Monday, April 18, 2011

IN BRIEF: The Snake of Luvercy - Maurice Renard

Maurie Renard, science fiction & thriller author

Mme de Prasse and her son Lionel are intent on luring young Gilberta Laval (Mme de Prasse’s niece) away from Jean Mareuil, her intended fiancée. The countess and her son want Gilberta’s fortune, inherited from Mme de Prasse’s dead sister, for themselves and are hoping to marry Gilberta to Lionel. So the scheming de Prasse family enlists the aid of a crooked former butler to follow Mareuil. They soon discover that Mareuil is leading a double life – by night he becomes Charlot the Snake, a ruffian of the Parisian underworld with a girlfriend who does a snake charming routine for café patrons.

There is much discussion about the current ideas (circa late 1920s) about multiple personality and memory throughout most of the book. The de Prasses think that Charlot was somehow involved in the bizarre death of Mme de Prasse’s sister, Jeanne Laval (Gilberta’s mother) who was bitten by a deadly South American viper, a rare specimen captured by M. Laval who was a sometime explorer and naturalist. The twisting plot then alternates between the scheming countess and her son doing their best to expose Jean as a criminal and Jean’s desperate attempt to prove Gilberta’s mother was murdered by one of the de Prasse family members.

An excellent fast paced thriller with a surprise ending. Interesting use of snake imagery throughout as well. Typical of his French crime writing contemporaries Renard relies heavily on duplicity, disguise and misdirection about the true identities of many of the characters.

Although Maurice Renard wrote one of the most terrifying crime thrillers of the early 20th century, The Hands of Orlac (which was filmed three times), he is perhaps best known as a science fiction writer. He even invented his own genre that he dubbed "Scientific Marvel Fiction." Only a few of his works were published in English during his lifetime.

In the last five years, however, there has been a renewed interest in his work. Several new English translations by Brian Stableford have been released by Black Coat Press. They have published five of Renard's science fiction books only one of which had been previously published in an expurgated, badly translated version in the 1920s. That book was published in the US as New Bodies for Old.  The new Black Coat Press edition restores its original French title of Doctor Lerne.

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