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Death in the City of Light: The Serial Killer of Occupied Paris

3.54  ·  Rating details ·  6,826 ratings  ·  830 reviews
Death in the City of Light is the gripping, true story of a brutal serial killer who unleashed his own reign of terror in Nazi-Occupied Paris. As decapitated heads and dismembered body parts surfaced in the Seine, Commissaire Georges-Victor Massu, head of the Brigade Criminelle, was tasked with tracking down the elusive murderer in a twilight world of Gestapo, gangsters, r ...more
Kindle Edition, 352 pages
Published (first published January 1st 2011)
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3.54  · 
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 ·  6,826 ratings  ·  830 reviews

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Jul 31, 2011 rated it really liked it

When you decided to read this book it is important to realize that this is a work of nonfiction. Although a verdict was reached at the trial, there remain numerous unanswered questions. The author has scrupulously investigated all the known facts and clearly presents them to the reader. Througout the book he made evident what is known fact and what is speculation. In the epilogue he presents his own speculations concerning the questions that remain unanswered. I appre
Pamela Huxtable
Ultimately, a bit disappointing.

How could you go wrong with all these elements? A serial killer in Nazi controlled Vichy France, who claims to be part of the French Resistance, executing informants - and it's a true story!

King's narrative never really finds a good stride, and he takes many a detour and digression on the way through the discovery, investigation, and trial of Dr. Petiot, the serial killer of the title. Some digressions - such as details about the lives of Sartre, Camus, and Picas
Moira Russell
This was really quite good. Unsettling, but good. It's one of the v few true crime nonfiction books I've read (and, dear God, I have read TOO MANY of those) which didn't feel at all exploitive - unlike The Devil in the White City which I couldn't finish reading (will try again -- just not -- now....). While City explicitly, and often heavy-handedly, contrasted the idea of Modern Technological Progress with H. H. Holmes' horrible murder house, the hook for this story is, here's a serial killer in ...more
Jul 01, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Putting the "meh" in "dénouement"

I really wanted to enjoy "Death in the City of Light." It certainly *looked* intriguing; German-occupied 1940s Paris is not your customary setting for a true crime thriller. Unfortunately author David King couldn't quite deliver a finish that lived up to the pursuit of fugitive doctor Marcel Petiot as he tried to evade French authorities following the discovery of dozens of bodies in and around his Paris townhouse.

By filling the first part of his novel with the
Jaclyn Day
One of my strangest guilty pleasures is reading true crime nonfiction. (Brandon calls me the “black widow.”) I think there’s a part of all of us that is fascinated by the extent to which people can snap and do insane, unthinkable things.

The serial killer in this book, Dr. Marcel Petiot, is a particularly nasty case of crazy. The authorities weren’t sure exactly how many people fell victim to him—the number ranges from 27 to over 100—and the cause of death has never been determined either. (Theor
Let me start this off by commenting on true-crime in general. While I find the subject interesting, I usually don't read books like this -- it feels wrong, being entertained by another person's misery and misfortune. But, for whatever reason, historical crime writing is somehow "okay" for me. Current crime = no, historical crime = okay. It's weird, and probably hypocritical, but there it is.

I was really interested in reading this book -- I think I even bought it as a pre-order on Amazon. I had j
Charlene Intriago
When I first started reading this book, I had to double check to make sure this was a non-fiction book. The first few pages read like fiction. The setting is Paris, 1944, a city under horrible duress during the Nazi occupation, and along comes a serial killer. There are a lot of details in this book and many people involved. There were a couple of parts where I had to backtrack to keep all the characters straight. Dr. Marcel Petiot who is finally brought to trial is described in so many differen ...more
Brian Kelley
On the one hand I am tempted to suggest that it is comforting to learn another culture screws up high-profile cases too. On the other hand, the surreal circumstances of serial killer Marcel Petiot are too astonishing not to know--for seventeen years I've taught a WWII unit as a companion piece to a month with the Diary of Anne Frank. My students not only read Anne's diary but they self-select two other books of interest about the period. In all of my digging through fiction and nonfiction, poetr ...more
Apr 12, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This book was a mess. I'm not sure what book the Booklist guy was reading, but it wasn't the same one I was. For an author who boasts that he access to records about the killer, Dr. Petiot, from both the German and French Governments, he really had nothing to say from them. There is no definative answer about whether the Doctor was actually a Nazi spy, or part of the French Resistance, and more importantly, the author didn't seem to try and find out. World War II wasn't that long ago-there are p ...more
Scott  Hitchcock
Interesting piece of WWII history that I wasn't aware of. A sociopath hiding under the regime of the Nazi psychopaths in France and butchering his victims. To make it worse he was doing doctor and told people he had connections to get them out of France. Using one of these methods he robs and murders his victims in his own little concentration camp right in Paris with his own gas chamber.

The facts are interesting if the telling a little dry.
Jul 17, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is an outstanding non-fiction account; I almost gave it 5 stars. And it could also demand a review that would go on for 3 or 4 full pages. It encompasses so much of the knot of both Nazi and Resistance authorities in subversion and clash with each other BEYOND the war-time CITY criminal behavior of neither faction, the "picture" is never clear. Not who belongs where, or who is in the "know" to whom. It's like looking at 150 or more characters through the multi-lens eye of a fly to try and d ...more
Nancy Oakes
Absolutely enjoyed this book and I can't wait for the author's next one. Here's a short review; for a longer one, click on through.

First, a thank you to Crown for the ARC of this book, and an apology for taking so long to get to it.

On March 11, 1944, the air on the rue Le Sueur was filled with thick black smoke, smelling of "burnt caramel, burnt rubber, or a burnt roast of poor quality." The smoke had been coming out of a townhouse at number 21, and had been going for five days, but on that d
Kimba Tichenor
This was a late night read pick and as the title states, this book focuses on the true story of a serial killer in Nazi-occupied Paris. However, the setting -- occupied Paris -- does not figure prominently in the narrative. Rather than recreating the context and setting of the killings, the author focuses on detailing the gory details of the killings, which are repeated so many times that it leaves the reader numb.
Lolly's Library
During the years of Nazi occupation of Paris, Marcel Petiot, a seemingly respectable doctor, murdered an unknown number of people. Was he a German sympathizer, using his own form of a "final solution" on innocent Jews who merely wanted to escape the city? Was he a member of the French resistance, acting as judge and executioner towards those he saw as friendly towards the Nazi occupiers? Or was he merely a cunning sociopath who took advantage of the chaos of the times to inflict as much horror a ...more
N.N. Light
This scared the crap out of me! Highly recommend, especially if you like true crime.

My Rating: 5 stars
May 01, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
It's a book about a French doctor who lured people into a secret chamber in a more or less abandoned mansion in the heart of Paris during the Occupation, killed them there (we never learn exactly how, which while not exactly the author's fault, does not make it easier at the end of the book) while peering through a peephole at them, then went on the lam, was caught, tried, and executed. It's a book in which the reader discovers that every single gangster in France apparently has an alias ("Guill ...more
Karen Wellsbury
The story is so fascinating, and compelling that I got lost in this book a couple of times.
It took me a very long tine to read, because I went backwards and forwards checking things and looking up stuff on the internet.

Great and thought provoking
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Jan 20, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This enthralling book begins with the investigation of a revolting smell emanating from a house in Paris in 1944. Although the city, under occupation, has already seen endless suffering the gruesome discoveries within the house shocked even wartime Paris. Inside there were body parts in the basement, a lime pit full of bodies and a soundproofed room which resembles a torture chamber. The house belonged to a doctor - Marcel Petiot - who briefly put in an appearance to claim he worked for the resi ...more
Rob Kitchin
This book is a fairly pedestrian affair, setting out the main features of the case, the investigation and the trial. Despite having access for the first time to the classified French files, it is unclear what new insights King brings to the story. And despite the focus on Petiot, he remains somewhat an enigma as there are still so many holes to his biography and very little concerning his motives, other than broad speculation. The narrative also suffers from some odd asides. For example, the mat ...more
Jill Hutchinson
As the presence of serial killers in our midst becomes more known to the public, here is one that is right up there with the Green River Killer in regard to the number of victims......and few people are aware that this man ever existed. In Occupied Paris, Dr. Marcel Periot, known as "The People's Doctor" for his many acts of kindness and generosity to his patients, may have a darker side. Bodies and body parts begin showing up in the Seine and the police are baffled. When a mysterious fire bring ...more
Noran Miss Pumkin
Disappointment!!! In 400 plus pages, I would like some of the numerous historical loose ends that the authors writes about, would be tied up at the end. NO!!! Was the killer killing for his own personal gain, or did he just enjoy killing and slicing, Was was a with the Resistance, The Nazi, the Comies?!?! All of them or none of them. Where did all the wealth go to? some of it had to be traceable. I was led along an enticing path, only to be disappointed.

I hiked for miles, on a high school band
Apr 05, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: true-crime
An interesting companion piece to "The Killer of Little Shepherds," by Douglas Starr - non-fiction accounts of serial killers in France that take place about 50 years apart from each other. "Death..." even references some of the forensic science techniques whose development was discussed in "The Killer of Little Shepherds," which was fun, having read them very close to each other. In the end, I enjoyed the writing in "The Killer of Little Shepherds" a lot more than I enjoyed this book. My favori ...more
Nov 26, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Given the intriguing subject matter, its seedy sexual undertones, and the fact that it's a true story, Death In The City Of Light could have been an evocative study of a horrific series of events wrapped inside another horrific series of events. Bloody well isn't though, is it.
Terri Lynn
When the Nazis and Gestapo call you a "dangerous madman", you have to be pretty bad! This book covers the case of a very unusual serial killer who was also a doctor and at one time a mayor. His name is Dr. Marcel Petiot and this book tells the true story of his brutal reign of terror over the citizens of Paris and other areas of France before and during the occupation by the Germans.

Historian David King had access to trial materials and the complete police dossier. He also did very thorough a
Ronald Roseborough
This book presents a very detailed look at a part of history that took a back seat to the World War raging through out the 1940's. With all the death and destruction occurring in France attributable to the war, it is almost unimaginable that a serial killer ran amok in Paris at this time already so filled with sorrow and misery. French citizens were under constant scrutiny during the occupation from many sources including German military, German Gestapo, spies, French Gestapo, French Resistance, ...more
Jul 31, 2011 rated it really liked it
What’s this? A serial killer? Paris? and Nazis? I’m in.

This historical true crime book reads like a novel, and is so facinating I couldn’t put it down. Mr. King writes about Dr. Marcel Petiot and how he prentended to work for the French Resistance during the Nazi Occupation of Paris. He would trick people (read: Jews) into thinking he was helping them get out of the country and then he would kill them and steal their money. People think he was responsible for at least one hundred murders during
Paul Pessolano
“Death in the City of Light” by David King, published by Crown Publishing.

Category – True Crime/History

In 1944, with the German Army occupying Paris, a grim discovery was made in a building owned by Dr. Marcel Petiot. Neighbors alerted police to an awful smell coming from the house and the police found human remains in the building. The bodies were dismembered and the smell originated from two coal stoves where some of the remains were being burned. It was also discovered that there were many mo
Erin Forson
Dec 12, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Death in the City of Light: The Serial Killer of Nazi Occupied Germany
by David King
This book left me feeling…
like my fingers couldn’t Google the name Dr. Marcel Petiot, the serial killer, fast enough.
Story Line
This is a work of non-fiction that reads like a story, which is fantastic, because I read little non-fiction and often hesitate to pick up a dreary, fact-laden read. Set in Nazi-Occupied France, the author braids in details of Dr. Petiot’s gruesome killings and dismemberments of at least 2
Aug 14, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: history buffs with a great memory for characters
When I read the synopsis for this book on the Goodreads giveaways I was thrilled and prayed I would win a copy. It sounded like exactly my type of read! I love true crime, and I love reading non-fiction. So when I did get my copy through Goodreads First Reads, I could not have been happier. Unfortunately the book did not live up to those expectations. I found myself skipping over large chunks of the book as it was mostly a history lesson of when the Nazis occupied Paris, and that was about as dr ...more
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David King is the author of "Finding Atlantis", "Vienna 1814", and, most recently, "Death in the City of Light".
A Fulbright Scholar with a master's degree from Cambridge University, King taught European history at the University of Kentucky before becoming a full-time writer.
“How do you think that the great fortunes and colonies have been made? By theft, war, and conquest.”

“Then morality does not exist?”

“No,” Dr. Marcel Andre Henri Felix Petiot answered, “it is the law of the jungle, always. Morality has been created for those who possess so that you do not retake the things gained from their own rapines.”
“Wives of criminals, Massau later reflected, were indeed an interesting lot. There are those who, real panthers in madness, defend their men with claws out; there are the cold and insensitive ones, who wrestling step by step, discuss each argument and answer your questions with other questions; there are the stubborn ones who can pass the entire night in total silence against the light of the interrogation; there are still others, who, shaken and in distress, discover as you do that they have lived for years beside a monster.” 3 likes
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