International journalist and Washington Post nonfiction book editor Levingston (Historic Ships of San Francisco, 1984) uses the story of a murder by a foolish girl and her lover to illustrate another side of belle epoque Paris.
The author foregoes the tabloid excesses and exploitation of lurid details from that time and focuses on the debate as to whether a person is capable of committing a crime under hypnosis or even post-hypnotic suggestion. The supposedly duped 20-year-old girl, Gabrielle Bompard, and her lover, Michel Eyraud, lured a wealthy Parisian to her room, where Eyraud strangled him. They then stuffed him in a trunk and took it to Lyon, where Eyraud dumped the body over an embankment toward a river. Unfortunately for the lovers, the body landed against a bush, where the odor of decomposition soon revealed its location. The talent of Marie-François Goron, chief detective of the national police, “a stout bundle of energy…with a thick mustache that he waxed at the tips,” is the most interesting part of the story. His doggedness in exploring every clue and hunch led to the discovery of not only the victim’s body, but also the identities of the perpetrators. Finding and arresting Bompard and Eyraud proved to be a more daunting challenge. Ultimately, it’s unclear whether Goron would ever have found them, since Bompard deserted Eyraud in California and returned to Paris with a new lover who convinced her to go to the police. With worldwide press, her lover was soon taken, and the two were tried together. Bompard believed that no one could ever blame her and relished her fame as the newspapers of the time reveled in sensationalistic reporting.
What could have been a silly exposé of Paris, hypnotism and detection is instead a well-constructed, informative work by a talented author.