Monsieur Lecoq - Émile Gaboriau Find the ebook here at Gutenberg.Wikipedia links: author Émile Gaboriau, and his fictional detective Lecoq (in five novels and one short story.)How did I bump into this book? I read a reference somewhere citing Lecoq as one of the early detectives in literature, comparing him to Sherlock Holmes. That was enough to make me want to read more. This particular book was published in 1869 and the first Sherlock Holmes story came out in 1887 - but the two detectives are far from carbon copies. There's a lot that's similar to compare because both are concerned with criminal investigations using the technology of their times, though each detective has a unique ability to think through a crime scene. Lecoq is definitely a different sort of character than Homes. For instance, Lecoq is not the unemotional type - he frequently is not only eager and impatient, but also wrong. He has to work to keep from showing how excited or emotional he is about certain things, and the reader is let in on these feelings. In this Lecoq seems a lot more human than Holmes, but then the mainly unemotional (on the surface), always acting-with-restraint character was seen as a very English thing. Not to mention that, since we see everything from Watson's perspective, we end up knowing all about Watson's emotions and much less about Holmes'.There's also the fact that Lecoq takes up the profession because he's an orphan and thus needs to work for a living, and the fact that he's wrong more than once, that also make him quite different than Holmes.This story is heavy on the details, like any police procedural, but for the modern reader it's especially interesting because of the time period. I've tossed in several quotes below to give you a taste of that as well.The end I did not see coming because I was sure we'd get another scene. So abrupt is the word I'd use, and now I'm wondering what Lecoq's other cases are like. (Those of you who liked all endings neatly tied up with justice always triumphing? Well, you may not be totally satisfied here. But plotwise and for the world that the characters live in? Yeah, the ending works.) I think I enjoyed this so much because there was much about it that reminded me of Holmes - but yet used the same set-ups in different ways. So this was different enough for me to suddenly find myself really enjoying it. And I'm somewhat amazed that the BBC hasn't done a film of this for us to enjoy here on PBS. Perhaps the French have beat them to it and made a better film - I'll need to research that....After that section on the Morgue (see long quote below) I'm really into the idea of the detective novel as something that allows the reader to be ghoulish - to peer at the dead bodies and be terribly ghoulish in savoring the details - at the same time remembering that it's not nice to do so, we're supposed to be politely horrified at all this and avert our eyes. Yeah we're supposed to - but then we look anyway. I think Gaboriau is very aware of this judging by the scenes where he chooses to show such particular, crime-related details. (COPS 1900! CSI Victorian! Now imagining Lecoq wearing shades and slowly removing them...)Quotes:Chapter II, Lecoq prior to his days on the police force:Alone in his garret, after a day of unremitting toil, assailed by the thousand longings of youth, Lecoq endeavored to devise some means of suddenly making himself rich. All reasonable methods being beyond his reach, it was not long before he was engaged in devising the worst expedients. In short, this naturally moral and honest young man spent much of his time in perpetrating—in fancy—the most abominable crimes. Sometimes he himself was frightened by the work of his imagination: for an hour of recklessness might suffice to make him pass from the idea to the fact, from theory to practise. This is the case with all monomaniacs; an hour comes in which the strange conceptions that have filled their brains can be no longer held in check.One day he could not refrain from exposing to his patron a little plan he had conceived, which would enable him to obtain five or six hundred francs from London. Two letters and a telegram were all that was necessary, and the game was won. It was impossible to fail, and there was no danger of arousing suspicion.The astronomer, amazed at the simplicity of the plan, could but admire it. On reflection, however, he concluded that it would not be prudent for him to retain so ingenious a secretary in his service. This was why, on the following day, he gave him a month's pay in advance, and dismissed him, saying: "When one has your disposition, and is poor, one may either become a famous thief or a great detective. Choose."This reminds me of an aside of Watson's somewhere when he considers it's lucky Sherlock Holmes didn't chose a career in crime.Chapter VI, M. Maurice d'Escorval, the investigating magistrate, a man Lecoq wants to impress:He was now about forty-two years of age, but appeared much younger, although a few furrows already crossed his brow. One would have admired his face, had it not been for the puzzling immobility that marred its beauty, the sarcastic curl of his thin lips, and the gloomy expression of his pale-blue eyes. To say that he was cold and grave, did not express the truth, it was saying too little. He was gravity and coldness personified, with a shade of hauteur added.Chapter VI, Lecoq:He literally flew over the ground, and strange to say he no longer experienced any fatigue from the labors of the preceding night. Never had he felt so strong and alert, either in body or mind. He was very hopeful of success. He had every confidence in himself, and his happiness would indeed have been complete if he had had another judge to deal with. But M. d'Escorval overawed him to such a degree that he became almost paralyzed in his presence. With what a disdainful glance the magistrate had surveyed him! With what an imperious tone he had imposed silence upon him—and that, too, when he had found his work deserving of commendation."Still, never mind," the young detective mentally exclaimed, "no one ever tastes perfect happiness here below."Chapter VI, part of a long scene where Lecoq travels along with the prisoners who are transported from the police station to the prefecture, and we see how new prisoners are checked in. Read this and think of similar procedures you've seen/read in other media - much of this is familiar.:The prisoner did not offer the slightest objection when he was ordered to undress, and to exchange his soiled and bloodstained garments for the clothing furnished by the Government. Not a muscle of his face moved while he submitted his person to one of those ignominous examinations which make the blood rush to the forehead of the lowest criminal. It was with perfect indifference that he allowed an inspector to comb his hair and beard, and to examine the inside of his mouth, so as to make sure that he had not concealed either some fragment of glass, by the aid of which captives can sever the strongest bars, or one of those microscopical bits of lead with which prisoners write the notes they exchange, rolled up in a morsel of bread, and called "postilions." Chapter VIII, the Morgue, which I'm quoting a lot of because we know that some of us readers are just as ghoulish as the Parisians, right?:When a mysterious crime has been perpetrated, or a great catastrophe has happened, and the identity of the victims has not been established, "a great day" invariably follows at the Morgue. The attendants are so accustomed to the horrors of the place that the most sickly sight fails to impress them; and even under the most distressing circumstances, they hasten gaily to and fro, exchanging jests well calculated to make an ordinary mortal's flesh creep. As a rule, they are far less interested in the corpses laid out for public view on the marble slabs in the principal hall than in the people of every age and station in life who congregate here all day long; at times coming in search of some lost relative or friend, but far more frequently impelled by idle curiosity. ... The shop and work girls who reside in the neighborhood readily go out of their way to catch a glimpse of the corpses which crime, accident, and suicide bring to this horrible place. A few, the more sensitive among them, may come no further than the door, but the others enter, and after a long stare return and recount their impressions to their less courageous companions.If there should be no corpse exhibited; if all the marble slabs are unoccupied, strange as it may seem, the visitors turn hastily away with an expression of disappointment or discontent. There was no fear of their doing so, however, on the morrow of the tragedy at Poivriere, for the mysterious murderer whose identity Lecoq was trying to establish had furnished three victims for their delectation. Panting with curiosity, they paid but little attention to the unhealthy atmosphere: and yet a damp chill came from beyond the iron railings, while from the crowd itself rose an infectious vapor, impregnated with the stench of the chloride of lime used as a disinfectant.As a continuous accompaniment to the exclamations, sighs, and whispered comments of the bystanders came the murmur of the water trickling from a spigot at the head of each slab; a tiny stream that flowed forth only to fall in fine spray upon the marble. Through the small arched windows a gray light stole in on the exposed bodies, bringing each muscle into bold relief, revealing the ghastly tints of the lifeless flesh, and imparting a sinister aspect to the tattered clothing hung around the room to aid in the identification of the corpses. This clothing, after a certain time, is sold — for nothing is wasted at the Morgue. ...Unable to explain the cause of his comrade's absence, Lecoq addressed himself to the head keeper: "It would seem that no one has recognized the victims," he remarked."No one. And yet, ever since opening, we have had an immense crowd. If I were master here, on days like this, I would charge an admission fee of two sous a head, with half-price for children. It would bring in a round sum, more than enough to cover the expenses."Chapter IX, M. Segmuller, magistrate:Still, the tone of his voice was so paternal, and the subtle purport of his questions so veiled by his seeming frankness, that most of those whom he examined forgot the necessity of protecting themselves, and unawares confessed their guilt. Thus, it frequently happened that while some unsuspecting culprit was complacently congratulating himself upon getting the best of the judge, the poor wretch was really being turned inside out like a glove. Chapter XVIII:So it is with the events of our daily life, however momentous they may appear at the hour of their occurrence. It seems as if their impressions would last for years; but no, they speedily sink into the depths of the past, and time obliterates their passage—just as the water of the lake closes over and hides the stone, for an instant the cause of such commotion.Chapter XIX, Lecoq:A detective who can't equal the most skilful actor in the matter of make-up is no better than an ordinary policeman. I have only practised at it for a twelvemonth, but I can easily make myself look old or young, dark or light, or assume the manner of a man of the world, or of some frightful ruffian of the barrieres.Chapter XXII, see if the description of this detective - "Pere Tirauclair," or "Father Bring-to-Light" - reminds you of anyone:...It came to him one evening after reading the memoirs of a celebrated detective, one of those men of subtle penetration, soft as silk, and supple as steel, whom justice sometimes sets upon the trail of crime."And I also am a detective!" he exclaimed.This, however, he must prove. From that day forward he perused with feverish interest every book he could find that had any connection with the organization of the police service and the investigation of crime. Reports and pamphlets, letters and memoirs, he eagerly turned from one to the other, in his desire to master his subject. Such learning as he might find in books did not suffice, however, to perfect his education. Hence, whenever a crime came to his knowledge he started out in quest of the particulars and worked up the case by himself.Soon these platonic investigations did not suffice, and one evening, at dusk, he summoned all his resolution, and, going on foot to the Prefecture de Police, humbly begged employment from the officials there. He was not very favorably received, for applicants were numerous. But he pleaded his cause so adroitly that at last he was charged with some trifling commissions. He performed them admirably. The great difficulty was then overcome. Other matters were entrusted to him, and he soon displayed a wonderful aptitude for his chosen work.The case of Madame B——, the rich banker's wife, made him virtually famous. Consulted at a moment when the police had abandoned all hope of solving the mystery, he proved by A plus B—by a mathematical deduction, so to speak—that the dear lady must have stolen her own property; and events soon proved that he had told the truth. After this success he was always called upon to advise in obscure and difficult cases.It would be difficult to tell his exact status at the Prefecture. When a person is employed, salary or compensation of some kind is understood, but this strange man had never consented to receive a penny. What he did he did for his own pleasure — for the gratification of a passion which had become his very life. When the funds allowed him for expenses seemed insufficient, he at once opened his private purse; and the men who worked with him never went away without some substantial token of his liberality. Of course, such a man had many enemies. He did as much work—and far better work than any two inspectors of police; and he didn't receive a sou of salary. Hence, in calling him "spoil-trade," his rivals were not far from right.