Émile Gaboriau Analysis


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Some writers claim that Émile Gaboriau was the author of the first detective novel. That is too simple, but he was certainly a pioneer in four respects. First, his novels fuse the short, tightly constructed, intellectually satisfying account of a mystery and its solution, practiced by Edgar Allan Poe, and the long, episodic, and sensational stories enjoyed by the French newspaper-reading public of the 1860’s. Second, Gaboriau was the first to introduce convincing false trails for the reader (and the police) to follow, and he provided ingenious variations of this device in later novels. Third, and perhaps most important, Gaboriau rehabilitated the official detective in fiction: Lecoq differs from his predecessors in being neither an incompetent against whose efforts those of a gifted amateur are contrasted nor a sinister agent of a repressive regime. Finally, Gaboriau gives authentic insights into judicial interrogations, police procedures, and scientific methods leading to the detection of crime. Despite the sensational episodes, gruesome scenes, and accounts of deductive reasoning and police activities, his novels reveal contemporary social conditions and attitudes and bear comparison with the work of the acknowledged masters of the realist and naturalist novels of the day.


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Bell, A. Craig. “The Rise and Fall of the Detective Novel.” Contemporary Review 272 (April, 1998): 196-200. Traces the development of the detective genre, giving brief mention to Gaboriau.

Bonniot, Roger. Émile Gaboriau: Ou, La Naissance du roman policier. Paris: J. Vrin, 1985. A meticulous critical biography in French.

Murch, A. E. The Development of the Detective Novel. 1958. Reprint. New York: Philosophical Library, 1968. Gaboriau’s importance as the father of the detective novel is discussed; considers Gaboriau’s police-officer hero as well as his plot structure and themes.

Panek, LeRoy Lad. An Introduction to the Detective Story. Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green University Popular Press, 1987. This history of the detective story and how it developed contains a chapter on Gaboriau.

Roth, Marty. Foul and Fair Play: Reading Genre in Classic Detective Fiction. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1995. A poststructural analysis of the conventions of mystery and detective fiction. Examines 138 short stories and works from the 1840’s to the 1960’s. Helps place Gaboriau within the context of the genre.

Sayers, Dorothy L. Les Origines du Roman Policier: A Wartime Wireless Talk to the French. Translated by Suzanne Bray. Hurstpierpoint, West Sussex, England: Dorothy L. Sayers Society, 2003. Address to the French by the famous English mystery author, discussing the history of French detective fiction and its relation to the English version of the genre. Provides perspective for understanding Gaboriau.

Scaggs, John. Crime Fiction. New York: Routledge, 2005. Contains discussion of Gaboriau’s novels.

Symons, Julian. Bloody Murder: From the Detective Story to the Crime Novel—A History. 3d ed. New York: Mysterious Press, 1993. Provides a lucid presentation of Gaboriau’s many contributions to the genre and of his influence on future practitioners.