Thursday, February 28, 2019

Monsieur Lecoq: Review

Monsieur Lecoq tells the story of murder done in a Paris backstreet barroom. Lecoq's police patrol,
led by Inspector Gevrol, is on their nightly rounds when they hear cries coming from a local bar. Upon investigation, they find two men dead and one dying with their apparent murderer standing with the murder weapon in his hand. Gevrol takes appearances of a barroom brawl at face value and prepares his report appropriately for the judge. But Lecoq has his doubts. He receives permission to investigate on his own--and finds himself in the middle of a story of vengeance and murder tying two wealthy families.

Monsieur Lecoq (1869) by Émile Gaboriau features Lecoq, a young police detective who Sherlock Holmes dismisses as "a miserable bungler." In this particular novel, one can see why Holmes might thave thought so. Despite the fact that this is the fourth (or fifth, depending on which list you pay attention to) Lecoq novel written, it is apparently a prequel and gives us Lecoq's first case. Maybe Holmes had this episode in mind when he spoke so disparagingly. When I read the previous novel File No. 113 in 2012, I was pretty impressed with Lecoq's skills as a detective and his ability to use the art of disguise. I was a bit disappointed with the detective as Gaboriau portrays him here.

He begins the case pretty full of himself. He spots indications and clues that lead him to believe that this is no mere barroom brawl that has resulted in murder--indications that complete escape the notice of his superior officer. When he's given leave to investigate further (and, so the superior officer thinks, waste his time and make a fool of himself), he leads off well--giving the reader a rather thorough performance as the sleuth-hound. He follows footprints in the snow, he picks up bits of brown wool, he describes the murderer's accomplice (whom he proves to have existed through the prints and wool, etc) in great detail just as Holmes would do some years later. It's really quite extraordinary. But he then goes on to commit a few blunders when the principal murderer escapes and he winds up consulting an amateur detective who points out the mistakes he has made and the numerous opportunities he had to follow up clues and solve the mystery. Still, the portion of the story that focuses on Lecoq is interesting and well-done. However, as with my reading of File No. 113, I found the long, drawn-out foray into the historical antecedents for murder quite tedious and, frankly, a bit convoluted. One could wish the Gaboriau had learned the art of succinct story-telling when relaying back-story information. 

Overall: ★★

All Challenges Fulfilled: Just the Facts, Mount TBR Challenge, Calendar of Crime, Alphabet Soup Authors, Cloak & Dagger, Print Only, Strictly Print Challenge, 52 Books in 52 Weeks, European Reading Challenge, Back to the Classics, Outdo Yourself, Mystery Reporter, How Many Books, Medical Examiner,

Feb = story setting
May = Pub month
Nov = author birth month

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