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Author Bios: Gayle and Annette, A Creative Friendship

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Beginning in the 1980s while we were graduate students at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, we often shared apartments in France, a practice that our compatibility and friendship led us to continue through the 1990s and to the present day. While most American graduate students of that generation tended to stay in Paris, we were a bit unusual in that we chose to work in the provinces, Gayle in Normandy, land of cows and hard cider, and Annette, really, all over France, especially in Picardy, Languedoc, and the Loire Valley. The atmosphere in Paris was exciting and amazing – but also intimidating and stifling since the city was crawling with American graduate students vying for archival sources and top accolades in an intensely competitive environment. More importantly, we both found the intimate stories we unearthed in the provincial archives to be especially compelling, and enjoyed the opportunity to get to know “la France "profonde" as well.

Annette-Musée-de-Cluny-in-Paris-circa-19851Rather than competing, we formed a friendship and an alliance that has endured ever since. We shared a thirst for exploration, and early on we began to take bus and trains rides out to other parts of France, never missing an opportunity to visit a chateau, where the owners, if they were at home, sometimes invited us in for cookies and tea – we must have looked like the bedraggled, underfed students we were at the time. Once we were gainfully employed we graduated to renting cheap cars to travel to scenic but remote locales like the wilds of Auvergne. We ended up exploring much of France, its landscape, people, and history, rather like a real-life and scholarly Rosemary and Thyme from the well-known mystery novel series.

These trips ultimately led to adventures and misadventures, such as took place during the routier (truckers’) strike of 1996. We were on our way to a chateau in Burgundy when burly, disgruntled truckers blocked all the major highways in France, bringing road circulation to a standstill. Even so, we were not about to be deterred from our week of wine-tasting and Burgundian cuisine, so we struck out taking the small departmental roads, old avenues, and pig-paths to explore the heart of France. Annette, a veteran of driving in Washington, D.C., just kept naviagting around the road blocks – it helped that we usually hit them during the lunch hour, when not even disgruntled truckers would skip lunch to man the barricades. While the rest of France sat home, we managed to go from Normandy to the Pyrenées (pretty much north to south) and back with little trouble, proving our adventuresome spirits. These experiences gave us a rich understanding of the topography of France and the variations in regional ideas, dialects, and products. We also made countless French friends along the way who opened their homes and hearts to the two curious Americans, a long, long way from Paris.

In 1997 we decided to undertake an historical project together. Oddly enough, we both bought the same Paris guidebook to read on separate trans-Atlantic flights to France, and upon arrival we compared notes. Paris Dreambook: An Unconventional Guide to the Splendor and Squalor of the City, contained one page that especially intrigued us. It briefly mentioned the first murder committed in the Paris metro, in 1937. The murder and its victim, Laetitia Toureaux, sounded so fascinating that we couldn’t pass up such a good story. As we struck out for the archives in 1997, we had no idea what a controversial topic we had selected or the numerous roadblocks we would encounter as we plunged into the murky, sometimes violent world of the mysterious Laetitia Toureaux and 1930s France. The story, nonetheless, provided rich material for our interest in creative writing grounded in historical fact and serious scholarship and offered the perfect subject-matter for a history book that could appeal to the general public and read like a novel. Our careers in historical true crime were launched!

Chateau de Pommard, BurgundyWe were trained as historians of the early modern period, 1450-1789, and both of us had many scholarly publications out when we began work on Murder in the Metro. Even so, at first Annette was hesitant about tackling the modern era, and Gayle figured that our historical work wouldn't be taken seriously once we published our book on the murder. We shared, however, a concern that too many academics write only for other scholars and leave “popular” history to journalists. Enormously important academic scholarship often only reaches a tiny audience. Annette worried that the bulk of historians in this country seem to have abandoned any moral obligation to educate the population at large about the lessons of history. Gayle just hated letting a ripping good yarn get away. Murder in the Métro thus became a project in which we could envisage writing both a good story and one with cultural relevance for a generation of Americans who have lived in the shadows of 9/11. For you see, the Cagoule---the right-wing fascist organization that was at the heart of the life, and death, of Laetitia Toureaux – comprised some of the first identifiable terrorists of the modern world. Thus began our “cottage industry,” to write creatively and market to the public at large while never forgetting the obligation to ground historical writing in extensive archival research, well-written passages, and serious work.

Authors in the archives

Our two newest projects follow the Cagoule into the period of World War II when Eugène Deloncle and his right-wing extremists reinvented themselves as the first collaborationist group of the war period, the Mouvement Social et Révolutionnaire or MSR. Deloncle hoped to become a major part of the Vichy government after France capitulated to the Germans and Marshall Philippe Pétain came to power as head of the Vichy state. Many Cagoulards, including Laetitia Toureaux’s former boyfriend, Gabriel Jeantet, followed Pètain to Vichy and won places in his government or circle of esteemed friends. Deloncle was considered too radical, and he ended up remaining in Paris where he continued to plot extremist violence on both sides of the demarcation line that divided occupied and unoccupied France in 1940. One of first terrorist acts carried out by MSR operatives was the murder of Marx Dormoy on July 26, 1941. Dormoy had been Léon Blum’s Minister of the Interior in the Popular Front government of 1936-7, and Dormoy had first exposed the Cagoule and their terrorist activities in 1937. Vowing revenge, Deloncle and other former Cagoulards arranged for Dormoy’s assassination by having a bomb placed under his bed in a hotel in Montélimar. Our new book, Vengeance: Vichy and the Assassination of Marx Dormoy explores this murder.

Gayle Brunelle

Our second new project looks at the Cagoule/MSR anti-Semitic agenda. As the most extreme of the right-wing political groups, Deloncle and his crew espoused a fervent hatred of Jews and organized raids on Jewish apartments in Paris. On October 2-3, 1941, Deloncle and six other MSR agents bombed six Jewish synagogues in Paris and attempted to bomb a seventh. To date, very little attention has been given to this event, and our book not only exposes the perpetrators of these crimes, but considers the significance of the events to the Jewish community and to France’s betrayal of democratic ideals and participation in the Holocaust. Our book is called: Betrayal: Bombing Synagogues on the Streets of Paris, Igniting the French Holocaust.

Gayle Brunelle

The best part of our collaboration is our enduring friendship. We have been friends for over thirty years, and while it is a friendship born of creativity and scholarship, we’ve also had an awful lot of fun throughout the years. We are very much “sisters” in the exploration of historical crime!

Gayle and Annette, Harvard