Émile Gaboriau’s grandfathers were lawyers, and his father was a district superintendent of the property registry who repeatedly moved with his family around the southern and central provinces of France in the largely unfulfilled hope of advancement. The young Gaboriau was not a gifted pupil at school, but he was a voracious reader. He briefly became a lawyer’s clerk but always wanted to practice journalism and literature; after a short interlude in the cavalry, he was bought out and went to Paris. There, moving from address to address, he eked out a miserable existence by engaging in journalism of many kinds for numerous periodicals, writing poetry, and collaborating in theatrical ventures. Gradually, his circumstances improved, and he became a respected social and political commentator.
Gaboriau began also to write serialized stories to the popular taste, in many of which he made use of his own experiences and which eventually included detective stories. Lecoq first appeared in print in a moribund journal in 1865, but his adventures were soon transferred to much more successful journals, and the invention of this character made Gaboriau famous. Unfortunately, he had been plagued by illness since the 1860’s and his new affluence was but little compensation, save that he was able to abandon much of his purely journalistic work and concentrate on literature.
In 1870, Gaboriau was mobilized to fight in the Franco-Prussian War, and his letters and journal give a vivid account of the despair of a patriotic Frenchman, the incompetence of his superiors, and the misery of Paris during the siege that followed. Between 1861 and 1873, he published a score of works, including detective fiction, sensational historical novels, and collections of anecdotes. In 1873, ailing and exhausted, he married Amélie Rogelet, his nurse and intimate companion for more than a decade, and died two months later. After his death, his publisher issued in book form a number of other works that in his lifetime had appeared only as serials.