Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Extraordinary Adventures of Arsene Lupin, Gentleman-Burglar (book) by Maurice Leblanc

Read this for free via Project Gutenberg!

Synopsis:

This book contains 9 stories about Arsene Lupin, a thief who is so awesomely good at what he does that people just assume he can't possibly have left any clues at the scenes of his crimes. If Arsene Lupin is caught, it's because he wants to be caught. If he says he's going to steal something, he'll steal it, even if the job looks impossible. He's an expert at disguises and is more than a match for most of the great detectives of the world (except maybe Sherlock Holmes).

In several of the stories, he tricks people into giving him the exact information and openings he needs. In one story, it is revealed that his amazing exploits began when he was only 6 years old. His only weakness appears to be his complete confidence in his abilities - in a couple stories, this confidence allows people to actually get the better of him.

Commentary:

As part of trying out the Nook, I downloaded several Project Gutenberg books. I probably have never read, or possibly even heard of, many of the books available through Project Gutenberg - I ended up browsing subjects and downloading anything that caught my interest. I tried a few pages of several different books, but this was the first book that caught my interest and wouldn't let go. Even as I rolled my eyes and imagined the name "Arsene Lupin" said in melodramatic tones, I couldn't stop reading. Since I finally caved and ordered a Nook for myself, I imagine I'll be downloading the rest of the Arsene Lupin books on Project Gutenberg in the near future.

I knew absolutely nothing about this book before I started it. It didn't take me long, however, to conclude that Leblanc was probably a contemporary of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, or at the very least a fan of Sherlock Holmes, because Arsene Lupin seemed like the Sherlock Holmes of the criminal world. I felt that his cleverness came through best in some of the later stories in the book - he may have been just as clever in the earlier stories, but it was harder for me to notice, because I was so flabbergasted at others' reactions to him. For instance, in one of the first stories in the book, Detective Ganimard, who is supposedly a brilliant detective and Arsene Lupin's greatest adversary, doesn't even bother to look for any clues Lupin might have left, because apparently Lupin is too brilliant to possibly leave clues.

After several failures on Ganimard's part, I wasn't really surprised when Leblanc introduced Sherlock Holmes in the story "Sherlock Holmes arrives too late" (although apparently this resulted in some legal problems at the time, so I suppose I'll have to look forward to later appearances by Herlock Sholmes instead). I thought Holmes and Lupin made for a more enjoyable pair than Ganimard and Lupin, even though Holmes was only there for a fraction of the time Ganimard was.

This was one of those books where I basically just sat back and enjoyed the ride. When I stopped to think about it, it often seemed like things went easier for Lupin than they should have, but I didn't really care - he was just that much fun to read about. He thought nothing of telling people, to their faces, that he planned to steal from them. He arranged for seemingly impossible things to happen, making sure he had an audience, even if that audience was just a woman he happened to be interested in. He has a sense of humor, too - out of gratitude, he returned the purse of a woman who unknowingly helped him avoid getting caught, but, still a thief, he made sure to first remove all valuables from the purse. As he said, "business is business."

Oh, and also, Lupin knows jiu-jitsu.

I can't wait to read more of this series, although I might save the books so that I've got them as welcome breaks whenever I'm reading something very tense and/or serious. In the past couple days, Arsene Lupin was my break while reading Slice of Cherry by Dia Reeves (another book I could barely put down, although this one had me on edge as I kept waiting for one of the main characters to finally snap). After reading a hundred pages of a book that stars a couple teenaged serial killers, Lupin's more gentlemanly and considerably less gory brand of criminality was an excellent way to wind down. It's too bad I had to do without him as I plowed through the final 250 pages.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • A Study in Scarlet (book) by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - The first book in Doyle's Sherlock Holmes series. I have to admit, I've only read a small number of Sherlock Holmes stories and books, and it's been long enough ago since I last read one that I can't remember if I have any favorites.
  • Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro (anime movie) - Lupin III is a classic anime character, and I think this is considered a classic movie - again, I don't have much personal experience with it, although, having been an anime fan for years, I can't help but know about Lupin III. I had no idea he was based on a character from a book until I started reading Leblanc's book.
  • Cowboy Bebop (anime TV series) - Just like Lupin III drew its inspiration from Leblanc's character, I think Cowboy Bebop was inspired in part by Lupin III. The series stars several bounty hunters. One of them, Spike, is the epitome of lazy coolness and shares some similarities with Leblanc's Lupin. This series is one of the ones that got me hooked on anime.
  • Kindaichi Case Files (manga) story by Yozaburo Kanari, art by Fumiya Sato - This series has the same feel as a lot of classic mysteries by authors like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie. The main character is a high school student who helps the police solve crimes. Each volume in the series focuses on a single mystery and is pretty self-contained - you could probably start with any volume you wished and be fine. I've skipped around a bit and still haven't read the first volume. If you'd particularly like another story with a clever gentleman thief, you might try The Kindaichi Case Files: The Gentleman Thief (I think this is volume 14 in the series), in which the thief targets a famous artist.
  • D.N.Angel (manga) by Yukiru Sugisaki - On his fourteenth birthday, Daisuke Niwa learns that he has inherited, from his mother's side of the family, the ability to become the legendary thief Dark Mousy. Unfortunately, he has no control over his abilities and turns into Dark every time he's around someone he has a romantic interest in, which just happens to include one of the girls in his class. To make matters even more complicated, Dark develops feelings for Daisuke's crush's twin sister. If I remember correctly, Daisuke's family is a family of thieves, so they encourage him to let Dark do his thing. Those who'd like another story featuring a clever, cocky thief might want to try this. There's also an anime version, but it's been long enough since I last saw any of that that I can't remember how similar it is to the manga.
  • Dexter (live action TV series) - By day, Dexter is a blood spatter pattern analyst for the police, whose sister is a cop. By night, he's a serial killer who targets those who can't be brought to justice through more legal means. That's not to say that Dexter does what he does out of the goodness of his heart - he just needs to kill, and his adoptive father (or foster father? can't remember...) turned those urges towards those whose deaths might be considered beneficial to society. This is bloodier than Leblanc's book, but, for those who don't mind that, it might appeal. Dexter, like Lupin, is clever, for the most part confident, and good at what he does. His sense of humor manages to make him an enjoyable character. The TV series is somewhat based on a series of books by Jeff Lindsay - I'd recommend those, too, but they're even gorier than the TV series and Book Dexter has a tendency to seem even less human than TV series Dexter. I've enjoyed the ones I've read, though, so it's not that I'm not recommending them, I'm just saying "proceed at your own risk."

2 comments:

  1. It's fun to see your review here! We read Arsene Lupin stories in French class in high school--fun times. Mr. Fitz grew up on Lupin III, so we pull them out for fun sometimes (although I can only stomach so much...all the femmes fatales get to me after a while... :-)

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  2. Ooh, you read it in French - I'm sure that was fun. That reminds me of when I got to read Friedrich Durrenmatt in German class. I may not have always known exactly what was going on, but at least the books were interesting enough that I made an effort to understand.

    I had never really been interested in Lupin III, but after liking Arsene Lupin so much I'm thinking maybe I should give it a shot.

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