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The Brothers Boubichon (French: Les Freres Boubichon), which has also been published under the name The Viscount Boubichon, is a classic French novel by Seymour Arens, originally published in 1867 after Arens had travelled in Canada, America and the Middle East for four years. The book, while not as praised for its prosaic quality as The Marshal (1856) or The Son (1860), was one of the bestselling novels of all time and was written in prose understandable by any average, literate citizen of the Empire, and was translated into six languages shortly after its publication.
The Brothers Boubichon is also cited as a forerunner to the thriller genre, and was famous for its numerous plot twists and shocking character developments. After reading the book, French Minister of State Renaud de Magreland admitted that he was "thoroughly confused in the best of ways" and that he thought the book warranted a second read. The structure is partially nonchronological and some parts of the plotting are intentionally vague; the novel pioneered the tactic of fooling the audience as a plot device, which was later utilized by writers who cited the novel as a serious inspiration for them, including Klaus Stecht, Samuel Mould, Roger Kelley, and Nicolas Bryan.
The novel is divided into six individual parts, which are presented out of chronological order. Between each part is an excerpt from the diary of Signor Marianova, which details his travels from Montreal to Havana over the course of six months and his business transactions in North America.
The parts, presented chronologically (with note in which order they are presented in the novel):
A merchant discusses his travels in America and Canada with a group of sailors aboard a boat named the Bellerophon, which it is eventually revealed that the merchant, a Signor Marianova, owns - one of three vessels that he owns as part of a small company.
The Bellerophon arrives in Algiers and Marianova spends a few days taking care of various business matters concerning his company, primarily with an Arabic banker named Selim. Marianova also inquires into the matters of the estate of a certain Viscount Boubichon - Selim assures Marianova that the assets in Algiers are secure, but that numerous withdrawals had been requested by courier over the past few years.
Marianova wraps up his shipping business, including a boat bound for New York, and sets sail aboard Bellerophon to Marseille. Upon arrival, he goes about making his presence felt, setting up an account with a local bank and commenting that he has not been in Marseille for twelve years. He inquires into the affairs of the Boubichons again, and is told that the current Viscount, Alexander, has not been seen or heard of for several weeks, due to a trip to Geneva. Marianova makes more inquiries around Marseille and learns that the Viscount had an interesting relationship with a Russian banker known only as Vladimir and apparently was engaged in some form of business venture in Paris and Geneva.
Marianova arranges for a trip to a chalet in the Alps which the Viscount apparently purchased years before. He arrives at the chalet after travelling with a talkative monk and enters it, apparently relieved to conduct the business at hand.
Letters For Gabrielle (4)
Two realtors discuss the recent purchasing of lucrative Parisian property by the Viscount Boubichon, who is recently returned from Geneva refreshed and ready to expand the company of an Italian named Marianova as a legitimate trade brokerage house. Both realtors are excited to buy stock in the new company and are surprised when the Viscount enters the office himself and announces he intends to buy out the company both realtors work for, and that he also wants to keep both of them on as part of his new staff.
The Parisian elite is enamored with the new Viscount who is appearing at every party and cleverly insulting almost everyone of high position in the local business world. An elderly banker by the name of Peter Molacore invites Boubichon to form a special partnership with him and extends him an exceptionally generous line of credit.
Boubichon begins a playful romance with the daughter of the Count George DuBois, Gabrielle. The Viscount DuBois is a member of the House of Peers and is wary of Boubichon's intentions and sudden influx of cash. DuBois challenges Boubichon in front of an entire party when Gabrielle is dancing with him and demands that he produce evidence that his money was acquired by legal means. Boubichon angrily responds that his brother Robert started a company with a man named Marianova in Montreal and that after passing away recently, Marianova personally decided to bring Robert's share of the company's wealth back to France to fulfill the passed brother's will.
The Viscount (2)
Signor Marianova personally signs over a hefty sum to Molacore in trust, but declines an extension of credit such as the one given Boubichon. Molacore, suspicious, orders Marianova followed by Yves, his confidant. Marianova, after a surreal meeting with a man named Vladimir on the coast, eventually winds up sailing to London and Yves elects not to follow him.
Boubichon continues to court Gabrielle, and while at an upscale ball at her father's manor, he breaks into his office and from various paperwork discerns that DuBois has been leading an investigation into the affairs of Molacore and a German banker named Heinrich Goessler. Boubichon also discovers that DuBois has warranted an investigation into his own affairs by a detective agency several months prior.
Boubichon travels to Berlin to meet with Goessler, who it turns out is scamming his clients out of thousands of francs and sending the money to London, where it winds up safely in the hands of a soliciter by the name of Joachim Keyes, who represents the English branch of Molacore's bank. After being invited to the opera in Berlin, Boubichon sees DuBois and Vladimir (who is unidentified at this point) meeting in a lower box. As he leaves the opera, he is attacked by two men and he manages to fight them off and kill one of them. He pins the other one and demands to know who is after him. The man, from the detective agency, admits that he and DuBois followed Boubichon to Berlin to capture and kill him, due to the threat he poses to DuBois.
The English Solicitor (1)
In the briefest part of the novel, Marianova travels, apparently at the behest of Boubichon, to the offices of Joachim Keyes. The solicitor is an abrasive and crude man who greedily agrees to buy a large share in Marianova's company to represent it in England. Marianova hints that his ship, Bellerophon will be arriving soon in Portsmouth carrying American silver. Keyes meets with a group of thugs at a local pub and they agree to loot the Bellerophon.
The hired hands are systematically killed off aboard the ship by Marianova, who reveals to the last survivor that the ship was empty. The survivor runs to Keyes to alert him that it was all a trap.
Boubichon arrives in London not much later and immediately withdraws all his money with Molacore instantaneously, reneging on his credit. Keyes loses hundreds of thousands in pounds after Boubichon demands his currency in hard form. Keyes pleads for Boubichon to forgive the insult to his friend Marianova and Boubichon reluctantly agrees, stipulating that he must instead give him information on the man known as Vladimir and his relationship with DuBois.
The Brothers Boubichon (5)
Boubichon continues his elevation into the upper strata of Parisian society, despite his roots in Marseille. He brings Gabrielle to Nice for a week during the summer, and they consummate passionately despite not being betrothed. Gabrielle warns Boubichon that her father has a violent nature and covets upward mobility in the House of Peers, hoping to eventually become State Minister - however, he has neither the political nor economic capital to make such a move as of yet.
Boubichon returns to Paris and confronts Molacore, furious over being scammed. Molacore, by now aware that Keyes was manipulated, confesses that he was running a complicated money laundering scheme with Goessler to England and that DuBois wants to personally crack down on the banking con in order to earn respect in the House of Peers. Vladimir is a Russian banker who is plotting to rig a credit crisis to force a flow of easy cash across the Empire, but requires access to overseas shipping first - in other words, Marianova's company.
Boubichon hunts down DuBois and brutally murders him, which Gabrielle witnesses. When she demands to know why, Boubichon replies that he sought revenge for the murder of his own brother, of which DuBois had apparently been responsible.
Molacore is arrested for fraud and admits to his crimes. Boubichon asks Gabrielle if she would ever consider marriage to the man who killed her father, admitting that he has fallen in love with her. She answers that if he can take revenge upon her father, then it is only fair that she do the same to him, but that she will wait until Robert Boubichon is avenged.
Boubichon closes up his affairs in Paris, now finished hunting down DuBois. He considers the fact that he should not have fallen for Gabrielle when he was initially using her to gain information on her father. Boubichon then laughs and convinces himself that he has no time for women and that in time he will find the next one. He quickly proceeds to sell off his properties in Paris and buys a train ticket to Moscow.
Boubichon arrives in Moscow a week later and spends time looking for Vladimir Roskov. He breaks into Roskov's home at night and confronts the banker, who whispers, "How can you still be alive?" Boubichon shoots him in the stomach and demands to know why he killed his brother. Vladimir explains that Alexander, not Robert, had gotten involved in his money scheme due to his naivitee and had to be killed. The Russian whispers with a chuckle, "Twins..." before Boubichon smiles and nods. He also pulls out a false beard from his pocket and tosses it into the crackling fireplace, saying, "Signor Marianova sends his regards," thus suggesting that the persona of the Italian Marianova was also an alias. The novel ends with a man, likely Boubichon/Marianova, travelling by sea to Algiers aboard an unnamed vessel, staring out to sea calmly.
(The Diary of Signor Marianova)
Brief excerpts throughout the novel from Marianova's diary detail his travel's through America and Canada, and discuss his business transactions, many of which are referenced in the actual narrative of the novel in dealings with Molacore and Keyes.