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Maurice Leblanc - Arsène Lupin, Gentleman Thief Legolas Send a noteboard - 22/02/2011 10:35:53 PM
It is probably fair to say that, in the world of detective and crime novels, no character is quite as iconic as Sherlock Holmes. But in the list of characters vying for second place, there is one who may be relatively unknown to Anglo-Saxon readers, but perhaps as big as Holmes in his native France. And he is of course all the more notable for being on the other side, the criminal side.

Arsène Lupin, the gentleman thief (his title is more amusing in French, though, with the mangled pronunciation of the English loanword: "gentleman-cambrioleur" ), is the hero of a number of books by Maurice Leblanc, the first one published in 1907. And a Robin Hood he most certainly is not; this is a thief who's quite willing to profit from the riches he gains, even if the thrill is perhaps more in the stealing itself, and in the outwitting his victims and the police time and again. He is in many ways like Sherlock Holmes (not coincidentally, one suspects): a master of disguises, brilliant almost beyond compare, and difficult to get to know. Though unlike Holmes, he is rather susceptible to female charms, and quite willing to let a pair of pretty eyes ruin an elaborate scheme.

The first book in the series, the one reviewed here, consists of a number of stand-alone stories, with minor links between them (once again, not unlike Conan Doyle's early Holmes stories). What is more original, though, is the way Leblanc combines stories from different points of view - in some Lupin is the protagonist, in others he is more like the antagonist, and in some his role is even rather minor - to create a sort of mosaic image of his hero. The stories on their own are rather short and simple, some more engaging than others, but none of them having the sort of elaborate mystery solving that one generally finds in detective stories. Nor does any single story do a very convincing job of fleshing out the character of Lupin - and even in a series about a master of disguises who can impersonate anyone he likes, readers need to have a certain connection to the protagonist's character to care very much beyond a certain point. But through the combination of the stories, the character does start to come to life.

In the final story of the volume, Leblanc borrows Sherlock Holmes himself, and - of course - has his hero outwit Conan Doyle's. As Conan Doyle was not amused at this copyright violation, later editions of the book saw this character renamed in perhaps the least subtle way imaginable, Conan Doyle apparently being unable or unwilling to obtain any more drastic changes. And so the second book in the series, picking up where that final story left off, is called "Arsène Lupin vs. Herlock Sholmes".

Gentleman-Cambrioleur is a quick read, at barely over 200 pages spread over nine stories, and a rather light one. By itself, it isn't really a particularly notable book, though I for one did find it rather enjoyable. Its significance lies in the creation of that iconic character, who would go on to star in a number of novel-length stories with rather more depth to them in the following years, such as The Hollow Needle/L'Aiguille Creuse, 813 and The lady with the green eyes/La Demoiselle Aux Yeux Verts. I have read some of these in comic-book form; of course, that isn't really the same as reading the books, so while I can attest to their more fleshed-out plot and characters, I can't say much about their literary quality until I've actually read them (which I do intend to do). Those interested may note that, considering the publication dates and Leblanc's death very nearly seventy years ago, a good number of the Lupin novels are in the public domain.
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Maurice Leblanc - Arsène Lupin, Gentleman Thief - 22/02/2011 10:35:53 PM 7812 Views
I have one thing to add to this post... - 22/02/2011 10:50:34 PM 1563 Views
Re: One more link to more free books by Leblanc in French and English. - 02/03/2011 09:36:32 PM 1652 Views
Trust the French to go with the villain - 23/02/2011 04:41:09 PM 1373 Views
Hm... I don't know that it's particularly new. - 23/02/2011 08:52:44 PM 1367 Views

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