The Fantômas Novels: Le mort qui tue

CoverSynopsis of Le Mort qui tue (The murderous corpse):

The episode opens with a sensationalist fait-divers article in La Capitale, written by Jérôme Fandor. In Montmartre, the Baroness de Vibray has been found dead, due to poisoning, in the apartment of ceramics painter Jacques Dollon. The previous evening the Baroness had invited Norbert Thomery, her ex-lover and sugar-industry mogul, and his fiancee, the Russian princess Sonia Danidoff (see Fantômas), to her apartment. During the course of visit, the Baroness received a letter informing her of her own financial ruin. When the police arrive at Dollon's apartment the following morning, Jacques is flabbergasted by the presence of the Baroness's corpse. While he claims to have been knocked out by a soporific himself, preliminary police investigations suggest that it is the ceramist's toxic paints that were the cause of the Baroness's poisoning. The bewildered Dollon is taken to the Sûreté for questioning, but before this occurs the young man is discovered dead in his cell by hanging, an apparent suicide.

Fandor, restless since the death of Juve in the explosion rigged by Fantômas at Lady Beltham's apartment (see Juve contre Fantômas), pursues his own investigations into these mysterious events. The journalist goes to the Palace of Justice where, in Judge Fuselier's office, he meets Elisabeth Dollon, Jacques's sister, who insists upon her brother's innocence in these affairs. Fandor also learns from a letter provided by one of the Baroness de Vibray's acquaintances that, rather than accept her financial ruin, she had resolved to commit suicide. Accompanied by Fuselier, Elisabeth and Fandor go to view Dollon's corpse in the cell, only to find... the cadaver has disappeared!

Suspecting the hand of Fantômas in the affair, Fandor returns to the Palace of Justice later that night to conduct his own, surreptitious investigations under the cover of darkness. From the roof, he climbs down a chimney that is smeared with traces of blood, providing Fandor with evidence that Dollon's corpse had been carried through it. Following the passageway down to the sewer below, Fandor is surprised by ruffian apaches Cranajour and Nibet (who are coincidentally engaged in the task of running contraband for La Toulouche's bric-a-brac shop of stolen merchandise). Nibet draws a dagger to stab Fandor, but first Cranajour pushes the journalist into the sewer water. Fandor swims across the Seine and returns to the safety of his apartment. The following morning, he is visited by Elisabeth Dollon, who has recovered a mysterious list of items from Jacques's apartment, although the handwriting is not her brother's.

That evening, sugar-baron Thomery hosts a ball for Tout Paris high society to celebrate his forthcoming marriage to Sonia Danidoff. At the gala, the Russian princess is engaged in conversation with Nanteuil, co-partner in the esteemed Barbey-Nanteuil Bank, when she notices that the lace on her robe is snarled. Retiring to her boudoir to fix it, her absence is noticed when the princess fails to return to the ball. The princess is discovered in her chamber, unconscious, drugged by a soporific, and fleeced of her pearl necklace and other fine jewelry (see Starace's cover illustration). The police are called in to investigate and esteemed forensic expert Alphonse Bertillon reveals the thief's fingerprints match those of... Jacques Dollon!

Over the next several days, a trail of fingerprints marks Dollon as the author of multiple crimes around Paris, including a spectacular theft at the opera and an explosion in a metro station under construction that kills scores of workers. Confused by these turns of event, Fandor pursues a suspicious, rag-tag character who turns out to be... Juve! Having survived the explosion rigged by Fantômas, the Sûreté Inspector had been laying low under various disguises, including apache Cranajour (whose well-timed push of Fandor into the sewer had saved his partner's life).

Afterward, Juve has a heart-to-heart conversation with Fandor about Fantômas :

"Who is Fantômas, other than Fantômas? Do you understand me well, Fandor?" Juve continued, becoming increasingly excitable. "Admittedly, we have seen in the course of our checkered existence a distinguished gentleman like Etienne Rambert, a strapping Englishman like Gurn, a vigorous character like Loupart, and a tottering and frail old man like Chaleck. Gradually, we have come to know that each was Fantômas. But that's all we know.

"When Fantômas is seen as he really is, without artifice, undisguised, no paste-on beard or wig, the true visage of Fantômas is under his black cowl.... That's what we have never been able to see, and what makes our endless pursuit of the bandit so difficult... Fantômas is always someone, sometimes two persons, but never himself."

Once Juve got going on the subject, there was no stopping him, and Fandor did not dare to interrupt. For whenever the conversation turned to Fantômas, the two men were hypnotized by this mysterious being, so well named, for he truly was a phantasm....

One morning, Fandor receives a letter from Elisabeth Dollon, saying that she has made important discoveries about the items on the mysterious list. Rushing to her apartment, in Madame Bourrat's boarding house, Fandor discovers Elisabeth in a state of near death from asphyxiation. The night before, Fantômas—assisted by Elisabeth's butler, Jules, unknown to his patroness as a member of the notorious Bande des Chiffres ("The Numerous Band," or "Crime's Legion")—had slipped into Elisabeth's apartment and opened a gas valve. Revived, Elisabeth is placed by Fandor in the care of the Sisters of Saint Augustine. In gratitude and passion, the reprieved Elisabeth gives Fandor an an embrace and a kiss before her savior's departure.

Yet Fandor continues to fear for Elisabeth's safety. When she next appears before Judge Fuselier, Elisabeth is accused of lying to the police by Fandor, and he convinces the judge to imprison her (in Fandor's view, she is more safely sequestered there than in the convent). Continuing his own investigations, Fandor returns to Madame Bourrat's boarding house where he discovers... the corpse of Thomery! Earlier, Thomery had been visited by a diamond merchant (Fantômas, of course) who presented the sugar-baron with two pearls from Sonia Danidoff's stolen necklace. A young female escort (Nibet in drag) leads Thomery to Madame Bourrat's boarding house, where the industrialist expects to negotitate for the remainder of the stolen jewelry. Instead, Thomery is stabbed upon his arrival by Fantômas 's minions who have been lying in wait for him (see Magritte's L'Assassin menacé compared with the film still from Feuillade's Le Mort qui tue).

Meanwhile, the butler Jules has been arrested by the Sûreté as the thief of Sonia Danidoff's jewelry. While imprisoned, the notorious Bande de Chiffres kidnap Jules from his cell and proceed to give him their own trial. Summarily declaring Jules guilty of having stolen Danidoff's necklace with the intention of keeping the pearls for himself, the apaches deliver their own form of justice as each rogue takes a turn bashing in Jules's head with a hammer. Afterward, they return the butler's bloodied corpse to Elisabeth Dollon's apartment for the police to discover.

Finally, the episode begins to draw to a close. Disguised as a lawyer, Fandor visits Elisabeth in prison, where the young woman confides in him the meaning of the mysterious list. Each of the items corresponds to the various crimes that have occurred over the past several days. Only one item remains: a grand theft of the Barbey-Nanteuil Bank (which had recently benefited from the cheap acquisition of the deceased Thomery's sugar company stocks). Fandor rushes to see Barbey and Nanteuil and informs them of the impending theft. In order to maintain continuous surveillance, Nanteuil installs Fandor in his personal room adjoining the main office. During the day, nothing happens. But that night, under the cover of darkness, Fantômas enters the room....

Fandor switches on the light. But there is no one else in the office besides Barbey, Nanteuil, Juve, and himself! While Fandor is completely bewildered, Juve remains utterly composed. Fantômas, Juve informs the assembled, is still in the room, and the inspector immediately telephones Sûreté Chief Harvard for assistance. The crimes of the past days, Juve asserts, have not been committed by Jacques Dollon, but by Fantômas. The Genius of Evil, Juve explains, had peeled the skin from the unfortunate ceramic painter's hands in order to fashion a pair of human-skin gloves, used by Fantômas to leave Dollon's fingerprints at the crime scenes. After Harvard arrives, Juve takes the fingerprints of the two bankers, which exposes Nanteuil as the Dollon-skinned Fantômas.

But worthy of the titles Lord of Terror and Master of Crime, Fantômas speeds into action in a spectacular sequence. He stabs Barbey to death and then flies across the room to throw an electric switch affixed to the wall. Instantly, the room's occupants all find their feet paralyzed to the floor—all except Fantômas, that is, whose rubber-soled insulated shoes provide the Unseizable with the opportunity to flee. The disappointment of Fantômas slipping away yet again is subsequently compounded, as Fandor is rejected by Elisabeth Dollon. Upon her release from prison, Elisabeth learns that Fandor's true identity is Charles Rambert, son of Etienne Rambert, alias Fantômas (see Fantômas). Unable to cope with the realization that her erstwhile lover is also the son of her brother's murderer, Elisabeth is heartbroken and disgusted by Fandor.

Yet Fandor and Juve's pursuit of Fantômas continues... (à suivre).

—Synopsis by Robin Walz

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