Lupin, Then and Now…

I am going to attempt to fill a yawning void in your life by recommending Netflix series and the books that inspired it.

The Netflix series is titled Lupin.   It is a French production but dubbed in English for those of us who studied Latin in high school. It is also well-written and well-acted. Five episodes have been released so far on U.S. Netflix with five more coming this summer, so you can binge it relatively quickly. Lupin is interesting from the jump because no one in the series is named “Lupin.” The lead character is a charming and likable thief named Assane Diop. We meet Assane as an adult but there are frequent flashbacks to his childhood as well.  Assane as a boy emigrated with his father to France from Senegal. As an adult, Assane pulls off a major heist in Paris for the best of reasons, that being to clear his father’s name which has been sullied by a crime that he (possibly) did not commit. We quickly learn that Assane the adult is also profoundly influenced by a crime fiction series that he read as a child and continues to read. The books concern a master thief and occasional detective named Arsene Lupin. They were written by Maurice LeBlanc in the early 1900s. Assane as the episodes progress will often recall a Lupin story in a kind of “What Would Lupin Do?” manner. Lupin is actually an homage to, as opposed to an adaptation of, those books published so long ago. One of my favorite elements in Lupin is that one of the police detectives tasked with solving Assane’s crime is also a huge fan of the books. He sees similarities between what Assane is doing and what Lupin did. His fellow flics make fun of him but otherwise ignore the detective’s theory, though as he actually holds the key to solving Assane’s crime. Assane has a son of his own who shares his birthdate of December 11 with LeBlanc and who, to Assan’s delight, is a fan of the stories as well. 

The Netflix Lupin is more than worth your while, in great part because you can’t watch it without being drawn to the stories which it references. I knew absolutely nothing about Arsene Lupin or Maurice LeBlanc before binging the series.  It was easy enough to get up to speed. Most of the story collections are either online or available for free (if you dig a bit) in the Kindle Store. I thought I would try a few pages of one just to get the flavor of the character and wound up in a time suck. I couldn’t and can’t stop reading them. I quickly acquired all of the collections available and am working my way through them while enjoying every word. The Lupin of LeBlanc’s stories is a gentleman thief who changes identities more often than people change clothes. He is, in addition to being a master of disguise, an escape artist and pickpocket. Lupin has a frenemy in the form of Inspector Ganimard, a police detective who could well be the cousin of Inspector Javert, though the former has much more charm than the latter. Lupin also on occasion encounters Sherlock Holmes. LeBlanc did not take the time or effort to acquire the permission of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle prior to incorporating his famous creation into the Lupin universe, an act that provoked righteous indignation and protests from Doyle. LeBlanc, no doubt with the same twinkle in his eye possessed by his character, continued to use the English sleuth in his own stories but changed the name of Doyle’s character’s to “Herlock Sholmes.” “Sholmes” is no more successful in capturing Lupin than  Gaimard, something which no doubt also upset Doyle. 

The stories are delightful. There is always at least one little twist and turn that even the most seasoned reader won’t necessarily catch or expect. LeBlanc changes the narrator from story to story so that one initially never knows if Lupin is telling the tale or if someone else is doing the gabbing. The result is that it takes the reader a bit of time to figure out who is doing what to who, in the words of the famously salty limerick. Speaking of salty…LeBlanc’s stories are free of explicit sex, earthy language, and graphic violence. There might be the occasional fistfight here and there, but only to advance the narrative. One can accordingly recommend each and all of the Lupin stories to anyone of any age without concern.  Every story is also in equal measure clever and smart in the telling. The young Assane at one point in Lupin is asked, “Don’t you ever get tired of reading the same book?” Assane smiles and says, “No. I learn something new all the time.” Indeed. 

I consider myself to be fairly well-read and accordingly was stunned that in six decades of reading detective fiction I had never happened across this character. Aside from the reading benefits, there is much for a writer to learn here. One can study the stories for the manner in which LeBlanc makes Lupin, a thief who would ordinarily be an unsympathetic character, sympathetic, or even a hero of sorts. LeBlanc also demonstrates how point of view can be utilized as a sleight-of-hand device to make things a bit more interesting. Then we have the overall presentation of language and scenarios. I like sex and violence in stories as much as the next writer or reader but sometimes it becomes a crutch. We want it occasionally or even frequently in our reading and writing but we don’t always need it, even in so-called adult material. I know that things were a bit restrained in popular literature from over one hundred years ago but it is refreshing to encounter that restraint now. I’ve been redlining my own work here and there as a result. 

I hope that you enjoy Lupin the series or the books if you have the chance and inclination to try them. I would like for now to know if you have “discovered” a new-to-you author and/or character recently who has in fact been around for decades. If so, what influence if any have they had on you? 

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About Joe Hartlaub

Joe Hartlaub is an attorney, author, actor and book and music reviewer. Joe is a Fox News contributor on book publishing industry and publishing law and has participated on several panels dealing with book, film, and music business law. He lives with his family in Westerville, Ohio.

41 thoughts on “Lupin, Then and Now…

  1. Thanks, Joe. I have Netflix thanks to my son in the U.S. subscribing for me. I can’t use my Indian bank card to do it and don’t use a U.S. card from here. I saw that series but didn’t really understand what it was all about. I’ll have to see if I can find the stories somewhere. This was a good post. 🙂 — Suzanne

    • First! Thanks so much, Suzanne. You’ve got a nice son, from the sounds of things.

      The trailer for the Netflix series is a little confusing. I watched it only after reading a couple of reviews and learning that it was consistently in the U.S. Top 10 for a bit. Hope you enjoy the stories.

  2. To answer your question, I have not discovered a new-to-me character recently. But I’d like to. 🙂 Thanks for the great recommendation, Joe. I’ll check out the series and the books.

    Hope you’re having a nice weekend!

    • Thank you, Sue! I hope that you are having a terrific one as well. I thought of you this morning as I was looking at all of the wildlife tracks in the snow. I seem to have a lot of nocturnal visitors, for some reason.

      Hope you enjoy the stories!

  3. Good morning, Joe. Great post, and thanks for the information.

    I checked the Kindle store and found the Arsene Lupin Megapack of 11 books for $0.46. That’s close enough to free for me. I plan to watch the Netflix Lupin series, and explore LeBlanc’s books.

    I recently watched “The Queen’s Gambit” series on Netflix and was impressed with how a character-oriented story followed the classic plot structure we discuss here at TKZ so often, and how powerful the story was. It impressed me enough to get the book by Walter Tevis. Unfortunately, I was not as impressed with the book.

    Thanks for telling us about Lupin and LeBlanc. Have a great weekend.

    • Good morning, Steve! Thanks for your kind words and the information on The Queen’s Gambit, which I had passed up until now. I’ll take a look at it this weekend. And many thanks for the information about the Megapack, which I somehow missed. 46 cents is within my reach! I just bought a version of “An American Tragedy” by Theodore Dreiser at a similar price point.

      Have a great weekend, Steve.

  4. Joe, a happy discovery for you. Now I want to read the stories. You might be interested to know that Arsene Lupin has shown up onscreen many times, dating back to 1911! An enjoyable version is the the pre-Code 1932 film with brothers John and Lionel Barrymore.

    As for discoveries, I love finding a forgotten writer from the paperback original days who knows how to fling the prose. I’ve found writers like John McPartland, Gil Brewer, Harry Whittington, Talmage Hall, and others. In those days you wrote page turners or you didn’t have a career.

    • Thanks, Jim. I was vaguely aware of Lupin’s movie appearances after researching the character but will definitely check out the pre-code film based on your recommendation.

      I LOVE your “forgotten writers” list. I’ve read Gil Brewer and Harry Whittington and am to this day a huge fan of the movie “The Lost Missile” which John McFarland co-wrote. Re: Talmage Hall, I couldn’t find him anywhere. Were you referring to Talmage Powell? I’m not familiar with him, either, but his work looks really good and is readily available. Either way, thanks for the tip.

  5. Joe, thanks for sharing this discovery with us. I haven’t had the good fortune to discover any forgotten writers myself recently. The Netflix series “Lupin” was already in my watchlist, but I had no idea about the earlier Lupin stories. I’m a bit shocked that I hadn’t, since I spent so many years working in library-land, but perhaps I just missed them.

    The truth is, we are fortunate in the 21st century to live in a world rich in content, with novels from throughout history readily available at our fingertips in eBook form. I look forward to trying the Lupin stories, and to the series. I love heist stories, and these sound right up my alley.

    Thanks again!

    • You’re welcome, Dale, and thanks for stopping by. One of my absolute joys is finding new-to-me authors and then passing them on. I have had too much over the past several years finding Scandinavian crime fiction authors who have been laboring away quietly over the decades and producing terrific work as well as the pulp authors in the U.S, who in some cases are so obscure that, in my brother’s words, “they haven’t heard of themselves.” Happy reading!

  6. Thanks for the intro, Joe. Thanks also to Steve for the lead to the megapack which I just downloaded (as if my poor Kindle needs more books I don’t have time to read!).

    Kinda bittersweet for an author to achieve great acclaim after death. But also gratifying that the work lives on many generations later.

    • You’re welcome, Deb. Re: authors receiving post-mortem acclaim…that unfortunately happens quite frequently in the arts. Sometimes it happens because of the artist’s death. My favorite example involves The Doors. They did very well when Jim Morrison was still alive but sold more records the year after he died than they had up until that time. It’s a strange world. Thanks for the reminder.

  7. Interesting series, Joe. Thanks for the recap. As for old characters being new to me, I’m onto a new venture and exploring the antiquated world of hardboiled detective fiction – Black Mask and contributors like Hammett, Chandler, Daly, Spillane, McBain, Powell, Cain, etc. I’m finding this is more like going down a badger hole than a rabbit one.

    • You’re welcome, Garry. I hope you enjoy the trip. There are some terrific gems here and there amongst those Black Mask contributors. I envy your experience of the new discoveries.

  8. Thanks, Joe. Have purchased the pack.

    New to me maybe 10 years ago was the “Napoleon Bonaparte, Detective” series by Arthur Upfield. No bargain at $188.71 for all 29 from Kindle. Lynn and I read a bunch of them that we got through Ohio Link and Search Ohio.

    Napoleon Bonaparte is “a biracial Aboriginal Australian detective with a reputation for solving difficult cases by finding subtle clues. Upfield introduced the character in his 1929 novel The Barrakee Mystery. 29 novels featuring the character were published.”

    A different look at historical Australia than Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher mysteries. 🙂

    • Eric, you are welcome, and thanks so much for your referral and endorsement of the Bonaparte series. It sounds extremely intriguing!

      • I just found on YouTube:
        Series 1, Ep 12 of the Boney TV series
        Also on YouTube two audiobooks of the Bonaparte series, part of the Crime Audiobook Series:
        The Barrakee Mystery
        The Sands of Windee

        • Thank you so much, Eric. It is amazing to me how much access we have to the arts in different media, and for free, no less.

    • You’re welcome, Elaine. I couldn’t get into Lucifer (it has a very loyal and ever-growing fanbase) but I have been onto The Blacklist from Day One because of James Spader, who imho is a very talented and underrated actor. I haven’t checked out The Blacklist: Redemption yet but it’s on my “to view” list. Thanks for the reminder. There are similarities, btw, between Raymond Reddington and Assane Diop/Lupin.

    • I take your point, catfriend, and agree with your conclusion in the result. The problem, however, is that not everyone reads fast enough to keep up with the dialogue, particularly in dialogue-heavy scenes, so Netflix provides both. What is interesting to me is that with Lupin, Money Heist, and a number of other Netflix projects that originate abroad the dubbed dialogue and subtitles can vary somewhat. I wonder why?

      Speaking of which: keep checking Netflix US for a Korea Netflix series titled “Beyond Evil” which has in just a few weeks become a must-watch drama there. I don’t know when we will see it here but we no doubt will at some point. You read it here first! Thanks, catfriend!

  9. Thanks, Steve! That’s how I read the first collection in the series. It’s not my preferred method on a Kindle but it’s better than a stick in the eye!

  10. Chiming in late–had my second Covid vaccination yesterday, and I’m just surfacing from the fog. Thanks for the recommendation. It probably would have been a good day to watch a new series, but I haven’t made it downstairs, where the television resides, yet.

    • Terry, you’re not late because we. never. close. I hope you get to watch Lupin, or anything you want, soon!

  11. Joe, Thank you for letting us know about Maurice LeBlanc (love the name). I had never heard of him, but I also just bought the megapack (thanks, Steve for mentioning it), and I’m looking forward to reading the books. I also have a character in my books who is an expert at disguise. I’m looking forward to learning Lupin’s tricks. I might check the Netflix series when I’m on the treadmill tomorrow.

    I did recently come across an author I was unacquainted with. One of the picks for my book club was “Gilead” by Marilynne Robinson. It’s not a crime or mystery novel and doesn’t have a standard plot structure, but she manages to create an aura through her content and style that captivated me.

    • You’re welcome, Kay, and thanks for the recommendation of “Gilead.” As you said, it’s not a crime novel but it seems to have that dark inter-generational thing going. t looks like an extremely ambitious and interesting book. I’ll have to check it out.

      Re: the treadmill…I used to get on one every day but the ice in my bloody mary kept falling out…

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