The final volume of a special collection of the complete Lecoq stories
Monsieur Lecoq is one of the earliest fictional detectives and his success with the reading public undoubtedly influenced Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in the creation of his more renowned fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes. Lecoq, who was based on the actual former criminal turned police officer, Eugene Vidocq, was the creation of Emile Gaboriau (1832-73), a French author who had tried his hand at several genres before he became a pioneer of ‘detective fiction’. ‘The Lerouge Case’ (1866) catapulted him to almost instantaneous fame. His reputation secured, more Lecoq stories followed and earned Gaboriau a substantial international readership, though this was diminished by the arrival of the Sherlock Holmes stories. Nevertheless, Gaboriau continued to write crime novels and enjoyed considerable success especially in France until his untimely death (aged just 40 years) from pulmonary apoplexy. In common with the life of the character upon whom he is based, Lecoq has a dark side to his personality which contrasts sharply with the usual unambiguously moral personalities of most of the great detectives in this genre. He has, however, the obligatory foil in the person of Taberet, an ‘armchair detective’ who acts as mentor to Lecoq and provides intellectual assistance to solve crimes without leaving his own bed. Unlike Holmes, Lecoq is not a private detective but an officer of the French Surete or La SureteNationale which initially served as the detective branch of the Paris police force and was in fact created in 1812 by Vidocq who was its director until 1827. This Leonaur collection brings together all the Lecoq cases into one four volume edition for modern readers to enjoy. In volume four readers will discover, ‘Monsieur Lecoq’ and ‘The Honour of the Name’.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
Near them, on the quay, was a large pile of timber, behind which Father Absinthe immediately concealed himself, while Lecoq, seizing a spade that was lying idle, hurried to a little distance and began digging in the sand. They did well to make haste. The van came onward and turned the corner. It passed the two detectives, and with a noisy clang rolled under the heavy arch leading to “la Souriciere.” May was inside, as Lecoq assured himself on recognising the keeper sitting beside the driver.
The van remained in the courtyard for more than a quarter of an hour. When it reappeared, the driver had left his perch and the quay opposite the Palais de Justice, threw a covering over his horses, lighted his pipe, and quietly walked away. The moment for action was now swiftly approaching.
For a few minutes the anxiety of the two watchers amounted to actual agony; nothing stirred—nothing moved. But at last the door of the van was opened with infinite caution, and a pale, frightened face became visible. It was the face of May. The prisoner cast a rapid glance around him. No one was in sight. Then as swiftly and as stealthily as a cat he sprang to the ground, noiselessly closed the door of the vehicle, and walked quietly toward the bridge.
Lecoq breathed again. He had been asking himself if some trifling circumstance could have been forgotten or neglected, thus disarranging all his plans. He had been wondering if this strange man would refuse the dangerous liberty which had been offered him. But he had been anxious without cause. May had fled; not thoughtlessly, but with premeditation.
From the moment when he was left alone, apparently forgotten, in the insecurely locked compartment, until he opened the door and glanced around him, sufficient time had elapsed for a man of his intellect and discernment to analyse and calculate all the chances of so grave a step. Hence, if he had stepped into the snare laid for him, it must be with a full knowledge of the risks he had to run. He and Lecoq were alone together, free in the streets of Paris, armed with mutual distrust, equally obliged to resort to strategy, and forced to hide from each other. Lecoq, it is true, had an auxiliary—Father Absinthe. But who could say that May would not be aided by his redoubtable accomplice? Hence, it was a veritable duel, the result of which depended entirely upon the courage, skill, and coolness of the antagonists.
All these thoughts flashed through the young detective’s brain with the quickness of lightning. Throwing down his spade, and running toward a sergeant de ville, who was just coming out of the Palais de Justice, he gave him a letter which was ready in his pocket. “Take this to M. Segmuller at once; it is a matter of importance,” said he.
The policeman attempted to question this “loafer” who was in correspondence with the magistrates; but Lecoq had already darted off on the prisoner’s trail.
May had covered but a short distance. He was sauntering along with his hands in his pockets; his head high in the air, his manner composed and full of assurance. Had he reflected that it would be dangerous to run while so near the prison from which he had just escaped? Or was he of opinion that as an opportunity of flight had been willingly furnished him, there was no danger of immediate re-arrest? This was a point Lecoq could not decide. At all events, May showed no signs of quickening his pace even after crossing the bridge; and it was with the same tranquil manner that he next crossed the Quai aux Fleurs and turned into the Rue de la Cite.
Nothing in his bearing or appearance proclaimed him to be an escaped prisoner. Since his trunk—that famous trunk which he pretended to have left at the Hotel de Mariembourg—had been returned to him, he had been well supplied with clothing: and he never failed, when summoned before the magistrate, to array himself in his best apparel. The garments he wore that day were black cloth, and their cut, combined with his manner, gave him the appearance of a working man of the better class taking a holiday.
His tread, hitherto firm and decided, suddenly became uncertain when, after crossing the Seine, he reached the Rue St. Jacques. He walked more slowly, frequently hesitated, and glanced continually at the shops on either side of the way.
“Evidently he is seeking something,” thought Lecoq: “but what?”
It was not long before he ascertained. Seeing a second-hand-clothes shop close by, May entered in evident haste. Lecoq at once stationed himself under a gateway on the opposite side of the street, and pretended to be busily engaged lighting a cigarette. The criminal being momentarily out of sight, Father Absinthe thought he could approach without danger.