François-Eugène Vidocq was the first official detective in the Western world. Having led the life of a vagabond, strolling actor, soldier, robber, gambler, dealer in illicit goods, and convict, he offered his services to the préfect of the brigade of the Sûreté in 1809. Hired as a police spy, he became by 1811 the chief of the detective bureau of the Sûreté that he had organized. Phenomenally successful in his investigations, by the time Mémoires de Vidocq, chef de la police de Sûreté jusqu’en 1827 (1828-1829; Memoirs of Vidocq, Principal Agent of the French Police Until 1827, 1828-1829) appeared, he had become a legend not only in France but also in England and Germany. His fame spread to the United States. An American edition of his memoirs was published simultaneously in Philadelphia and Baltimore in 1834. Excerpts from the memoirs ran from September to December, 1838, in Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine, a Philadelphia periodical.
Vidocq’s memoirs proved an important stimulus to the development of detective and mystery fiction. They inspired the American writer Edgar Allan Poe to become the “father of the detective story”; it is no accident that Poe set the first bona fide story of this genre, “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” in Paris. In this story, Poe refers to Vidocq as “a good guesser” but one who “impaired his vision by holding the object too close.” Poe’s detective hero C. Auguste...
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