Pop the champagne and spoon out the caviar. I just signed the contract for my next book. It’s about gangsters in Paris during WW2. Look out for it around June 2020 from publishers Biteback. The working title is ‘The French Gestapo’, although that might change.
In wartime Paris a gang of crooks, corrupt cops, and fallen celebrities led by the orchid-loving thief Henri Lafont worked for the Nazis and lived like kings – until the Allies arrived and a price had to be paid.
The Dark Heart of Paris
Henri Chamberlin was a petty criminal with a high voice who became the most powerful crook in Paris thanks to the Nazi occupation. A chance encounter in a prison camp led to a life of luxury running a ruthless mob of gangsters who looted the city for the Germans. All it took was a talent for treason, treachery, and deceit.
When the Nazis invaded France in July 1940 they looked for local collaborators. Many volunteered, including the underworld. In Paris, Chamberlin changed his name to Henri Lafont and joined up with former policeman turned criminal Inspector Pierre Bonny. They looted abandoned Jewish properties; bought low and sold high on the black market. They recruited old gangster friends from prison: pimps and murderers, burglars and bank robbers. Even French Jews helped Chamberlin’s gang, sometimes willingly. The gang’s Gestapo handlers gave everyone immunity in exchange for information and a cut of the profits.
The gang wore the best clothes, ate at the best restaurants, and did whatever they wanted in occupied Paris. They lived on a poisoned honeycomb. Chamberlin and Bonny moved into the exclusive rue Lauriston. The top floors of their new home hosted parties where collaborationists mixed with ambitious young actresses and well-mannered German officers, before everyone headed off to a nightclub in one of Chamberlin’s white Bentleys. Down in the cellar, the rest of the gang tortured prisoners from the resistance. The unbalanced Pierre ‘Le Fou’ Loutrel, did it to get information. Bisexual athlete Violette Morris, with her short hair and man’s clothes and love of frail blondes, just liked to watch people in pain.
By 1944 the gang, now known as the French Gestapo, was so enmeshed in the German net that it ran the Brigade Nord-Africain, a paramilitary outfit of Algerians and Moroccan nationalists in the south of France. The Brigade raped, robbed, and murdered the locals under cover of fighting the resistance. Then the Allies came. Chamberlin and Bonny found themselves on trial for their lives. Others escaped to become big names in the post-war French underworld or reveal they’d been playing a double game with the resistance all along.
This is the first English language account of a group that inspired the Louis Malle film ‘Lacombe Lucien’ and appeared in the novels of Nobel prize winner Patrick Modiano, whose Jewish father did business with Chamberlin, and the stories of Marguerite Duras, who was rumoured to have had an affair with a gang member.
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