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Book by ODU's Finley-Croswhite Named a 2010 Favorite

Annette Finley-Croswhite

"Murder in the Metro: Laetitia Toureaux and the Cagoule in 1930s France," a book co-authored by Annette Finley-Croswhite of the Old Dominion University faculty, has been named a favorite book of 2010 by the British magazine History Today.

More than a decade of research by Finley-Croswhite and co-author Gayle Brunelle turned up the politically charged storyline. The book was published last spring by Louisiana State University Press.

Finley-Croswhite is a professor of history and chair of the ODU Department of History. Brunelle is a professor of history at California State University at Fullerton.

In History Today, the book was chosen as a 2010 favorite by Nigel Jones, a British historian, journalist, novelist and a former editor of the magazine. He also selected "Murder on the Metro," authored by Finley-Croswhite and Brunelle, as his favorite article of 2010. The article, which was published in January by History Today, is a digest of material covered in the book.

Toureaux, an Italian immigrant, was the first person ever killed in the Paris metro. "She was a fascinating woman whose life reflected many of the complexities of inter-war France," Finley-Croswhite said.

A factory worker and young widow, Toureaux loved to frequent music halls in some of Paris' shabbier neighborhoods. She called herself "Yolande" and worked as a private detective for the Agence Rouff as well as for the Paris Police and agents of the Italian government.

"As something of a triple-agent, Yolande infiltrated a far-right terrorist organization, the Comité Secret d'Action Révolutionnaire, which went by the popular name of the Cagoule, and she took the organization's gun-running expert as her lover," the ODU professor said.

Finley-Croswhite and Brunelle researched mountains of archival sources as well as newspaper clippings and other records from the 1930s and 1940s in order to reconstruct the untold story of why someone stabbed Toureaux in the neck on the Paris metro and why the Paris police shelved the investigation and the case has been unsolved to this day. They build a convincing case for her having known too much about the plans of French and Italian fascists, and for the inevitable suppression of the murder investigation by men who would become post-war leaders of France.

The authors are the first scholars to explore the Cagoule as an actual terrorist group that blew up a building in Paris in September 1937 and planned a coup d'état. "The Cagoule also were involved in arms smuggling, sabotage, political intrigue, assassinations, bombings, and they directed violence toward noncombatants, although their targets were specific rather than indiscriminate, at least during the period, 1936-37," said Finley-Croswhite.

For Finley-Croswhite, the publication of the book caps a 12-year saga that began in 1997 with her reading a few sentences in a Paris travel guide about an unsolved murder in the city's subway in May 1937. The investigation led last year to the authors' critical interview with the son of Toureaux's Cagoulard lover. The son was born long after the war and is now the head of the largest newspaper conglomerate in France.

Finley-Croswhite and Brunelle specialize in 16th-century French history, but the two women who became friends when both were graduate students at Emory University decided to delve into this modern mystery.

"As historians Gayle and I really got drawn into this woman's story and thought others would be, too," Finley-Croswhite said. "Toureaux actually kept me up at night. Sometimes I couldn't sleep for thinking about her and the significance of her life. We dedicated the book to the memory of Yolande, who took us on a splendid and completely unexpected adventure through the streets and back alleys of 1930s France."

In writing about the authors' work, Jones compared "Murder in the Metro" to Charles Nicholl's "The Reckoning," a book about the murder of Christopher Marlow. Jones also borrowed words of  Nicholl for the tribute to his favorite book of 2010: "An unsolved murder does not really age. It continues to invite our attention, our questions, our unease."

The book by Finley-Croswhite and Brunelle was chosen by Canadian Distributors of Scholarly Books as its "best bet" in crime and media for summer 2010.

This fall the authors have delivered invited lectures and book talks about their recent research and writings at New York University, Brooklyn College, St. John's College Queens and St. Michael's College in Vermont.

Finley-Croswhite said she and her co-author have begun work on a sequel, which traces the reincarnation of Cagoule as the pro-German Mouvement Social Revolutionnaire in the era of World War II. See http://www.murderinthemetro.com/the-sequel. The authors also been contacted by a film production company that wants to buy the rights to "Murder in the Metro."

This article was posted on: December 15, 2010

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