The Fantômas Novels: Fantômas

CoverSynopsis of Fantômas:

The Marquise de Langrune is savagely murdered in the bedroom of her Dordogne chateau, her nearly naked body sprawled on the floor with her throat gashed so deeply her head is nearly severed from her body. Etienne Rambert, a middle-aged businessman and longtime friend of the Marquise, arrives the next day and privately accuses his son Charles, who has been staying at the chateau, of committing the murder. Brandishing a bloody towel from Charles' bathroom, Etienne convinces Charles that he butchered the Marquise in an insane fit, thus explaining why he has no memory of the act. Father and son flee the chateau. Inspector Juve of the Paris Sûreté investigates, and recognizes the hand of Fantômas in the crime—but his only clue is a small piece of a map showing the Langrune chateau and its vicinity. A few days later, a body believed to be Charles' is pulled from the Dordogne River. Etienne is put on trial for aiding his son's escape and "suicide," but is acquitted.

Juve returns to Paris to investigate the disappearance of Lord Beltham. While searching the apartment of one Gurn, acquaintance of Lord Beltham and (unbeknowst to Juve) lover of Lady Beltham, he discovers Lord Beltham's body stuffed in a trunk.

Later, Princess Sonia Danidoff is the victim of a daring robbery at her hotel: while in her bath, she is suddenly confronted by a masked man in formal attire, who then robs her of her jewels and 120,000 francs. Juve, in disguise, flirts with one suspect, the hotel's cashier Mademoiselle Jeanne. When Juve gets too fresh, Jeanne knocks him out with a single punch. Jeanne flees to the home of Etienne Rambert, where she reveals herself to be—Charles Rambert, in disguise! For the second time, Etienne aids his son's escape.

Juve, tracking Gurn, captures Charles during a brawl in a bar, and proves his innocence of the Lagrune murder by measuring his strength with Bertillon's dynamometer—Charles isn't strong enough to have dealt the Marquise the nearly head-severing death blow. Juve gives Charles a new name—Jérôme Fandor—and a new identity, as a reporter for the newspaper La Capitale. Henceforth Fandor ("fan-d'or," or golden boy; "Fan-" also connects him to Fantômas, since as we will see, he may be his son) will be Juve's intrepid assistant in all Fantômas investigations. Etienne sails for South America, but the liner on which he's listed as a passenger blows up at sea, with the loss of all but one crewman.

Gurn, disguised as a tramp, pays a clandestine visit to Lady Beltham at her Paris villa. The lovers make plans to flee together, but as Gurn is leaving the chateau he is arrested by Juve, who has been following him. Juve searches Gurn's apartment once more, and this time he turns up the map from which the fragment he found at the Lagrune chateau was cut. He wires for the Marquise's former steward Dollon to come to Paris with the other map fragment, but Dollon is thrown to his death from the speeding train, and his map fragment is stolen.

Gurn is put on trial for the murder of Lord Beltham. During the trial Juve makes a passionate argument that Gurn is not only the murderer of Lord Beltham, but that he slipped out of jail to murder Dollon; as the masked man, he robbed Princess Danidoff; and, disguised as Etienne Rambert, he murdered the Marquise de Langrune by switching trains to make it seem that he arrived after the crime. Etienne Rambert also arranged for the destruction of the passenger liner to insure that he would no longer be pursued. In fact, Juve asserts, Gurn, the masked man, and Etienne Rambert are none other than—Fantômas! The court finds his argument fantastic, but sentences Gurn to death for the murder of Lord Beltham nonetheless. But with the aid of Lady Beltham, Gurn is able to have the actor Valgrand, made up to look like Gurn, seized in his place; the ruse is not discovered in time, and the drugged Valgrand is dragged onto the scaffold and guillotined in place of Gurn/Fantômas:

"There was a click of the spring, the flash of the falling blade, a spurt of blood, a dull groan from ten thousand mouths, and the head rolled into the basket! But Juve...thrust the assistants away, and plunging his hands into the blood-soaked hay, seized the severed head by the hair and stared at it...'It isn't Gurn who has just been put to death!' Juve panted brokenly. 'This face has not gone white because it is painted! It is made up—like an actor. Oh, curse him! Fantômas has escaped! Fantômas has gotten away! He has had some innocent man executed in his stead! I tell you, Fantômas is alive!'"

—Synopsis by Robin Walz, et al.

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