Scott Sayare (What lies beneath: the secrets of France’s top serial killer expert, 9 November) is mistaken to recommend that “the serial killer was not but a cultural vogue in France” when Stéphane Bourgoin held forth on the topic at a cocktail party within the early Nineteen Nineties. By coincidence, Sayare’s article appeared through the centenary of the trial of Henri Désiré Landru, the French serial killer who ultimately impressed a wildly inaccurate 1963 movie by the voguish director Claude Chabrol from a script by the avant-garde novelist Françoise Sagan.
Chabrol and Sagan’s cinematic atrocity tapped right into a French cultural fascination with serial killers that goes again to Bluebeard, the legendary medieval nobleman who slaughtered his wives. Revealingly, the French press dubbed the bearded Landru the “Bluebeard of Gambais”, after one of many villages close to Paris the place 10 of his fiancees had vanished.
At Landru’s trial, Colette was among the many press pack who struggled to make sense of this lethally deranged misogynist, whom the prosecution alleged had made “romantic contact” with 283 girls through the struggle (a provable underestimate). She reported that she had “searched in useless for any signal of cruelty in his deeply entrenched eyes”.
Colette was writing for a mass French readership that was already conversant in notorious serial killer circumstances from overseas, by way of newspapers and dozens of true crime magazines. Seen on this historic mild, Stéphane Bourgoin was not a trailblazer, even on his personal phrases. He was promoting his tales of interviews with US serial killers to a public which was already steeped within the topic.
Writer, Landru’s Secret: The Lethal Seductions of France’s Lonely Hearts Serial Killer