Caroline's Reviews > Death in the City of Light: The Serial Killer of Nazi-Occupied Paris

Death in the City of Light by David King
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's review
Apr 30, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: world-war-2, true-crime, french-history
Read from April 26 to 28, 2012

This is true crime in the same vein as 'The Devil In The White City' - and I enjoyed it almost as much. Almost. The major problem with this book - and this is no fault of the author - is that there are so many unanswered questions with Dr Petiot's murders. There is no resolution, no clear answer to why he killed so many people or how he killed them. Was Petiot working for the Resistance, killing Nazis and collaborators and traitors as he claimed, or was he just a brutal murderer, preying on the vulnerable?

The victims are, of course, the most heartbreaking part of this story. Most were Jews, duped into believing that Dr Petiot could offer them a way out of Occupied France, to freedom in Argentina - but their path to freedom began and ended at 21 rue Le Sueur, murdered most likely for profit - for the fees for smuggling them out of the country, their positions and any small wealth they had hoped to smuggle with them. Human life was cheap in wartime France - indeed King relates how at one point in the trial the prosecution lawyer spoken of the 'sacredness' of human life, and many in the courtoom laughed.

Almost as interesting as the murders is the evocation of life in Occupied Paris. How the police worked with and around the Nazi forces, how the justice system struggled to continue under enormous pressures, how the French and Nazi media treated the case, the differences in French law. King chronicles the course of the case, the efforts to build a case against Petiot, rarely allowing his own opinions to influence his narrative. That impartiality is what leads to a lot of the uncertainty in this book - the facts that were marshalled against Petiot leave it impossible to know for certain what really happened.

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