Thursday, July 28, 2011

Arsene Lupin (e-book) by Edgar Jepson and Maurice Leblanc

This is another Project Gutenberg book.

I tried to avoid spoilers, but it still may be possible to guess certain things about the book based on what I've written here. However, as I say in my review, I guessed a few things very early on and still enjoyed the story. Arsene Lupin is just plain fun.

Synopsis:

I'll start by listing the characters.
  • Arsene Lupin - The gentleman thief.
  • M. Gournay-Martin - A millionaire. Sometime in the past, Arsene Lupin sent him a letter telling him that he planned to steal several of the paintings in his collection, as well as the coronet of the Princesse de Lamballe. Lupin took the paintings, as promised, but did not manage to get the coronet.
  • Germaine - The millionaire's snooty daughter. She's about to marry the Duke of Charmerace.
  • Sonia - A servant in the millionaire's household. She's lovely and delicate and puts up with Germaine without complaint. She's secretly in love with the Duke.
  • Duke of Charmerace - About to marry Germaine, although he seems to like Sonia more than he does his fiancee. He became engaged to Germaine seven years ago and, shortly after that, left to go to the South Pole. He was only supposed to be gone for 3 years and ended up being gone for 7.
  • Chief-Inspector Guerchard - A great detective who is obsessed with catching Arsene Lupin.
At the beginning of the book, Sonia is preparing Germaine and the Duke's wedding invitations. When Lupin informs M. Gournay-Martin, via a letter, that he plans to steal more of his paintings and finally get the coronet, the millionaire panics. It's not entirely clear, at first, whether the letter is really from Lupin or just from someone pretending to be Lupin. It doesn't matter - M. Gournay-Martin wants the police, particularly Guerchard, to help protect his collection. If the police cannot keep the items from being stolen, Guerchard may be the only one who can help get everything back.

Review:

Maurice Leblanc's Arsene Lupin books are my favorite Project Gutenberg find. This is the second Lupin book I've read, and, although I don't think it was as good as The Extraordinary Adventures of Arsene Lupin, Gentleman-Burglar (which is actually a collection of short stories, rather than a novel), it was still a lot of fun. Well, except for the gripes I have about the ending. And Sonia. But more about that later.

Because I had some experience with how Lupin operated, I figured that he had to be disguised as somebody, and I guessed who he was disguised as almost immediately. I spent much of the book noting details the confirmed my guess, and Jepson and Leblanc didn't throw in a twist that proved me wrong. I also knew the exact moment when Lupin stole the coronet.

Correctly guessing those aspects of the theft didn't ruin the book for me, however. I didn't know how many of the things going on were part of Lupin's scheme, so I was excited to see how everything was going to come together. When Guerchard was brought in, I was happy to see that he seemed to be an improvement upon Ganimard (the supposed great detective who appeared in a few of the stories in The Extraordinary Adventures of Arsene Lupin, Gentleman-Burglar and completely failed to impress me). Rather than assuming that Lupin was too good to have made mistakes, as Ganimard had, Guerchard actually examined the crime scene and was able to figure out a few things that the other detective on the scene did not. Of course, it turns out that that was because Lupin wanted him to figure those things out. Also, Guerchard made at least one stupid mistake because he assumed Lupin had made things more complicated than he actually had. Even so, I still thought Guerchard was a better detective than Ganimard.

Throughout the book, I wondered how old Lupin was. I wasn't quite sure how long he had been involved in this scheme, but I figured he was in his late twenties or early thirties. It turned out I guessed well: late in the book, Lupin's age was given as 28 (at which point I was horrified to realize that, in only a few short months, I'll be older than him – yet another story character whose age I will have surpassed).

I have a feeling that, even if he'd been older, Lupin would probably still have pushed things further than he should have with Guerchard. Another one of the exciting things about this book was getting to see Guerchard and Lupin butt heads. Guerchard was almost certain he knew who Lupin was disguised as, but, without proof, he couldn't do anything. Lupin enjoyed the thrill of being just out of Guerchard's reach.

The things I liked least about this book stemmed mostly from the presence of Sonia. It was clear that Sonia and the Duke were interested in each other. While Sonia certainly seemed a better choice than Germaine, I'm guessing that differences in status would have made it difficult for her and the Duke to be together. Plus, there would probably have been social fallout – however awful Germaine was, she waited 7 years for the Duke's return, and it would probably have looked really bad for him to call off the engagement so that he could marry one of her servants.

Doomed romance can be fun, but I just couldn't get past the way Sonia was always referred to as a child (I'm assuming she was in her early twenties, but I don't think her exact age was ever given). Said by the Duke: “'You're just like a little child one longs to protect.'” And another bit in the text: “She smiled at him—an adorable child's smile.” The Duke again, speaking to Guerchard: “'But still, a child like that—you're frightening her out of her life.'” I don't particularly like it when heroines in modern romance novels are in any way referred to as being delicate and childlike, and it turns out I'm no less tolerant of the same sort of thing in an older novel like this one. It just comes across as icky to me.

I could probably have forgiven that, though, if Jepson and Leblanc had made use of Sonia the way I thought they would. A conversation between, I think, Guerchard and the Duke led me to believe that Sonia might be a trap for Lupin, put in place by Guerchard. I was looking forward to the moment when she would reveal her true colors...only to find myself at the end of the book, with everything wrapping up in such a way that I was left wondering if this was the last Lupin novel. I did some checking, and it's most definitely not the last book, not in any way, although I'm still unsure which book comes next in Lupin's timeline (my best guess, according to the timeline found here, is The Confessions of Arsene Lupin).

So, I didn't like Sonia, and the ending was so abrupt that it came as something of a shock. Other than those two things, I really enjoyed this book. I'm happy to say that Lupin is just as much fun in a novel as he is in short stories, and I'm happy that I have plenty more Lupin books loaded onto my Nook and ready to read.

My read-alikes/watch-alikes list is primarily a copy-and-paste from my post on the other Arsene Lupin book I've read. However, I added a few new suggestions to the end.

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. Lupin III is inspired by Leblanc's books.
  • 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. If you'd like a little more information, I wrote about this volume in this post.
  • 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." I've written about one of the books and the second season of the TV series.
  • Catch Me If You Can (live action movie) - The way Lupin assumed another person's life, and the game he played against Guerchard, made me think of this movie, based on the true story of a con artist who successfully impersonated a doctor, airline pilot, assistant attorney general, and history professor.
  • Artemis Fowl (book) by Eoin Colfer - Artemis is, in some ways, the YA version of Arsene Lupin. He's clever, a bit arrogant, and not on the right side of the law, but he's also awesome and lots of fun to read about. In this first book in the series, Artemis comes up with a plan to steal gold from the fairyfolk (who, by the way, have both magic and amazing technology at their disposal).
  • Ocean's Eleven (live action movie) - Another fun, complex robbery that should be impossible.

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