Scene of the Crime: When Bad Things Happen in Good Hotels

A former Israeli Intelligence Officer of Unit 8200, the most secretive arm of the Israeli Defence Forces, author Dov Alfon has lead a colourful life.  A Long Night in Paris (out now) is his first work of fiction, published in Israel to rave reviews and topping the bestseller charts for 24 weeks. Here, he tells us about iconic real hotels in Paris that appear in classic thrillers as scenes of a crime. 

Posted on January 18, 2019 in Uncategorized
Tags:

A former Israeli Intelligence Officer of Unit 8200, the most secretive arm of the Israeli Defence Forces, author Dov Alfon has lead a colourful life.  A Long Night in Paris (out now) is his first work of fiction, published in Israel to rave reviews and topping the bestseller charts for 24 weeks. Here, he tells us about iconic real hotels in Paris that appear in classic thrillers as scenes of a crime. 

A luxury hotel is a golden sanctuary for people in a temporary sense of limbo, which is probably why it is so central to the life of writers and spies alike. The opulent rooms give the guests what they came to find – What hasn’t been done in hotel rooms, with their virgin-looking beds in which, as  Marcel Proust pointed out in its “On Reading” essay, the secret life of the earlier occupants is almost tangible? Nowhere is the lavish masquerade of a five-star hotel stay more present in fiction than in Paris, complete with the traditional incompetence of the French Police. It is here that its illusion of privacy in luxury hotels comes at a heavy cost for its guests in both literature and real-world espionnage: in most cases their money, in some their lives.

  1. Le Ritz

James Bond finds his untimely death at the Ritz at the end of “From Russia, with love”. Driving all the way from Dijon with a Russian cipher clerk called – what else? – Tatiana Romanova, Bond enters the hotel to kill the über-villain Rosa Klebb. He has a couple of drinks at the bar before entering the room, which may or may not explain why she managed to slash him with a venom-laced blade hidden in her shoe.

The novel ends with agent 007 collapsing to the floor; Ian Fleming had intended to end the series at that point. When Fleming wrote Dr. No, he had M mentioning that Bond survived thanks to a miraculous intervention of an agent of the French Secret Service, probably the most improbable twist of the entire series.

The hero of Dan Brown, Professor Robert Langdon, is awoken by a late-night surprise visit to his room at the Ritz at the opening of “Da-Vinci Code”, officially beginning a worldwide quest to understand how a symbology teacher can afford the 1.300 euros per night bill.

  1. Hotel Castiglione

One of the few attempts of Agatha Christie to write spy fiction, “The Big Four” describes the efforts of Hercule Poirot and Colonel Hastings to save the world from a sinister quartet of villains. A scientist is kidnapped from his room at Hotel Castiglione in Paris, but Poirot doesn’t fall for it and takes Hastings to a small alley nearby. It is worth noting that Christie doesn’t bother much with Parisian description in her books, and even when the plot is directly connected to the French capital, like in the classic “Death in the Clouds”, Poirot is not overly impressed by the City of Lights. “The Big Four” is one of Christie’s least successful novels (she herself hated it), which may explain why she never returned to espionage novels – or to Hotel Castiglione.

 

  1. The Peninsula Paris

Originally “Hotel Majestic”, it was converted to government offices and served as the headquarters of the German military high command in France during World War II before it reopened as a luxury hotel in the 90s. Georges Simenon hated the place long before that, and it appears in several of his novels as the epitome of aristocratic impunity.

The first Maigret, “The Strange Case of Peter the Lett”, already has the commissaire rebelling against the staff, against the manager and against the patrons. His beloved inspector, Torrence, is shot in the hotel. Simenon will come back to the scene of the crime three years later in “Maigret and the Hotel Majestic”, with even more contempt to the hotel.

It is therefore not surprising that the Majestic’s owners claimed Simenon just borrowed the name of their hotel, while all the descriptions — and criminal deeds — belong to another luxury hotel, “Claridge” on the Champs Elysees. While the claim seems well-documented — Simenon was a frequent guest at Claridge — one may also believe that Maigret equally hated both hotels.

  1. Hôtel Raphael

This was the preferred Parisian hotel of Simon Templar in the Leslie Charteris’ wonderful series “The Saint”, and the adorable sleuth feels there at home when he is not arrested by the French Police. The atmosphere there is totally different in the John Dickson Carr’s novels, between gothic ceremonials and closed-chamber murders. Carr prudently changed the name to “Hotel du Rhone” and in the classic “In Spite of Thunder” the plot constantly moves between the dark deeds at the Raphael to the charming dialogues in “Hotel Metropole”, a much more modest place in which the writer apparently felt more secure, at least financially.

  1. Le Grand Hotel

Bad things happen in literature in all palaces called “Grand Hotel” worldwide, but the Parisian one should be awarded the gold medal for perfect hosting to spies, murderers, crooks and detective alike – and of course to all the writers responsible for this reputation. The quintessential French elegant thieves, Arsene Lupin and Fantomas, both stay at Le Grand Hotel when ridiculing the French Police. Conan Doyle, a faithful client of the hotel’s famous restaurant, “Café de la Paix”, had Sherlock Holmes track in those streets Huret, the Boulevard assassin, “an exploit which won for Holmes an autograph letter of thanks from the French President and the Order of the Legion of Honour”, according to “The Return of Sherlock Holmes”.

Emile Zola moved his famous heroine “Nana” to Le Grand Hotel for three nights so she could die in a fancy place. In front of the hotel waited Count Muffat, whose faithfulness to Nana brings him back even when he finds her in bed with his elderly father-in-law. Kay Scarpetta slept here even less time and cannot even finish her breakfast in “Black Notice” by Patricia Cornwell. And fans of Harrison Ford may remember here playing a hapless husband watching from the opulent bathroom of his room the mysterious kidnapping of his wife in “Frantic” by Roman Polanski. As an affectionate reference, a mysterious kidnapping from the same room takes place in my humble novel – no writer can be exempted from including in a book a crime at Le Grand Hotel.

A Long Night in Paris is out in hardback and eBook now. 

More from the Crime Files blog

Comments

Join the discussion

Your e-mail address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.