Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Crystal Stopper (e-book) by Maurice Leblanc

The Crystal Stopper is available for free at several sites - I downloaded it from Project Gutenberg. It's part of Leblanc's Arsene Lupin series and, according to this timeline, takes place several years prior to the last Arsene Lupin book I read, Arsene Lupin.

Synopsis:

During an attempted burglary of Deputy Daubrecq's home, two of Arsene Lupin's accomplices are arrested and blamed for a murder. One of the men, Vaucheray, committed the murder, while the other, Gilbert, did not, but both men will go to the guillotine if Lupin doesn't do something.

Lupin's path crosses with that of Clarisse Mergy, Gilbert's estranged mother, and information she gives him allows him to put together the pieces that might allow him to save Gilbert. For some time now, Daubrecq has been blackmailing several people using a list of 27 names implicated in a financial scandal. If the list ever gets out, it would mean the ruin of many, but no one knows where Daubrecq keeps it. Lupin is determined to find it and use it to get Gilbert's death sentence changed to life in prison (which Lupin can easily free him from).

Getting the list is more difficult than Lupin anticipates, however. Daubrecq is a wily opponent, always one step ahead of him, always just a bit sharper and more observant. The list is cleverly concealed inside a hollowed out crystal stopper, but finding and taking that stopper isn't easy, and Lupin isn't the only person looking for it. As the date of the execution nears, even Lupin begins to wonder if he can free Gilbert in time.

Review:

In The Crystal Stopper, Leblanc tried to up the suspense by knocking Lupin down a few notches and raising his opponent up a few notches. Sadly, the result did not work as well for me as The Extraordinary Adventures of Arsene Lupin, Gentleman-Burglar, or even Arsene Lupin.

In most of the previous Lupin stories I've read, Lupin is better than the best, always more cunning than those around him. He usually pulls off his schemes in some clever and wildly arrogant way. In this book, the tables are turned, and Lupin can barely keep up with Daubrecq, his opponent. Every move he makes, Daubrecq is always at least a step ahead.

Because it's not Lupin's life in the balance, but rather his comrade's, I suppose the “will Lupin succeed?” feeling that Leblanc was probably trying to achieve is believable. Even so, rather than feeling more on the edge of my seat each time Daubrecq bested Lupin, I instead became more and more annoyed. I think the bit where Leblanc really lost me was when that toad of a man managed to best Lupin shortly after having been tortured. Lupin got his groove back near the end of the book, but after being knocked so flat for so long, I couldn't accept it. Leblanc's explanations for how Lupin managed it ended up coming across as flimsy authorial hand-waving to me.

Just as I was less than happy with how the love interest in Arsene Lupin was portrayed, I wasn't happy with Clarisse. She would, I'm guessing, have been at least in her forties, maybe her late thirties. She lived through the death of her husband, giving birth to two children, and lots of stress. All those things could potentially age any woman before her time, but Leblanc's descriptions of her left me with the impression that she was physically a tragically tired-looking 20-something (so that she could be beautiful enough for Lupin to fall for) who happened to have a bit of gray hair. Such a big deal was made about that gray hair that it wasn't until I did a check in the text prior to writing this post that I realized she didn't have solid gray No, she just had a bit of gray in her otherwise dark hair, but this was a Big Deal.

Clarisse's determination to save her son should have been awesome, and I suppose it was, at times. However, whenever the going got tough and Lupin's latest plan to beat Daubrecq fell through, Clarisse's first answer seemed to be to attempt suicide. I mean, what? This is a woman who was strong enough to survive so much hardship, and she attempts or threatens to kill herself before all hope is really lost? I would have thought a woman like her wouldn't have gone that far unless both her sons were already dead.

Lupin's victorious ending seemed to come out of the blue. I'm still not sure how he learned of the true location of the list (did he really realize where it was on the fly, while torturing Daubrecq? how...disappointing), and his actions to get at that list seemed to come awfully close to the torture he had, earlier in the book, decided he'd never be able to do. While I still plan on reading more Arsene Lupin books, I hope that my next one is better.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • One of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories - Usually, Lupin is as awesome a criminal as Holmes is a detective. I haven't yet read all of the Holmes stories and books, but I wonder if fans of Daubrecq (or at least Daubrecq's ability to lay Lupin low) might enjoy Moriarty? In that case, The Valley of Fear might be a good place to start. "The Adventure of the Final Problem" is also a possibility, but, since that's the infamous story in which Doyle killed off Holmes, maybe it's not the best place for Holmes newbies to start.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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).

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