy I’d just met at the bar. Happily, five plus years later, I’m still regaling him with these kinds of stories.

David King‘s Death in the City of Light: The Serial Killer of Nazi-Occupied Paris tells the heinous tale of Dr. Marcel Petiot who murdered scores of people under the guise of working with the French Resistance.

It all starts with an accidental fire in one of his properties in March of 1944. The fire brigade is called out, no one is home, they break in and find a little shop of horrors: dismembered, partially cremated body parts in the stove, an assortment of hooks and pulleys in this little triangular room with no way out and a viewer to look in, and worst of all, a pit filled with quicklime and a number of badly decomposed bodies and body parts.

The police spend months trying to track Petiot down and make sense of what exactly happened. The Gestapo gets involved, providing the French police with a massive file they had compiled on the suspect. Drugs and an entire underground criminal organization become a part of the story as well. Most tragically of all, it appears as though a number of his victims were Jewish, trying to flee the danger and uncertainty of life in a Nazi-occupied city, hoping for a fresh start in the New World.

David King does an incredible job researching the subject matter. You are able to get a really good feel for the climate of fear and suspicion that had to cover most of Paris at the time. There was no one that anyone could really trust- you could just never be sure who was working for which side. But because there are so many parts of the story, so many players that had a role, the whole thing can be a bit confusing and overwhelming. The trial alone! Petiot ends up being charged with the deaths of 27 people and each family ends up having some kind of representation there, all of whom get a chance to speak on their behalf. And that’s before Petiot and his defense got in there to make things a real circus!

This book was overwhelmingly tragic. Petiot tried to maintain that he had been a part of the Resistance the entire time, a claim that incensed those that had actually risked their lives in the aim of freeing France. He robbed and killed the people that were most at risk from the occupiers and lied about it every step of the way.

If you’re going to read it (and I would recommend it to people) try to read the first half in the light of day. The gruesome details will for sure give you nightmares. Also? The picture of the doctor on the title page? Creep-tastic.

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