#BookReview: The Memoirs of Detective Vidocq (Illustrated): Convict, Spy and Principal Agent of the French Police

Eugène François Vidocq (1775-1857) was a French criminal who became the founder and first director of the crime-detection Sûreté Nationale as well as the head of the first known private detective agency. Vidocq is widely regarded as the father of modern criminology and of the French police department. He is also considered to be the first private detective. Vidocq’s successes as an investigator inspired many Victorian authors who borrowed his brilliance to embody their fictional heroes. The characters of Sherlock Holmes is very much based on Vidocq; so are both Jean Valjean and Inspector Javert in Les Miserables. Dickens mentions Vidocq in Great Expectations; Melville cites him in Moby Dick; and Poe refers to Vidocq’s methods in Murders in the Rue Morgue.

As a player in the criminal underworld, Vidocq was a master of disguises and an accomplished thief, eventually turning his unlawful talents toward catching criminals as the first chief of secret police. Playing both sides of the law, Vidocq’s life highlights the blurry line between law enforcement and the criminals they pursue. He has a knack for finding trouble throughout his topsy-turvy life, getting into one hot situation after another, often finding himself behind bars, only to escape the first chance he gets. In December 1828, Vidocq published hisMemoirs, with the help of some ghostwriters. The work became a bestseller and sold over 50,000 copies in the first year. His book takes the reader on a whirlwind tour of 1830s France, including the circus stage, pirate ships, prison cells and beautiful women’s boudoirs. Vidocq’s life story is unforgettable and includes some of the best crime stories and juicy tales ever written.

Out of print for many years, this newly revised edition of the Memoirs from Enhanced Classics features a dynamic translation that brings this captivating autobiography to life for modern readers.

“He preferred the tumultuous life of danger to the contentment of security. His story is one long swashbuckling adventure as he breaks out of jails, pursues actresses, duels to the death, raids the hells of criminals and stalks the Paris night in a thousand disguises.”
—Philip John Stead, Vidocq: Picaroon of Crime

Includes image gallery

5.0 out of 5 stars

Reviewed by Thomas Jerome Baker

Author of Story Tellers: In Pursuit of Happiness

I must begin this review by admitting I had no idea who Vidocq was before I read this book. I read with interest, but a healthy dose of cynicism: Vidocq is widely regarded as the father of modern criminology and of the French police department. He is also considered to be the first private detective… OK, so, if he’s worth a read, Wikipedia will surely have something to say about him. Here’s what I found:

Eugène François Vidocq (1775–1857), founder of the French National Police
Vidocq (2001 film), a film starring Gérard Depardieu
Vidocq Society, a crime-solving club in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Vidocq (1938 film), a film with André Brulé

OK, if there is really more than a myth that has grown up around this man, let’s see what the academics have to say about him. So, I turned to Google Scholar, and found: 2690 hits. Where I come from, that number of hits gets you some respect. And then I opened the book, written by himself, and read what the translator of Vidocq’s book had to say:

“Interesting, powerful, astonishing…for the lovers of sensational reading all that the wildest tastes could desire…marvelous…His veracity has never been questioned…” In sum, after reading this book, I can honestly say that the translators were being modest, humble even. This book is absolutely beyond the limits of incredulity. It is much more than that. It is entertaining, engrossingly interesting, and some people will suely find it astonishing.  This book is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Thomas Jerome Baker

Author of Story Tellers: In Pursuit of Happiness

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About profesorbaker

Thomas Baker is the Past-President of TESOL Chile (2010-2011). He enjoys writing about a wide variety of topics. The source and inspiration for his writing comes from his family.
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