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Landru’s Secret (Hardback)

The Deadly Seductions of France’s Lonely Hearts Serial Killer

WWI True Crime

By Richard Tomlinson
Imprint: Pen & Sword History
Pages: 312
ISBN: 9781526715296
Published: 10th October 2018


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On 12 April 1919, the Paris police arrested a bald, short, 50-year-old swindler at his apartment near the Gare du Nord, acting on a lead from a humble housemaid. A century later, Henri Désiré Landru remains the most notorious and enigmatic serial killer in French criminal history, a riddle at the heart of an unsolved murder puzzle.

The official version of Landru’s lethal rampage was so shocking that it almost defied belief. According to the authorities, Landru had made “romantic contact” with 283 women during the First World War, luring ten of them to his country houses outside Paris where he killed them for their money.

Yet no bodies were ever found, while Landru obdurately protested his innocence. “It is for you to prove the deeds of which I am accused,” he sneered at the investigating magistrate.

The true story of l’affaire Landru, buried in the Paris police archives for the past century, was altogether more disturbing. In Landru’s Secret, Richard Tomlinson draws on more than 5,000 pages of original case documents, including witness statements, police reports and private correspondence, to reveal for the first time that:

Landru killed more women than the 10 victims on the charge sheet.

The police failed to trace at least 72 of the women he contacted.

The authorities ignored the key victim who explained why the killings began.

Landru did not kill for money, but to revel in his power over what he called the “feeble sex”.

Lavishly illustrated with previous unpublished photographs, Landru’s Secret is a story for our times: a female revengers’ tragedy starring the mothers and sisters of the missing fiancées, a lethal misogynist and France’s greatest defence lawyer, intent on saving his repulsive client from the guillotine.

★★★★★ Fascinating and charming

You may not expect a book about serial murder to have charm, but this one does. Very readable and lovingly researched, it takes you into the lives of French people of a kind who feature little in the history books. This is a story of the French home front in the First World War, of the quiet desperation of a variety of women who are left alone and who seem to sleepwalk into the arms of a monster. Landru's victims, their families and his family are all fascinating, and the detail here is wonderfully rich. Less charming are the blundering lawyers and detectives, apparently determined to make a mess of the prosecution. Fortunately the author is there to make sense of things.

Amazon Customer

***** #MeToo thriller set in 1st World War Paris

I am great fan of thrillers, and here we have a gem of Parisnoir to add the genre. Tomlinson elegantly takes us on a journey of discovery following the hunch of his heroine, a humble housemaid, as she hunts down and tries to bring her sister's killer, the eponymous Landru, to justice. His misogyny and that of early 20th century French law are chilling and all the more shocking for this being a true story. The research involved in recreating this French mystery is both impressive and admirable. A real #MeToo for our times.

Amazon Review

***** His audacity is breathtaking
An unbelievable book in its content and breadth of detail. I was astounded at his audacity. Beautifully researched and written with a depth of feeling.

Amazon Review

***** A true life Sherlock Holmes

Astonishing that this story is not better known, but it really comes to life in this thrilling investigation. With the flair of a Poirot or a Holmes coupled with a 21st century consciousness, Richard Tomlinson has followed up on elements of the mystery that the police of the time ignored and unearthed a much more complex and chilling truth behind the character of Landru and those around him. A great combination of dogged research and gifted storytelling which remains very relevant for today’s treatment of female victims of crime.

Amazon Review

***** WORLD WAR 1 SERIAL KILLER - a brilliant book

I bought this book because of the absolutely mesmerising and terrifying cover - and I had no idea who Landru was. I am so glad I did as it is simply one of the most gripping stories and uncovers a whole new aspect to the fallout from World War 1. French women were at the time totally dependent on male protection - society was deeply misogynistic and as vast numbers of boyfriends, husbands and fathers died at the Front,vulnerable women turned to small ads to look for replacements. Read the full review here

Amazon Review

***** An unbelievable story

This is a gripping and harrowing story, told with great originality in a style which brings the characters and the period to vivid life. Highly recommended.

Amazon Review

About Richard Tomlinson

Richard Tomlinson first came across the Landru case in the early 1980s while trawling through old newspapers in Paris’s Bibliothèque Nationale. Landru’s Secret is the result of his long quest to discover the real identities of Landru’s supposedly besotted fiancées and the truth about why and how they disappeared. An award-winning journalist and author, he recently published an acclaimed biography of the Victorian cricketing hero W.G. Grace.
'Magnificent’ – Daily Telegraph. ‘Terrifically readable’ – Mail on Sunday. ‘Revelatory’ – Evening Standard.

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