Viviane Janouin-Benanti

The Devil's Billhook

Version française

The Life of Pierre Rivière

Why did Pierre Rivière, a young farmer living in the French countryside near the city of Caen, kill his mother, his sister, and his little brother?

This book tells the story of his life. In it, Viviane Janouin-Benanti draws us into the depths of a soul seeking infinite love and finding only contempt. With each turn of the page, Pierre’s heart and mind are illuminated.

His obsessions, murderous impulses, mystical inclinations, and descent into madness, are described with an incredible meticulousness. The thoughts and actions of this young farmer, a man hungry for justice, who wanted to be a righter of wrongs, come to life on these pages.


The story of Pierre’s life is described in the context of the 19th-century French society in which he lived, a time when Républicains and Royalists were jockeying for power and secret societies espousing political ideologies were starting to multiply, like the Chevaliers de la Foi, a Catholic ultra-royalist group, and most notably, the Charbonnerie, formed of liberals plotting against the monarchy. With their mysterious rituals and secret meetings, these organizations attracted more and more followers ready to give their lives for their causes.

Author of The Poitiers Affair and Henri Pranzini, Viviane Janouin-Benanti again plunges us into a new world, delving into the mind of a schizophrenic, revealing an enthralling moment in French history, and recounting in detail a spectacular court case.

The young man who dreamt of being God, the "hero" of the devil’s billhook, a person with a phenomenal memory who wrote a brilliant manuscript, Pierre’s story has forever marked French judicial history. Once you finish this book, you will never forget Pierre, its complex and wounded protagonist.

Passionate about true stories, talented novelist and rigorous investigator Viviane Janouin-Benanti brings to life unique characters famous for the most horrific actions in their lives: their crimes.