A short note on the the French term ‘roman policier’ and its examples

The French term ‘roman policier’ refers to a detective story and novel about crime. It is generally agreed that the first practitioner was Emile Gaboriau (1832-73). Gaboriau was ahead of his time, for he created a policeman as his detective, namely Lecoq. He also had an amateur sleuth in the shape of an old pawnbroker, Père Tabaret, called ‘Tir auclair’. Gaboriau’s long-term influence on British and American writers of detective fiction was considerable, and in some ways, he was the first to see the possibilities of the police procedural, which was not to be fully developed until the 1950s. His Le Crime d’Orcival (1867) was the first full-length detective novel. Then he wrote Le Dossier no. 113 (1867), L’Affair Lerouge (1868) and Monsieur Lecoq (1869), and Les Esclaves de Paris (1869).

Later, Fortuné du Boisgobey wrote stories similar to Gaboriau’s, the most notable being his Le Crime de l’Opéra (1880). Another famous crime novelist of that era was Gaston Leroux (1868-1927), who wrote over thirty crime novels and is chiefly remembered for Le Mystère de la chambre jaune (1907). Better known now than those is Maurice Leblanc.

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The detective story was well established in Britain by 1900 and it was beginning to proliferate in the first ten years of the 20th c. Sherlock Holmes was a household name. Leblanc followed English practice in creating his detective as the hero. Some of his most memorable stories are Arsène Lupin (1907), Arsène Lupin contre Sherlock Holmes (1908) and Arsène Lupin, gentleman cabrioleur (1914). Later there was Sébastien Japrisot (1931- ), a prolific writer of ingenious crime novels, many of which have been filmed. More recently Yves Jacquemard (1943-) and Jean Michel Senecal (1943-) have collaborated in crime novels.

Easily the most famous writer of the policier is Georges Simenon (1903-90), whose detective inspector Jules Maigret has become universally famous, almost as famous as Sherlock Holmes himself. The Maigret novels were written between 1931 and 1973. Simenon also wrote a large number of crime novels in which there is no particular hero.

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