Arsène Lupin, gentleman-cambrioleur by Maurice Leblanc (1907; fr) (read in 2021)
Disclaimer: these are notes I took while reading this book. They include citations I found interesting or enlightening or particularly well-written. In some cases, I’ve pointed out which of these applies to which citation; in others, I have not. Any benefit you gain from reading these notes is purely incidental to the purpose they serve of reminding me what I once read. Please see Wikipedia for a summary if I’ve failed to provide one sufficient for your purposes. If my notes serve to trigger an interest in this book, then I’m happy for you.
This is a collection of short stories about the adventures of Arsène Lupin, a gentleman thief.
- L’Arrestation d’Arsène Lupin
This story finds Lupin on a transatlantic voyage to New York City. He is hiding in plain sight as a passenger. A telegram arrives announcing that Arsène Lupin is on board, but disguised, with blond hair and a last name starting with R…the telegram cuts the rest off. The remaining few days of the voyage are tense, with passengers interrogating all passengers who might match the description.
The investigation is led by Bernard d’Andrèzy and Miss Nelly, between whom romantic sparks flare. They eliminate all of the possibilities, especially when a daring burglary happens while none of the suspects could have done it. A large number of jewels and tens of thousands of francs have gone missing.
Lupin’s chief adversary inspector Ganimard is waiting at the dock and checks all of the passengers, until he gets to Andrèzy, who turns out that have been Lupin all along. Deeply disappointed, Nelly walks off the boat with Andrèzy’s camera—which he’d just handed her and in which he’d hidden the jewels and francs—before Ganimard arrests him. He watches her thrown the camera into the water near the dock as she walks away, and he is taken into custody.
- Arsène Lupin en prison
This story starts with Lupin in prison at La Santé. He writes a letter to Baron Nathan Cahorn, a reclusive and wealthy owner of many historical artifacts living in a well-fortified castle. Lupin describes the man’s possessions in detail, indicating what he will steal and when. Cahorn is ruffled and seeks help from Inspector Ganimard—who just happens to be vacationing in town.
Ganimard is, at first, not interested—he is on vacation, after all—but is convinced to help for a large enough sum of money. He regales Cahorn with tales of Lupin’s cleverness, and reassures Cahorn that he will bring two men along for backup. He investigates Cahorn’s castle and finds the Lupin’s likely ingress will be through the extensive and infamous tunnel complex under it. On the day of the crime, Ganimard shows up with his two helpers and they position themselves on the floor with the treasures, while Ganimard and Cahorn take up guard at the egress of the tunnels, inside the castle.
They wait all night, with Ganimard snoring away as an increasingly relieved Cahorn waits the night through. In the morning, with no sign of Lupin, they go upstairs to find both men unconscious and the treasures gone. They are flummoxed. Ganimard begs Cahorn not to mention his having slept through the heist, in order to avoid being embarrassed by the tale of how a thief who was supposed to have been in prison pilfered right under this nose.
Later, as an expert on Lupin, Ganimard is called in to head up the case. He and his team investigate the whole castle, only to find that the tunnels under the castle lead nowhere. There is no way Lupin came in through them. Ganimard visits Lupin in prison, where he learns that he’d broken out of and back into prison in order to spend the night with Cahorn as Ganimard himself, letting his accomplices make off with the treasure before drugging themselves to make it appear as if they’d been taken by surprise by Lupin himself. Lupin tells Ganimard he’d only been able to arrest him because he’d been distracted by love. He prefers to stay in prison (for now) because it’s a good alibi, but he declares that he won’t participate in his own trial.
- L’Évasion d’Arsène Lupin
This story tells of Lupin’s trial and his final escape from prison. Lupin plans an initial escape while he’s in a police transport—but the police have set him up in order for him to lead them to his accomplices. Instead of doing this, he stops at a café, gets some cigarettes and something to drink, then tells the adoring customers and waitstaff that he is Arsène Lupin and that he is, in fact, in the middle of an escape and thus a bit short on funds, after which they, laughing, wave him on his way.
Lupin makes his way to a police post and turns himself in, knowing that the “escape” was a setup. Before the trial, Lupin spends most of his time on his bed, turned away from the world, and seems to grow increasingly despondent. He is a changed man at trial: noticeably thinner, bent, no longer smiling, looking creased and old, almost broken.
Ganimard is suspicious—remembering what Lupin had told him about not participating in his own trial–and examines him closely, declaring him to be an imposter. The judge is perplexed, realizing that the actual prisoner has been gone for two months. They ask the prisoner, who’s a known alcoholic, why he’d accepted the fate to which Lupin had consigned him. He answers that he’d enjoyed the regular meals. They release him. He spends some time wandering around Paris, eventually ending up in the Bois du Bologne, tailed by Ganimard.
Ganimard eventually confronts him and looks into his eyes again. This time, he sees the mischievous twinkle of his old enemy in the man’s eyes and realizes he’s been hoodwinked again. Lupin had spent the two months fasting and changing his appearance and demeanor in order to fool the court. That it was Ganimard who’d provided the “proof” was just icing on the cake. He absconds from Ganimard again, who accepts defeat.
- Le Mystérieux Voyageur
This story finds our narrator on a train, where he is forced from his chosen cabin by a rowdy group of smoking men and finds refuge in an 8-person cabin occupied by a young woman, who he sees bidding her husband adieu. They are joined by a stranger, who promptly falls asleep, hat over his face. The young lady is agitated and relates to our narrator that she is certain that Arsène Lupin is on board, as well.
The narrator is Lupin and he falls asleep—despite the lady’s warning that he should stay awake to keep an eye on their suspicious companion. He dreams vividly and awakens with the man at his throat, stealing all of his papers and effects, and tying him up before absconding into the tunnel—where the train is forced to slow down in a tight curve—just before the station. At the station, Lupin exits the train and, with the help of the likewise-robbed woman, tells the police what happened—and then essentially takes over the investigation.
No-one knows what Lupin looks like, so they’re none the wiser. He offers to drive two officers to the another town (Bucy), to which they know the suspect is headed on another train. He sees Lupin coming and drops off the train again, just before the station, scaling a rock wall and absconding into a local forest. Lupin stations the officers outside the forest and plunges in, easily following the man’s trail through a dense and fragile underbrush. He happens upon him and subdues him with kung fu, recognizing him as a wanted criminal.
Lupin gets his papers back, as well as the lady’s effects and jewels, ensuring that they are returned to her and that his two constable compatriots are handsomely rewarded for helping him. The paper the next day tells of Lupin’s heroism, having finally untangled the story enough to realize that, once again, they’d been hoodwinked.
- Le Collier de la reine
This story is ostensibly the one on which the first season of the Netflix series was very loosely based. It is, in a way, the origin story of Arsène Lupin. We learn of a certain Count and Madame Dedreux, who possess the wonderful necklace. We learn also of how she keeps the necklace in a safe in their bedroom, that the room is bolted and that the only window is locked, and to which no-one else has access.
We learn of how, one night, they are robbed of the necklace, with no trace of how the crime was done. They suspect the miserable chamber-maid Henriette, whom they’d quartered on the floor below them with her six-year-old son. She’s left the building but four times in the last several years and can hardly be suspected, though the police question her closely.
Many years later, Henriette has been let go and lives alone. She starts to received a generous yearly check from an address in Paris—right up until she dies a few years later. Years after that, we meet the DeDreux family again, diminished in reputation, the loss of the necklace having dealt them a blow from which they never quite recovered.
They are visited by a man they’ve known for a while, a Monsieur Floriani. Over tea and coffee, he regales them with a tale of how the crime could have been committed, eliciting details that had escaped the police so many years ago. He supposes a certain construction in the window that the count denies, but then finds to his astonishment is true.
Floriani continues to fill in detail about how someone small enough could have picked the window lock, come through, and absconded on a jury-rigged platform in a tiny corridor outside. He fills in enough detail until there can be no doubt: he is the grown son of Henriette and he had absconded with the necklace at six years old, taken to cheer up his despondent and long-suffering mother.
They do nothing, as what can be done so many years later? The countess notes that, even if the stones are gone, it is the setting that is the truly precious part of the crown. Four years later, it is returned to her, an act of generosity for which Arsène Lupin takes credit. The implication is that Lupin is Floriani.
- Le Sept de cœur
This story tells of how the narrator met Arsène Lupin. He had spent an evening with Jean Daspry. The story begins with a late-night home invasion during which dozens of men invade the narrator’s home, but seemingly take nothing. The leader of the group bids him stay silent and not take up his revolver from his night table. Terrified into inaction, the narrator complies. Once they’ve left, the only clue that anyone had been there is a playing card—the seven of hearts.
With time, the narrator comes to see that bizarre evening as nothing more than a fantasy, while his colleague Daspry, a police detective, continues to try to crack the case, but without much success. One morning the narrator is visited by a stranger, about 40 years old, who does not identify himself. The man tells him that he has read his story and wants to verify it. To do so, he asks that he be allowed to spend three minutes alone in the room where the card was found. After three minutes, the narrator hears a shot and rushes in to find the man has killed himself with a pistol to the temple. Two steps away from him lies another playing card—once again, the seven of hearts.
The police arrive and discover the man is clutching the business card of a certain George Andermatt But it’s not the man himself. They call Andermatt and he arrives twenty minutes later. He tells them that the suicide is one of two brothers Varin, from Lausanne. He knows the man’s brother Alfred much better. He tells them of their interest in the plans for a super-secret submarine designed by Louis Lacombe with the code name Le Sept-de-coeur. They had obtained the plans for it, but a crucial part was missing. They would only be able to build a poor facsimile of it.
The narrator and Daspry are next visited by Mme. Andermatt, whose letters to a lover had been intercepted. She is being blackmailed, presumably by a certain Salvator. They suggest that she engage him and try to lure him into a trap.
Alfred’s brother Étienne is still searching for the missing chapter of the plans. But there is someone else, someone who is agitating against them, someone who pushed Alfred to suicide: Salvator is suspected. He knows of the letters from Mme. Andermatt to Lacombe that she would rather her husband not read. He writes to Andermatt to meet him at the room where Alfred had shot himself. He had also written to Étienne that Andermatt wanted to meet and make a deal.
Mme. Andermatt caught sight of the letter to her husband and told the narrator, who informed Daspry. They all three of them go to the room before the appointed time and hide themselves behind the curtains, in front of one of the large windows. They watch the initial meeting and see that Étienne is growing agitated and wants to leave. He pulls a gun on Andermatt. Daspry shoots the gun from his hand and jumps out, revealing himself to be Salvator—he who arranged both sides of the meeting.
With a much more commanding presence than our narrator had heretofore known him to have, Daspry arranges them to buy each other’s papers—Andermatt getting his wife’s letters and Étienne getting the final page of the plans. He uses the key he’d found in the garden to manipulate a painting in the room to open the safe behind it and obtain the desired goods.
Instead of handing over the plans, Salvator fools Étienne into handing over his payment with nothing in return. Andermatt also pays, but gets the letters—but fake letters that reveal nothing of the hinted-at affair with Lacombe. The plans are safe, once again and Salvator has been handsomely recompensed by Étienne and Andermatt—though not necessarily willingly.
When the narrator presses, Daspry reveals himself to be none other than Arsène Lupin. The very first entrance to the home—where the narrator had thought nothing had been stolen—was when Lupin found and cracked the safe the first time, absconding at the time with many of the jewels therein (a second safe, actually), but also hatching his plan for this secondary coup, once again doing a bit of good in securing the plans for the secret sub from potential terrorists.
- Le Coffre-fort de madame Imbert
This story is different than the preceding ones, in that Arsène Lupin was known from the very beginning. He saves a certain Monsier Imbert from a robbery at the very beginning of the story. The man invites him to lunch and offers him a FF20,000 reward, that he refuses. Instead, they become friends and the man wants him to meet his wife, the heiress Mme. Imbert. Some time later, Lupin meets with his accomplice—the man who’d tried to “rob” Imbert. Lupin tells him to be patient—that they will soon have the contents of Mme. Imbert’s impenetrable safe, in which she keeps her fortune comprising papers and deeds in value of at least 100M francs.
Imbert and his wife are perfectly nice people and offer Lupin a job after he confesses that he is destitute. They invite him to live with them as their secretary, but there is really no work to do. He lives above them, paid for his sinecure, and biding his time. He installs a tubular device that he snakes down from his room to the Imberts’ office and with which he can spy on them as they interact with the safe. He divines the combination and is finally ready.
Late one night, he waits for Mme. Imbert to leave the office and for her husband to follow. Lupin slithers down on a rope ladder to just outside the window, opening it surreptitiously, but forced to wait until M. Imbert leaves. He does not, so Lupin swings in, envelops him in the curtains and uses karate blows to render the man senseless. Lupin absconds with the contents of the safe, returning to his room. Afterwards, the Imberts leave town, having collected their insurance money.
Later, he recounts the story to his narrator as his greatest folly—all of the papers were fake! The Imberts were basically destitute. He should have taken the FF20,000 when it was offered, but he’d turned it down. Lupin ruefully admits that he’d never been played quite so well as then. The Imberts had used him to convert their fake fortune to insurance money.
- La Perle noire
This story is also very up-front about who Arsène Lupin is. He enters a building late one night, pretending to look for a doctor. Instead, he runs up to the fifth floor and does something else: he is casing an apartment of an older lady, living in very modest circumstances, but who has the Black Pearl.
Lupin cases the apartment and returns one night to take the Black Pearl. He feels his way around in the dark, toward the hiding place where he’s seen her put it, but comes across something soft in the dark: a cold foot. It’s her foot. She’s dead, on the floor. He lights his lamp and sees that she’s been bloodied and that the Pearl is gone. He’s shocked and sits down to think.
We learn later that the police suspect a counselor of hers, who’d just started working for her recently. She had two other servants, but they’d been with her for twenty years and were beyond suspicion. The counselor, on the other hand, seemed to have access, but it was a mystery how he’d managed to leave and close the door behind him—and they had found neither the knife nor the key.
After a long trial, the counselor is found not guilty for lack of evidence and is let go. His name is ruined and he lives by small means in a tiny apartment under a new name. One day, at lunch, a man sits down opposite him and begins to tell him what happened that night. He tells the counselor of how he’d killed the woman and taken the Black Pearl. The stranger knew everything about the night as if he’d been there—which he had, as it was none other than Arsène Lupin who’d found him.
Arsène makes him reveal where the Black Pearl is hidden and finds it buried in the sand between two paving stones. He regales his narrator with this tale, noting that he has the real Pearl, though “copies” have been found in cities around the world. Once again, Lupin earns kudos in the newspapers for bringing a killer to justice, but keeps the plunder for himself.
- Sherlock Holmès arrive trop tard
This story ties a lot of the other stuff together. In it, Lupin has inveigled himself into a position near Devanne, the owner of another castle, similar to the one owned by Cahorn in the story Arsène Lupin en prison. He poses as the man’s friend Velmont. They even make a joking reference to it, wondering whether Lupin could penetrate Devanne’s castle. Devanne even makes a reference to how very much like Lupin his friend Horace Velmont looks. The gentlemen discuss the arrival of Herlock Sholmès, who will grace them with his presence and acumen and hopefully prevent any crime.
They also joke about Velmont perhaps stealing all of Devanne’s things in the night. Devanne tells the story of how he’d discovered some secrets about his castle—about a secret entryway. But he’d never figured out anything from the clues. He recites all of the information he has and they all agree that it’s a mystery (including Lupin). A few days before, one of the books containing important information had been stolen.
That night, in the depth of the early morning, Lupin and his men make use of the secret passage to which he’s discovered the combination and make off with all of the most expensive and valuable furniture and artwork. Lupin himself empties the glass case containing jewelry and watches and other small, but highly valuable art. Pockets stuffed, he turns and realizes that he’s been discovered by Nelly, the young lady from the first story (L’Arrestation d’Arsène Lupin), who’d turned him in to Ganimard and for whom he’d fallen rather hard. Once again, it is impossible for Lupin to resist her allures and he promises that he’s a man of honor and will return everything the next afternoon at 3PM.
While she is checking for footsteps that she thought she’d heard, he disappears. The next day, they meet again at a garden party of Devanne’s, with soldiers and police milling about everywhere, still investigating the crime. Devanne is amazed that Lupin pulled it off—but he’s still not entirely convinced that his friend Velmont really is Lupin.
Nelly and Lupin meet in a secluded part of the garden where Velmont tells her that he kept his promise. She is torn, but ends up walking away after seeing Devanne’s ruby ring on Lupin’s finger—he couldn’t resist keeping something—and realizing that he is, at heart, a thief. Lupin leaves soon after, heading to the railroad station, where he meets Herlock on the way. They size each other up, dive into a copse together to avoid a careening stagecoach, and soon are on their respective ways.
Herlock meets Devanne and begins to investigate, receiving the clues and making quick work of them—what Devanne couldn’t do in ten years, Sholmès does in ten minutes. Just as Lupin had before him. They find the secret passageway, turning letters in the name of the castle that turn out to be levers. They head down the passage and end up at the ruined chapel several hundred meters from the castle.
Devanne’s car awaits them there. Devanne had not called for it, but the chauffeur says that Velmont had told him to go to the chapel to pick up Devanne and his friend. Lupin divined that Herlock would solve the puzzle as well. They drive to the train station where they inquire about Lupin, but are only told that Sholmès has a box awaiting him. He opens it to find his own watch, which he only realizes at that moment is no longer in his pocket. Lupin had stolen it off of him when they’d met in the forest. Devanne is dying of laughter and Herlock, though initial admiring of Lupin’s acumen, intelligence, and daring, is now quite pissed off, swearing that they will meet again.
“Ce fut vainement. On ne découvrit pas le moindre vestige de souterrain. Il n’existait point de passage secret. Soit, répondait-on de tous côtés, mais des meubles et des tableaux ne s’évanouissent pas comme des fantômes. Cela s’en va par des portes et par des fenêtres, et les gens qui s’en emparent, s’introduisent et s’en vont également par des portes et des fenêtres. Quels sont ces gens? Comment se sont-ils introduits? Et comment s’en sont-ils allés? Le parquet de Rouen, convaincu de son impuissance, sollicita le secours d’agents parisiens. M. Dudouis, le chef de la Sûreté, envoya ses meilleurs limiers de la brigade de fer. Lui-même fit un séjour de quarante-huit heures au Malaquis. Il ne réussit pas davantage. C’est alors qu’il manda l’inspecteur principal Ganimard”
“—Ah! ça, mon cher, vous imaginez-vous que je vais pourrir sur la paille humide? Vous m’outragez. Arsène Lupin ne reste en prison que le temps qu’il lui plaît, et pas une minute de plus.”
“Ganimard se taisait. Cette évasion dont il se jugeait responsable—n’était-ce pas lui qui, par sa déposition sensationnelle, avait induit la justice en erreur?—cette évasion lui semblait la honte de sa carrière. Une larme roula vers sa moustache grise.”
“—Oh! point n’est besoin d’être sorcier. Il suffit, comme l’a dit ce brave président, de se préparer pendant une douzaine d’années pour être prêt à toutes les éventualités.”
“Le système Bertillon comporte d’abord le signalement visuel—et vous voyez qu’il n’est pas infaillible—et ensuite le signalement par mesures, mesure de la tête, des doigts, des oreilles, etc. Là-contre rien à faire.”
“Du moins, plus exactement, je retrouvais en moi la sorte de souvenir que laisse la vision d’un portrait plusieurs fois aperçu et dont on n’a jamais contemplé l’original. Et, en même temps, je sentais l’inutilité de tout effort de mémoire, tellement ce souvenir était inconsistant et vague.”
“Et il accomplit cette besogne de la façon la plus naturelle du monde, avec une aisance où se révélait le savoir d’un maître, d’un professionnel du vol et du crime. Pas un mot, pas un mouvement fébrile. Du sang-froid et de l’audace. Et j’étais là, sur la banquette, ficelé comme une momie, moi, Arsène Lupin!”
“Et libre, hors de danger, je n’avais plus maintenant qu’à régler mes petites affaires personnelles, avec le concours des deux honnêtes représentants de la force publique. Arsène Lupin s’en allait à la recherche d’Arsène Lupin!”
“Voilà tout. Une carte et une lettre trouvée dans un livre. En dehors de cela, rien. Était-ce assez pour affirmer que je n’avais pas été le jouet d’un rêve?”
“«On va procéder en présence de l’empereur, et dans un lieu que l’on tiendra secret jusqu’à la dernière minute, aux premiers essais d’un sous-marin qui doit révolutionner les conditions futures de la guerre navale. Une indiscrétion nous en a révélé le nom: il s’appelle Le Sept-de-cœur.»”
“Le soir, les journaux étalés sur ma table, nous discutions l’affaire et l’examinions sous toutes ses faces avec cette irritation que l’on éprouverait à marcher indéfiniment dans l’ombre et à toujours se heurter aux mêmes obstacles.”
“Les premières recherches ne fournirent point d’indice. Les fenêtres n’ayant pas été brisées ni les portes fracturées, sans nul doute le déménagement s’était effectué par l’issue secrète. Pourtant, sur le tapis, aucune trace de pas, sur les murs, aucune marque insolite.”
“Il y eut dans sa voix une nuance imperceptible d’ironie qu’il regretta aussitôt, car Herlock Sholmès le considéra des pieds à la tête, et d’un œil à la fois si enveloppant et si aigu, qu’Arsène Lupin eut l’impression d’être saisi, emprisonné, enregistré par ce regard, plus exactement et plus essentiellement qu’il ne l’avait jamais été par aucun appareil photographique.”
“Pour mémoire, le roi écrivit: 2-6-12, c’est-à-dire, H. R. L., la deuxième, la sixième et la douzième lettre du mot.”
“Sholmès sourit. —Monsieur Devanne, tout le monde n’est pas apte à déchiffrer les énigmes. —Mais voilà dix ans que je cherche. Et vous, en dix minutes… —Bah! l’habitude…”
“—Aoh! dit-il, en accompagnant cette exclamation d’un geste de colère… —Une montre, fit Devanne, est-ce que par hasard?… L’Anglais ne répondit pas. —Comment! c’est votre montre! Arsène Lupin vous renvoie votre montre! Mais s’il vous la renvoie, c’est qu’il l’avait prise… Il avait pris votre montre! Ah! elle est bonne, celle-là, la montre de Herlock Sholmès subtilisée par Arsène Lupin! Dieu, que c’est drôle! Non, vrai… vous m’excuserez… mais c’est plus fort que moi. Il riait à gorge déployée, incapable de se contenir. Et quand il eut bien ri, il affirma, d’un ton convaincu: —Oh! c’est un homme, en effet.”