When the Guillotine Fell: The Bloody Beginning and Horrifying End to France's River of Blood, 1791—1977
St. Martin's Press, Jul 2008, $24.95
This is a fascinating look at one of the most notariouss execution devices made infamous in A Tale of two Cities. However, the best passages are the stories of those who danced with Madame Guillotine, but these are disjointed with sudden switches to other poignant segues. Interestingly, the inventor Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin created the device during the French Revolution as a cleaner way to conduct an execution (much faster than conventional methods so less pain for the mob of observers - think of Dickens’ Madam DeFarge; and as a humanitarian reason to those who are being killed – think of the Supreme Court’s lethal injection decision). The last victim was Tunisian expatriate Hamida Djandoubi who with the help of two underage girlfriends killed one of his Marseille prostitutes in 1974 and was dispatched in 1977 just before France outlawed capital punishment. A section on the history of state legal executions adds depth to an overall fascinating in a macabre way historical account of WHEN THE GUILLOTINE FELL, but overall the tome suffers from a disjointed execution.