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‘Little Demon in the City of Light’

Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

“Little Demon in the City of Light” by Steven Levingston; Doubleday ($26.95)

Paris 1889. The city preened beneath its new Eiffel Tower as the world flocked to the Exposition Universelle.

Visitors were mesmerized, which was fitting because the city was about to see the world’s first test case of murder by hypnosis.

“Little Demon in the City of Light” tells the riveting story of two misfits who almost got away with murder. When they didn’t, their trial became its own exposition, matching the latest breakthroughs in criminology with some of the greatest names of the age.

Steven Levingston’s title nods to Erik Larson’s bestselling “The Devil in the White City,” a gripping history that braids the tales of the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 and the serial killer who preyed on the women of Chicago.

“Little Demon” focuses on a single murder case, but what a case it was. It unfolded at a time when forensic science was just beginning and hypnotism was in its heyday.

Enter Gabrielle Bompard, a pretty 21-year-old wild child whose family sends her off to Paris at a time when decent women did not travel alone. Before long she is in league with Michel Eyraud, a ne’er-do-well twice her age. Soon, a rich bailiff is dead, his body is missing, and so are they.

This is not a whodunnit but a will-they-get-away-with-it.

Levingston, nonfiction book editor for the Washington Post, said he originally wrote this as an academic story, but decided it was too compelling for that. He’s right, and readers are well-served by his reimagining of this amazing true story.

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