Émile Gaboriau (1832–1873)

pioneer of detective novels..

Tina S
Tina S
Jun 3, 2010
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Almost all of us like to read detective books. Those are interesting and really exciting. Personally I am a big fan of detective books. Sir Arthur Conan Doyl is the most popular name of the history of detective books which are generally considered a major innovation in the field of crime fiction. 

But before Sir Arthur Conan Doyl another name was popular and he is the pioneer of detective novels. He is Émile Gaboriau, was a French 19th century mystery writer, novelist, and journalist, one of the pioneers of the modern roman policier. 

Gaboriau's first book of the genre, L'Affaire Lerouge (1866) introduced an amateur detective, who works logically. In the same book appeared also a young policeman named Lecoq, the hero in three of Gaboriau's detective novels. Lecoq was based on a real-life thief turned a police, he is a master of disguise and scientific method, and he understands the criminal mind. He wants to find a fair, not necessarily quick, resolution in thewhodunit.

François Vidocq (1775-1857), whose memoirs, Les Vrais Mémoires de Vidocq, mixed fiction and fact. 

In his own time Gaboriau gained a huge popularity, but when Arthur Conan Doyle created Sherlock Holmes, Lecoq's international fame declined.

Émile Gaboriau was born in the small town of Saujon, Charente-Martime, as the son of Charles-Gabriel Gaboriau, a minor public official, and Marguerite-Stéphanie Gaboriau (née Magistrel). Gaboriau studied in Tarasconsur-Rhône at the community secondary school, where he met Alphonse Millaud, whose uncle later published in his daily, Le Soleil, Gaboriau's novels in serialized form. 

After studies at a secondary school in Saumur, he entered the military service in 1851, serving in the Fifth Regiment as a second-class infantryman until the end of 1853. Perhaps following his father's wishes, he apprenticed himself to a notary. However, Gaboriau was more interested in writing, and he published a volume of poetry that went unnoticed.

Gaboriau considered himself a disciple of Edgar Allen Poe, who had created one of the first distinctive detectives, the enigmatic and eccentric C. Auguste Dupin in The Murders in the Rue Morgue.

Like Poe's hero the Chevalier C. Auguste Dupin, Lecoq was a sharp analyst, and he could astonish his companions with his skills. As a detective Lecoq matched Holmes in interpreting the meaning of small details. Lecoq has only to look at the snow-covered ground outside an inn to describe the man who passed by half an hour earlier - he is middle-aged, very tall, wears a shaggy overcoat and is married. 

This did not prevent Sherlock Holmes from describing his French rival as "a miserable bungler" in A Study in Scarlet (1886) "...he had only one thing to recommend him, and that was his energy. That book made me positively ill," Holmes mocked Gaboriau's Monsieur Lecoq (1869). Doyle himself was impressed by the work of Gaboriau, writing in Memories and Adventures (1924), "Gaboriau had rather attracted me by the neat dovetailing of his plots."

Gaboriau concentrated less on the criminal and the crime itself but focused more on the process of detection, gathering, and interpreting evidence. 

He was also a master at creating suspense. His first police detective novel The Widow Lerouge (1866) opens with the murder scene. Thereupon Gaboriau begins to weave the tale and layers of intrigue, using one of the standard tools of police investigation: logical reasoning. 

Possible witnesses are questioned, clues are analyzed, deductions are made and arrests and interrogations ensue. There is usually a moral to the story. File 113 (1867) and The Mystery of Orcival (1868) followed. In the 1860s his works were translated and read in England, Germany, Italy and Japan.

Gaboriau was developing his ideas during a time of great change in the early 19th century. Cities were becoming increasingly dangerous and the evolution of the detective novel surely a reaction to an increase in organized police forces in cities all across Europe. Gaboriau weave an authentic depiction of the criminal milieu while accounting for the social and cultural aspects of nineteenth century Paris and France. Titles following Monsieur Lecoq were: Baron Trigault's Vengeance, (1870) The Count's Millions, (1870) Within an Inch of His Life,(1873) and Other People's Money. (1874)

Lecoq's companion in solving crimes, Pére Tabaret, formerly a pawnbroker's clerk, was the central character in L'Affaire Lerouge, in which Lecoq made only a cameo appearance. It was first published in installments in Le Pays in 1865, and then reprinted in Le Soleil in 1866. In his own time Gaboriau gained a huge popularity, but when Arthur Conan Doyle created Sherlock Holmes, Lecoq's international fame declined.

Gaboriau also published melodramatic mystery stories, historical studies, biographies of famous actresses, and novels examining contemporary way of life in the footsteps of Balzac's La Comédie humaine.

Though now most of Gaboriau's work can only interest the literary historian, the first volume of Monsieur Lecoq is still eminently readable.


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