VIDOCQ: A Biography of the World's First Detective by Samuel Edwards

VIDOCQ: A Biography of the World's First Detective

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Ex-con, ex-fugitive, and police spy par excellence, he founded the Surete and, later, the first private detective agency--sixteen years before Pinkerton. He taught the police to keep files on criminals, to wear plain clothes and false moustaches, to analyze handwriting, footprints, and bullet slugs. He inspired Balzac, Hugo, Dumas pere (drinking and wenching cronies), Poe, Conan Doyle, and every ""Edgar""-winner since. With the likes of Francois Eugene Vidocq, a figure daggered and cloaked in mystery, melodrama, and literary associations, a biographer had better be prepared either to strip away the myths or to perpetuate them with panache. Edwards, possessing neither fresh facts nor much literary flair, plods the middle path--sketching in history (Napoleon B. to L. Napoleon), cataloguing no-name mistresses, paraphrasing adventures recounted in Vidocq's ghosted memoirs, languidly speculating on motivations, and spreading a layer of vague skepticism over the whole shebang. This patchwork may be journeyman competent, but even the few excerpts here from Vidocq's ""writings"" and courtroom orations (he was hounded and jailed by the envious police establishment) give a good idea of the period flavors and sheer ballsiness that pass Edwards by. Better to take the wild Memoirs straight--with P. J. Stead's just-the-facts-ma'am 1953 bio as a chaser--than to sort out this readable but unsatisfying compromise.

Pub Date: March 3rd, 1977
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin