Fantomas

The Fantômas Novels: Le pendu de Londres


CoverSynopsis of Le Pendu de Londres (The hanged man of London):

This is the first Fantômas adventure set, nearly in its entirety, in a location outside France. The London setting has little effect on the action, though, which features a cross section of the Parisian criminal underworld, just like the other episodes. Notable is the lack of any language barrier, and the odd usage of fractured English expressions as if they were natural, e.g., "Hep! Policeman!"

Lord Duncan (Ascott), an aristocratic heir and member of the House of Lords through the premature death of his older brother, is trying to keep his distance from his "bas-fond" ouvrière/pierreuse/prostitute wife, Nini Guinon (whose forced marriage was one of the schemes of Père Moche/Fantômas in Le Policier Apache). But their child, baby Jack, complicates the matter. If Lord Duncan truly has an heir, he would be forced to recognize the legitimacy of both his wife and child. In fact, Nini has let baby Jack die of neglect. But Fantômas provides Nini with another "Jack"—baby Daniel, stolen from Françoise Lemercier, a Parisian entertainer living in London, recently divorced from her Canadian husband and who is also the mistress of Dr. Garrick (alias Fantômas).

But Fandor, pursuing Fantômas in London, is onto the swapped baby scam being played on Lord Duncan. He has also discovered that the pseudo-detective Tom Bob (alias Fantômas; cf. Le Policier Apache) is the head of Scotland Yard's "Council of Five" top agents. In his apartment, Fandor is writing out these revelations in a letter to Juve, when he is captured by Fantômas. Fantômas places Fandor in a small room, actually a large crate, provisioned with food, water and air ventilation, in which he plans to keep the journalist hostage for about a month (cf. the next episode, La Fille de Fantômas).

Meanwhile, Council of Five detective Shepard, in disguise as a vagabond, stakes out dentist Dr. Garrick's house on Elsted Street, in the Putney district of London. Garrick's wife is missing, and, to further complicate matters, Françoise Lemercier is known to be Garrick's mistress (it is unclear whether baby Daniel's father is Lemercier's Canadian husband or Garrick). After overhearing conversations between Nini, the Parisian apaches Beaumôme and Bedeau, and the "nègre" (nigger) Job at the "Old Fellow" bar, Shepard suspects that Garrick has killed and chopped up his wife in the basement of their Putney home.

Dr. Garrick and Lemercier have flown the coup, however, on the Victoria bound for Montréal. Lemercier, believing her ex-husband has taken Daniel, is going to Canada to find him. Garrick followed her to the oceanliner and is now along for the ride. However, in pursuit, Detective Shepard overtakes the Victoria on board the cruiser Majestic, and he arrests Garrick—whom he recognizes as... Tom Bob! Tom Bob admits to being Garrick, and a perplexed Shepard finds himself arresting Tom Bob as the murderer of Mme. Garrick (pieces of human skin and fragments of bones from a female corpse [the remains of baby Jack? Or another, unknown victim?] had been discovered in Garrick's basement). Lemercier is also arrested for the disappearance/murder of her baby, but she is soon cleared by one of the Council of Five, Miss Davis, who shows that incriminating photos against Lemercier being used as evidence in her arrest were faked after the entertainer had already left the country.

Across the channel in France, Mme. Garrick/Lady Beltham has fled to the village of Bonnières, where by chance she joins up with Berthe/Bobinette (cf. L'Agent Secret).

The Council of Five takes on the task of proving Tom Bob's innocence. They come to believe that Mme. Garrick is not dead, but that she has fled to France. The Council of Five members also suspect that Nini Guinon and representatives of "la pègre" (the Parisian underworld) in London, Beaumôme and Bedeau, have kidnapped baby Daniel, and are pretending that he is baby Jack. One of their members, Detective French, goes to Paris to gain information on the activities of the apaches in London and to enlist Juve's assistance in locating Mme. Garrick. Independently, Juve had already decided to go to London, worried about Fandor's failure to respond to recent telegrams. By assisting the Council of Five in taking Mme. Garrick/Lady Beltham back to London, however, Juve realizes that Tom Bob/Fantômas will be cleared of the murder charge and will thus be set free. Still, Juve agrees—for he knows that if Lady Beltham is alive, Tom Bob/Garrick/Fantômas is innocent of the non-murder of Mme. Garrick. While the opportunity to execute Fantômas on a trumped up murder charge is tempting, it violates Juve's sense of justice. Rather, in Juve's mind, Fantômas must be captured and executed for his own crimes. French and Juve then travel to Bonnières, where Juve talks Bobinette into escorting Lady Beltham/Mme. Garrick to Dieppe to make the passage to Dover, accompanied by Detective French. During the passage on the Ecosse, however, Beaumôme, under instruction by Nini, stabs French and tosses him overboard. With French's death and disappearance, Lady Beltham/Mme. Garrick flees.

Back in London, Dr. Garrick/Tom Bob is found guilty of murdering Mme. Garrick (for French fails to show up with Mme. Garrick to exonerate him). The sentence is death by hanging. In a stroke of luck, however, Detective Davis recovers Detective French's camera, found floating in the English channel. Davis takes it to Sigissimon's camera shop, hoping to develop pictures of Mme. Garrick which will prove Tom Bob's innocence. But the negatives and photos are stolen by Sigissimon's assistant Job, who lives in the same apartment building as Nini and the other exiled underworld Parisians. Back at the apartment, Nini passes a night in a drunken stupor, only to awaken in the morning to find that baby Daniel, the surrogate baby Jack, has disappeared. The next morning, by chance Detective Shepard and "Policeman 416" (Juve under cover), when looking for Nini Guinon, encounter Job in the apartment building. Job falls to his death down the stairs while trying to avoid the detectives, who afterward discover the missing roll of film in his inner jacket pocket.

Back in his cell, Garrick/Tom Bob/Fantômas receives a visit from Rev. William Hope, another member of the Council of Five. But it turns out there is little the Council of Five can do for Tom Bob at this point. With two days left until his execution, Fantômas begins to think that he is lost. Then he is visited by by Policeman 416, whom Fantômas recognizes as Juve, and vice versa. In their conversations, it turns out each player holds something over the other: Only Fantômas can reveal the whereabouts of Fandor to Juve; only Juve can bring Mme. Garrick/Lady Beltham to Fantômas.

Meanwhile, Françoise Lemercier has befriended Nini Guinon, sharing the common fate of mothers who have had their babies stolen (without Lemercier realizing of course that it was the same child!—but with Nini very aware of the fact). Nini becomes a companion to Françoise, who shortly thereafter begins to fall gravely ill, and finally dies of poisoning. When Juve breaks the news to Garrick/Fantômas that his mistress has died, Fantômas demands revenge—and enlists Juve's assistance in obtaining it. The Genius of Crime demands to see Lady Beltham in exchange for information about Jérôme Fandor. Juve accepts, and sets out in search of Beaumôme, friend of Nini Guinon and assassin of Detective French.

After the death of Françoise Lemercier, Nini Guinon orders Beaumôme to destroy the victim's bed sheets, which had been laced with poison. As Beaumôme leaves to carry out the task, he is apprehended by Detective Shepard and Policeman 416 (Juve) with the incriminating sheets. When Juve returns to Garrick/Tom-Bob's cell, the detective learns that the poisoned sheet idea belongs to Fantômas; not that Fantômas actually killed her, but that Lemercier was poisoned in the same manner as one of his horrific plans, i.e., slow arsenic poisoning through skin contact with the sheets [Note: Fantômas is the author of all conceivable crimes]. Then in disguise, Juve visits Beaumôme in his cell. Loosening the apache's tongue with an ample supply of gin, the detective not only extracts the apache's confession concerning the death of French, but also learns of Nini's plan to recapture baby Daniel from "la gonzesse de Willesden."

The "gonzesse" ["tart", "bitch"] is, of course, Lady Beltham. In Willesden, a suburb northwest of London, Nini finds Mme. Garrick/Lady Beltham and baby Daniel. But Lady Beltham refuses to give up the child, whom she knows is really Françoise Lemercier's. Enraged, Nini draws a dagger (poignard) and stabs the baby. In turn, Lady Beltham draws a revolver and shoots Nini:

In a fit of anger, Nini flung herself upon the child, seized him, and in a frightful move drove the dagger into his chest.

Before baby Daniel drew another breath, a torrent of bright blood spewed from his wound. Immediately, his lips went pale.

"There!" shrieked Nini Guinon, "You wouldn't let me to have him! Now, neither will you..."

Nini Guinon said no more.

A gunshot rang out. Uttering a cry, the unfortunate Nini collapsed upon the floor.

The blasts from Lady Beltham's revolver continued, until it was emptied...

Within the space of a few seconds, two beings met death. Abruptly, this delicate, charming, tastefully furnished little apartment had been transformed into a horrific theater of blood...

Immediately thereafter, Juve arrives. Although jealous of Fantômas's affair with Lemercier, Lady Beltham finally agrees after much persuasion from Juve to help the detective discover the whereabouts of Fandor as a sort of revenge against Fantômas.

Before Garrick/Tom Bob/Fantômas's scheduled execution, the hangman (le bourreau) Joé [Joey] Lamp receives a visit from "Dame Betty"/Lady Beltham, who wants to buy the corpse after the hanging (one of the benefits of the hangman's job, it seems, is the right to sell the corpse). But the corpse had already been purchased in advance, by "Dr. Smith" of the Royal Academy, i.e., Juve.

The morning of his execution, Garrick/Fantômas begins to worry about his fate, when he is visited by Reverend William Hope. Hope explains that the hangman's rope has been precisely measured so that at exactly the same time that the rope goes taut, Tom Bob's feet will land on the ground below. For extra measure, Hope gives Tom Bob a piece of rubber pipe to place down his throat, to support his neck and assist breathing should something go awry. When Tom Bob asks who has prepared the rope, Hope replies—Policeman 416! Fantômas wonders, will Juve really save him? On the scaffold, the rope is adjusted, the trap gives way, and Dr. Garrick/Tom Bob/Fantômas plunges into the emptiness.

In an isolated house in London's Waterloo district, Juve and Lady Beltham revive Fantômas. But when pressed to keep his end of the bargain, the Lord of Terror confesses—he doesn't know where Fandor is! He placed him in a crate, which was shipped to sea and now could be anywhere:

"But Juve," Fantômas continued, "I need your assistance, your friendship, yet one more time. Could you, for one more hour, trust me? Could you, for just one hour, help me?"

"Trust you? Yes, Fantômas..." Juve finally responded, "Help you? No! For you are the Genuis of Evil, and everything you do yields horrible consequences. Never, not for any price, not even the life of Fandor, would I become an instrument of your nefarious work..."

"But Juve, you are grossly, and gravely, mistaken... Between people such as us, I assure you there can be no contempt of this sort. What I offer you is a compromise, but an acceptable one. I have no intention of asking you to do something unconscionably loathsome, because I know you would refuse me... But, I also know that by asking you to help me accomplish something moral, even necessary, I am asking you to save me from my horrible affliction..."

Juve is prepared for Fantômas's tricks, however. The house is surrounded with police, and Inspector Michel from the Paris Sûreté arrives at the door. But Inspector Michel hands Juve a telegram from Fandor, from Durban, South Africa!:

Save me, Juve! I have fallen into the hands of Fantômas. With each passing day I lose confidence, grow weaker, and soon I shall kill myself. You must come at once...

At this moment, however, from a ring on his finger Fantômas opens a secret compartment filled with poison. The villain swallows the poison and cries out in hallucinatory laughter, "In three days, Juve!" before he expires. In the commotion, Lady Beltham flees. Juve turns over the corpse of Tom Bob to the police. But the detective stays behind in an apartment in London, reflecting upon the final words of Fantômas, "In three days...."

—Synopsis and translations by Robin Walz

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