Eugène François Vidocq

c. 1775 – 1857

Engraving of Eugène Vidocq

Engraving by Marie-Gabriel Coignet

Before the Pinkertons or Scotland Yard, before Holmes or Dupin, there was Vidocq. The first full-time formal detective nearly invented the entire detective profession, along the way winning international fame. At various times a soldier, a gambler, and a wanted fugitive, Vidocq was a Napoleonic-era polymath who reinvented himself as a criminal investigator in the early 19th century. In the process, he invented the police detective bureau, the private detective agency, and even the detective adventure story.

His own life was itself as dramatic as any novel, full of romance, disguises, dramatic reverses and memorable clashes with both criminals and the police, who never completely trusted the dashing ex-convict next to whom their efforts appeared plodding and obsolete. Vidocq’s long career was an inspiration for decades of detectives in both fiction and real life.

Read more about Vidocq in Brilliant Deduction, or search the blog.

Public domain portrait of Vidocq, retrieved from Wikimedia Commons.

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