Little Demon mostly mesmerizes
As far as true crime stories go, Little Demon in the City of Light has a lot going for it: a devious ingenue, her brutish lover, murder, hypnotism, con games, all set in Belle Epoque France. Gabrielle Bompard was a child of privilege who lost her way, and with the aid of her overpowering beau Michel Eyraud she seduced and killed a prominent Paris businessman. They don't actually get away with much in the way of cash, but nevertheless flee across Europe, and eventually to the United States, grafting and conning to finance themselves.
Much of the book, by Steven Levingston, an editor at the Washington Post, is about the context and consequences of this wicked deed, and a discussion of the state of the science of hypnotism at the time, and how it might play a part in the crime. Bompard was notoriously easy to hypnotize, and she claimed after her arrest that Eyraud had forced her to participate entirely against her will.
Levingston goes to great lengths to set the stage and give the reader a feel for the time and place that these events occur in, as well as following the narrative of the planning, murder, and flight from justice of Bompard and Eyraud. As a result, at times the book can be a bit slow going. Most of the time, however, it's engrossing reading.
The psychologically fragile, yet still cunning and cold, young woman Bompard and the inveterate con artist Eyraud are unique and intriguing characters, and their adventures and misadventures are inherently enjoyable. Add in the indomitable detective Goron, and all the makings of a true detective story are here.
Little Demon in the City of Light is a fun crime story, but also a beginner's introduction to Belle Epoque France and the culture of the time. A reader with an interest in either of these topics would be well served to pick up a copy.