Friday, August 17, 2012

FFB: The Secret of Sarek - Maurice LeBlanc

Frontispiece for the US 1st edition
The Secret of Sarek (US edition 1920) is one of LeBlanc’s strangest books in the Arsene Lupin series. Essentially, the complex plot revolves around Veronique, a young woman who travels to an isolated island off the coast of Brittany in search of her kidnapped son. She soon discovers that a terrible prophecy involving herself is about to come true. The island’s inhabitants believe that when the so called "Thirty Coffins" (some stones that line the island) have claimed their thirty victims and four women have been crucified from some oak trees then the God’s Stone will be revealed – a stone which gives life and death.

In an abandoned shack Veronique finds a dead man with his hand chopped off and a bizarre drawing of four women crucified – one of the women bearing her own face. She begins to think that some supernatural force is at work. Plenty of adventure and some legitimate thrills keep the pace moving until the woman’s former husband thought to be dead turns up alive. The villain then discovers an old Druid man who claims to be guardian of the God’s Stone. It is, in fact, Lupin in one of his many disguises. From here on the book takes on a strange mocking tone and the whole thing dissolves into what is obviously LeBlanc’s derision for Rohmeresque style thrillers.

Critics have often commented that LeBlanc’s Lupin books border on the burlesque. In the case of this book that assessment is more than apt.

The Secret of Sarek was originally published under the French title L'île aux trente cercueils (The Island of Thirty Coffins). For a long time it was one of the most difficult LeBlanc titles to find in the used book trade as there were only hardcovers of the Macaulay first edition, scattered reprints from A.L. Burt, and no paperback copies. Additionally, those hardcovers were all priced relatively high. But now there are umpteen editions offered from POD "publishers" thanks to the expiration of its American copyright making the book an easy target for biblio-pirates looking to make a quick buck off a dead writer's work. The book may also be available free online or in some eBook format but I never bother checking for those.


  1. I must disagree with the characterization of "biblio-pirates"... Copyright being what it is, it's not like they are vultures waiting for the last breath of an author. They have to wait what couldn't help but be considered a decent period before making their "quick buck".
    And I am very happy to be able to read many old, and often long out-of-print material in an e-format. E-books can also be quite inexpensive, for obvious reasons... Even if an original must be scanned, edited and formatted, there is no printing and distribution is the simplest imaginable.
    I remember, with distinctly mixed feelings, how I used to have to haunt the used book shops for things as basic as Edgar Rice Burroughs books. I have never had much money and with a voracious reading appetite I needed to buy used paperbacks. It looks like e-books will not only make a vast backlog of previously "collectable" titles available to new readers but will do so at prices, adjusted for inflation, like the 10-25 cent used paperbacks of my youth.

  2. You're talking about books being made available to you because you no longer have the time or inclination to look for them or buy them in the used book market. I'm talking about something completely different. My sniping at "biblio-pirates" is all about ethics in the print on demand (POD) business. For many of these "POD people" it is all about making a buck and nothing to do with providing readers with books long out of print. Most of don't give a damn what they're offering. Their products are shoddily produced, horribly designed, ugly to look at, and filled with OCR errors from lazy and rapid scanning with no proofreading done at all.

    As for eBooks: I'm sure there are many valid arguments for the good things eBook publishers are doing for readers, but I choose not to listen to them. I will never own an eReader and will never read eBooks. There are pretty much the bane of anyone in the used book trade.

  3. I agree with your post on The Secret of Sarek. It's honestly one of my least favorite Lupin novels, because the plot is just so unbelievably convoluted and not Lupin-esque at all, the first 3/4s of the book is insufferable and boring, introducing a backstory to characters we know nothing about or care about and this mysterious horror plot that overall is just junk. You can tell LeBlanc is poking fun at the horror genre in general, and how silly and over the top it gets in "The Secret of Sarek." It's as if one can say, how can anyone really believe any horror plot, they're all so unbelievable!

    LeBlanc's Don Luis Perenna trilogy as a whole I thought was pretty underwhelming compared to the rest of the Lupin series, although Teeth of the Tiger was pretty good. But this and The Golden Triangle are just boring, dark and convoluted for the sake of being dark and convulted, and I just could not get invested in the characters. Waiting for Lupin to show up after reading half a novel I didn't really care about was boring.