Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Zapping Operation

"Vous avez raison. Ce qui a été sera toujours. Arsène Lupin n’est et ne peut être qu’Arsène Lupin."
"Sherlock Holmes arrive trop tard"

“You are right. Nothing can be changed. Arsene Lupin is now and always will be Arsene Lupin."
"Sherlock Holmes Arrives Too Late"

I'm pretty far in my reading of Leblanc's Lupin series, I've noticed. Just a handful and I'm done!

Maurice Leblanc's Victor, de la Brigade Mondaine ("Victor, of the Vice Squad", 1934) is one of the last Arsène Lupin novels, only followed by La Cagliostro se venge (1935) and two novels published posthumously (one of them 2012's Le Dernier Amour d'Arsène Lupin). The titular Inspector Victor Hautin, of the Vice Squad, is a capable police inspector who one day is set on the trail of a fortune worth of stolen bonds. The original thief of the bonds was himself robbed of his loot however, and Victor keeps chasing after the bonds, but they keep getting stolen by even more thieves, until some person even commits murder to get their hands on them. Victor's main suspect is a mysterious blonde woman he had seen several times over the course of his chase. Meanwhile, the police force is also chasing after Arsène Lupin, who had recently been spotted in Strasbourg and who might also have set his eyes on the bonds.

As you can guess from the cover, I read a Japanese translation. Because Japanese is easier than French. Also note that I read the Minami Youichirou translation. For details, I refer to this post, but basically, his Lupin translations were aimed at children, so the novels have been rewritten to be simpler in structure and wording, and Lupin often acts more like a hero. This particular translation is said to be pretty close to the original novel in terms of structure. More faithful translations of the series were also available in Japan, but they are out of print, lacking the staying power of the Minami translations/rewrites. The Japanese title of this book is Lupin no Daibouken ("Lupin's Great Adventure") by the way.

Victor, de la Brigade Mondaine is, simply said, a fairly decent Lupin novel. Is it a big adventure-filled epic like 813 or Les Dents du tigre? Is it as a  mystery story as captivating as the short stories? No. It is however a well-paced story filled with surprises (even if a bit chaotic at times), with a charismatic protagonist (Victor) as he hunts for the bonds and the murderer who killed for those bonds and with the shadow of Lupin lurking in the background. The one thing I can say without any doubt is that I was never bored with the book, as it keeps changing the momentum. The first section, where you first learn about the bonds' theft, up until the murder for example, is fantastic. Lots of events happening, though always logically linked after another. In the latter half, the story focuses more on Victor's attempt at finding the blonde woman and capturing the illusive thief.

As a mystery novel, Victor, de la Brigade Mondaine is pretty good. While most of the story is about a chase, and doesn't invite for much thinking on the reader's part, there's actually a pretty neat trick that pertains to the identity of the murderer and there's another good set-up for the conclusion of the novel (even if it's kinda a rehash of a device Lebanc has used before). I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised, as other late Lupin novels like La Cagliostro se venge and Le Dernier Amour d'Arsène Lupin were less about the mystery and more about the adventure.

I didn't compare the Minami translation with the original text, but this was a very readable experience, that really had me stuck to the pages right from the beginning. A large part of that definitely comes from Minami's prose, though I really can't say where Minami's influence ends and where it's all Leblanc's writing. This might be the kids' version of the story, but that does not mean it's not fun to read.

With a fair amount of the Lupin novels actually starring the phantom thief Arsène Lupin himself, it's pretty fun to see a whole novel devoted to a character who spends most the time hunting after such an illustrious figure. Sure, there have been some novels where Lupin only appears to help the protagonist of tha particular story, like L’Île aux trente cercueils, and there have been the occassional story like L'Aiguille creuse, where we follow a detective character looking for Lupin, but especially the latter format is pretty rare among the 20+ novels. Victor is a smart, pro-active cop who knows his job and it's fun seeing this side of the hunt once in a while in a Lupin novel.

So if you like Arsène Lupin and are in search for a story that focuses less on adventure, but more on a mystery plot, then Victor, de la Brigade Mondaine is a good pick. As I said, I don't know if all the points I raised apply to the original French version, but at least the Minami translation/adaptation of the book was enjoyable.

Original Japanese title(s): モーリス・ルブラン(原)、南洋一郎(訳) 『ルパンの大冒険』


  1. They don't really write books like this any more, do they?

    1. I have to be honest, even if they are written now, I'm unlikely to read them. I am quite sure many of these adventure-mystery stories are being written even now, and a good number of them are probably good though, but I'm just more likely to get a LeBlanc Lupin story, than start with something new.

  2. I am confused by your review


    you know Victor is actually Lupin, right ? Or was it removed from the Japanese version ?


    1. It's something I'd hardly mention in the review for obvious reasons, and you'll notice that I have actually chosen my wording in this review :)