Boileau, Pierre 1906-1989
BOILEAU, Pierre 1906-1989
PERSONAL: Born April 28, 1906, in Paris, France; died January 16, 1989; son of a shipping-firm manager and a homemaker. Education: Studied at a Parisian school of commerce.
CAREER: Worked as an architect, advertising copywriter, textile worker, and waiter. Served in French Welfare Department, 1939-42; writer.
AWARDS, HONORS: Prix du Roman d'Aventures, 1938, for Le Repos de Bacchus.
WITH THOMAS NARCEJAC; MYSTERY NOVELS; IN ENGLISH TRANSLATION
Celle qui n'était plus, 1952, translation by Geoffrey Sainsbury published as The Woman Who Was No More, Rinehart, 1954.
Les visages de l'ombre, 1953, translation published as Faces in the Dark, 1954.
D'entre les morts, 1954, translation by Geoffrey Sainsbury published as The Living and the Dead, Washburn, 1956.
Les louves, 1955, translation published as The Prisoner, 1957.
Le mauvais oeil, 1956, translation published as The Evil Eye, 1959.
Au bois dormant, 1956, translation published as Sleeping Beauty, 1959.
A couer perdu, 1959, translation published as Heart to Heart, 1959.
L'ingénieur qui aimait trop les chiffres, 1959, translation published as The Tube, 1960.
Maléfices, 1961, translation published as Spells of Evil, 1961.
Les victims, 1964, translation published as Who Was Clare Jallu?, 1965.
Et mon tout est un homme, 1965, translation by Brian Rawson published as Choice Cuts, Dutton (New York, NY), 1966.
UNTRANSLATED MYSTERY NOVELS; WITH THOMAS NARCEJAC
Les magiciennes, 1957.
La mort a dit, peut-être, 1967.
La vie en miettes, 1972.
Opération primevère, 1973.
Frère Judas, 1974.
Le second visage d'Arsène Lupin, 1975.
La tenaille, 1975.
La lèpre, 1976.
Les veufs, 1977.
L'age bête, 1978.
Carte vermeille, 1979.
Le serment d'Arsène Lupin, 1979.
Box Office, 1981.
Le Pierre qui tremble (novel), 1934.
André Brunel, policier (novel), 1934.
La promenade de minuit (novel), 1934.
Le repos de Bacchus (novel), 1938.
(With Thomas Narcejac) Le foman policier (nonfiction), 1975.
(With Thomas Narcejac) Tandem: ou, Trente-cinq ans de suspence (nonfiction), 1986.
ADAPTATIONS: The Woman Who Was No More was filmed by director Henri-Georges Clouzot as Diabolique in 1954; D'entre les morts was filmed as Vertigo by director Alfred Hitchcock in 1958.
SIDELIGHTS: Pierre Boileau was a French novelist best known, at least among English-language readers, for his mystery novels written in collaboration with Thomas Narcejac. Boileau began his literary career in the 1930s with such novels as Le Repos de Bacchus, for which he received the Prix du Roman d'Aventures. In that same decade, after the French government capitulated to the invading German forces, Boileau was named an enemy of the state, and he was thereupon conscripted into the French Welfare Department, which sent him on tours of prisons. During the course of this endeavor, which lasted until 1942, Boileau met numerous criminals. These acquaintances, in turn, led Boileau to consider writing mystery novels. His enthusiasm intensified after he read Esthétique du roman policier, Narcejac's analysis of crime fiction. Towards the end of the 1940s, after Boileau initiated correspondence, the two writers formed a writing partnership.
In the ensuing four decades, Boileau and Narcejac produced more than twenty novels together and distinguished themselves as masters of a strain of storytelling that juxtaposes the dull and the abnormal to horrific effect. Their first collaborative venture, Celle qui n'était plus, concerns a murder plot in which a salesman conspires with his lover to drown his wife. After committing the crime, though, the salesman becomes haunted by his wife's image. His anxiety intensifies after he fails to retrieve her corpse, which he had dumped in a pond, and he begins receiving ominous notes. A surprise ending reveals the salesman's perceptions to be justifiably alarming. Rose Feld, reviewing the novel in its English translation, The Woman Who Was No More, wrote in the New York Herald Tribune that the finale constitutes "an astounding turn that holds validity both for plot and characterization," and a Time reviewer observed that "Boileau and Narcejac keep the reader guessing." Another reviewer, Martin Levin, appraised The Woman Who Was No More in Saturday Review as "en entirely new variation on the double-indemnity theme."
Among Boileau and Narcejac's other novels in English translation is D'entre les morts, which was translated as The Living and the Dead. In this tale, a man agrees to secretly follow the wife of an old friend, who expresses concern over his spouse's apparent instability. The hero soon becomes preoccupied with his subject, especially after he rescues her during a suicide attempt. After the woman finally succeeds in killing herself, the distraught hero—like the salesman in The Woman Who Was No More—finds himself haunted by the deceased's image. When he finally apprehends a lookalike, he learns of a bizarre murder plot involving a body double. This knowledge compels him to commit his own criminal act. New York Times reviewer Anthony Boucher was less impressed with this novel, contending that Boileau and Narcejac attempted to duplicate the tricky plotting of the earlier Woman Who Was No More but met with "unfortunate results." L. G. Offord, however, wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle that this novel fares "very well on the scary side."
Boileau and Narcejac were also the authors of Et Mon tout est un homme, which appeared in English translation as Choice Cuts. Here, the corpse of a guillotined criminal is dismembered, and the various body parts are incorporated in surgical procedures to save maimed accident victims. These individuals, however, soon grow increasingly disturbed as a consequence of the transplants, and they ultimately resort to suicide. In his New York Times Book Review assessment, Anthony Boucher claimed that Choice Cuts "fails to attain any suspension of disbelief." A Times Literary Supplement critic, while conceding that the story "sounds preposterous," nonetheless called Choice Cuts "a first-rate entertainment."
Narcejac died in 1998, surviving coauthor Boileau by less than a decade.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Library Journal, March 15, 1954, Harold Lancour, review of The Woman Who Was No More; December 1, 1966, M. K. Grant, review of Choice Cuts.
New York Herald Tribune Book Review, April 11, 1954, Rose Feld, review of The Woman Who Was No More, p. 6.
New York Times, May 9, 1954, Anthony Boucher, review of The Woman Who Was No More, p. 21; May 5, 1957, Anthony Boucher, review of The Living and the Dead, p. 26.
New York Times Book Review, November 6, 1966, Anthony Boucher, review of Choice Cuts, p. 56.
San Francisco Chronicle, June 13, 1954, L. G. Offord, review of The Woman Who Was No More, p. 21.
Saturday Review, May 22, 1954, Martin Levin, review of The Woman Who Was No More.
Spectator, July 2, 1954, Penelope Houston, review of The Woman Who Was No More, p. 40; May 4, 1956, Christopher Pym, review of The Living and the Dead, p. 631.
Time, April 26, 1954, review of The Woman Who Was No More.
Times Literary Supplement, May 4, 1956, review of The Living and the Dead, p. 272; August 18, 1966, review of Choice Cuts, p. 737.*