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Eugène François Vidocq (1775-1857) was a French criminal who became the founder and first director of the crime-detection Sûreté Nationale as well as the head of the first known private detective agency. He is regarded as the father of modern criminology and the French police department. He is also considered to be the first private detective. Vidocq's successes as an investigator inspired many Victorian authors who borrowed his brilliance to embody their fictional heroes.
The character of Sherlock Holmes is based on Vidocq; so are both Jean Valjean and Inspector Javert in Les Miserables. Dickens mentions Vidocq in Great Expectations; Melville cites him in Moby Dick, and Poe refers to Vidocq's methods in The Murders in the Rue Morgue.
As a player in the criminal underworld, Vidocq was a master of disguises and an accomplished thief, eventually turning his unlawful talents toward catching criminals as the first chief of secret police.
Playing both sides of the law, Vidocq's life highlights the blurry line between law enforcement and the criminals they pursue. He has a knack for finding trouble throughout his topsy-turvy life, getting into one hot situation after another, often finding himself behind bars, only to escape the first chance he gets.
In December 1828, Vidocq published his Memoirs, with the help of some ghostwriters. The work became a bestseller and sold over 50,000 copies in the first year. His book takes the reader on a whirlwind tour of France in the immediate aftermath of the Revolution.
Out of print for many years, this new translation of the Memoirs from The Parisian Press reconstructs the text of Vidocq's lengthy book and presents his autobiography in modern English, complete and unabridged.