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Literature / John Devil

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"JOHN DEVIL! That name pursues me. Someone is beneath that mask and behind that lie! Will I die mad before strangling my executioner?"

In 1862, Paul Féval founded the magazine Jean Diable. Emile Gaboriau, creator of Monsieur Lecoq, was one of its editors. Lecoq later influenced the creation of Sherlock Holmes.

1817, England. Chief Superintendent Gregory Temple of Scotland Yard is mystified by the actions of a faceless crime leader who calls himself "John Devil" and is also known on the continent as Jean Diable and Hans Teufel...

Can the world's first scientific detective use his prodigious abilities to discover the secret identity of the elusive John Devil and capture him before the madman rescues Napoleon from Saint-Helens?

Written in 1861, John Devil will be of special interest to fans of detective stories, crime thrillers, classic mysteries, pulp literature and proto science-fiction.

Paul Féval pioneered the modern crime thriller, creating here both the first police detective (Gregory Temple is the first Scotland Yard Detective in fiction) and the first arch-criminal (John Devil is a proto-Fantômas) in popular fiction.

The villain's plot to use steam-powered armored warships to free Napoleon and conquer India also makes it the first techno-thriller in popular literature.

Brian Stableford made an English language translation.

Provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Ancient Conspiracy: The Rosicrucians and other Secret Societies are all tools of Henri, but his ambition is his own. Latter connected to the history of The Black Coats.
  • Anti-Villain: Henri Belcamp, but what type is debatable. You could interpret him as an Anti-Hero If you believe the claim Tom Brown is a different person.
  • Batman Gambit: How Henri Belcamp gets his final upper hand on Gregory Temple at Newgate. Both of them come up with the same plan to free Richard Thompson (Disguise him and switch places), but Henri knows Temple will use the same plan, so he makes sure he get there first and then trick Temple into tell him what he needs to know from him before using Temple's escape plan for himself.
  • Big Bad: Henri Belcamp
  • Co-Dragons: We have arguably three. Officially, Henri Belcamp makes Robert Surisy the lieutenant of his private Steampunk navy formed to free Napoleon and destroy England. And Ned Knob manages to become Tom Brown's eyes and ears in London's criminal underworld. But his true Right Hand is Sarah O'Neil, who is the only person from the start in on all the various layers of his compartmentalized Evil Plan.
  • Diabolical Master Mind: Henri Belcamp of course
  • Et Tu, Brute?: Helen's betrayal of Henri at the end. And to a lesser extent Temple's attitude when he thought Thompson was the killer.
  • Femme Fatale: Sarah O'Neil. Not a very extreme example, she doesn't kill or explicitly have sex with anyone, but she flirts brilliantly. And her introduction in the first Chapter is arguably the first example of the Film Noir style Femme Fatale entering the Detective's office and him clearly being suspicious. In which case it's clearly the Unbuilt Trope.
    • Helen Brown, presumably when she was younger and in her prime, though we never see her in action. Perhaps closer to The Vamp; whether or not the claim she repented should be believed is unclear.
  • Great Detective: Gregory Temple
  • Greater-Scope Villain: Napoléon Bonaparte as well as in another Féval story ''Mysteries of London'' adapted for the stage as Gentlemen of The Night. The Big Bad of each claims to have met Napoleon on St.Helena in about 1815-1816. Both have their own reasons for the wars against England, however, and only Henri Belcamp in John Devil could have actually benefited Napoleon (Since the other's main narrative is set after Napoleon died), and Henri even more so is really about his own ambition, he really wants to be the next Napoleon, freeing the first is merely for a Passing the Torch moment. O'Breane in Gentlemen of the Night is motivated by liberating and avenging Ireland. Both are made in continuity with each other via The Black Coats.
  • Inspector Lestrade: the entirety of Scotland Yard when Temple is trying to prove Thompson's innocence. They think he's going mad, they're not entirely wrong.
  • Luke, You Are My Father: Henri tells Temple at one point that The Killer, John Devil, is actually his half brother, Tom Brown, who he claims is Temple's son by an adulterous affair with Helen Brown. This is most likely all a complete lie however, it doesn't fit the total fact.
  • Secret Identity: Henri Belcamp has countless of these, and other characters like Sarah have a few, too.
  • Super Villain: Some would claim the title character the Trope Maker.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Féval loved experimenting with this (Though typically more then half truths and misleads then outright lies), and in this story he is at his trickiest, when it comes to certain details. If you think Tom Brown is truly a different person, you've been suckered
  • Villain Protagonist: Henri Belcamp
  • Villain with Good Publicity: Henri's couldn't have better.