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The monster of rue La Sueur

David King’s Death in the City of Light

Created date

May 22nd, 2012

On a March evening in 1944, police received complaints of foul smoke billowing from the chimney of a townhouse in the upscale 16th arrondissement of Nazi-occupied Paris. Upon entering 21 rue La Sueur, two officers discovered a scene beyond belief. In a cellar littered with body parts sat the source of the smoke; two coal stoves filled with charred human remains. And so began the search for the home s owner, Marcel Petiot, a physician by day and serial killer by night. What followed was a two-year manhunt, investigation, and trial that would go down in the annals of true crime. Historian David King tells the story with grace and clarity in Death in the City of Light: The Serial Killer of Nazi-Occupied Paris (Crown Publishers, 2011). King's first encounter with Petiot came while perusing volumes on World War II at an antiquarian bookshop. There he found a wartime memoir describing the case of the monster of rue La Sueur, one of many menacing sobriquets splashed across the front pages of newspapers around the world.

Cunning predator

Police formally charged Petiot with 27 murders, but some believe that his tally of victims may have reached 150. Petiot's lure a claim that he worked for the French Resistance and was able to safely smuggle Jews and political dissidents out of Paris for South America. Those deemed enemies of the Reich could turn to the good doctor for help, or, at least, so they thought. With the skill of a seasoned mystery writer, King pulls his readers through the narrative by answering the central questions in this story of murder: Who was Marcel Petiot? Who were his victims? How did he kill them? Yet, King s book is more than a thriller. It s a man-on-the-street tour of German-held Paris, a cinematic glimpse both of life under Hitler's dreaded Gestapo and the Resistance movement that helped bring an end to its reign of terror. Death in the City of Lightis a cautionary tale of complacency. As King points out, Petiot was a textbook deviant from his earliest days, raising behavioral red flags that people ignored, underestimated, or excused for decades. Like so many serial killers throughout time, the French physician lived a double life. He was a husband, a father, even mayor of the small town of Villenueve-sur-Yonne. Marcel Petiot was a true Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, which is what made him so terrifying. King capitalizes on this to great effect, giving audiences an ordinary citizen and a monster wrapped in one man.