My father thrust this book at me several years ago, and for one reason or another, I didn’t read it. I think it is perhaps the title that flustered me, because I have a juvenile mind which caused me to mutter “heh, Monsieur Le Cock” every time I noticed the distinctive blue spine on my shelf. Yesterday, I realized it’s the only book I own that I haven’t read, so I decided it was time to read it.
It’s a mystery, but a long, rambling sort of mystery which is more about the deductive process the detective uses than the actual mystery itself. In the twists and turns of the story, we were led to believe in the title character, and given supporting evidence, but at a certain point, I started drawing my own conclusions, which turned out to be right in the end.
Now, perhaps that was the goal of the book, because Lecoq is supposed to be a fairly new investigator, so it’s not too surprising that readers would start to leap ahead of him. Or perhaps its a failing on Gaboriau’s part to not make the plot a bit more obscure or hard to follow. Either way, it was still interesting to watch Lecoq struggle with facts I already knew, and it was fascinating to see how he sometimes misled and tripped himself.
Lecoq is a bit of a bumbler, but, as the introduction points out, this is kind of the point. In a way, Lecoq set the stage for the modern mystery, and you could consider him an early forerunner of Clouseau, complete with brainless assistant who is flabbergasted by his constant displays of scintillating intelligence. While people might make fun of Lecoq today, he inarguably contributed a great legacy to modern literature, and it’s a legacy that’s still played out in airport bookstores all over the world.
Mystery novels from this era are also just generally entertaining, because they are so delightfully stuffy.
Monsieur Lecoq, by Emile Gaboriau. Published 1908, 278 pages. Fiction.