Friday, July 15, 2011

Vidocq: Wilder Than Fiction

What I love about the Internet is all the interesting facts and stories I can accidentally stumble onto. As a kid, I used to love flipping through the World Book Encyclopedia. I'm a bibliophile through and through and I love physical, paper books - but you've gotta admit, the Internet essentially renders that family encyclopedia set obsolete, or at least sends it to the nostalgia bin.

The other day I stumbled onto the story of Eugene Francois Vidocq. I'm not going to recount it here, other than to say he was a criminal who ended up founding what became the French national police. He's credited with being the father of modern criminology, undercover work, forensic science, and more. Vidocq is widely regarded to be one of the major inspirations for Sherlock Holmes, and served as a model for other literary detectives as well.

The cool thing about Vidocq is that he was a thoroughgoing criminal and had a lengthy criminal record, including multiple prison terms, by the time he became a detective. His life story is every bit as entertaining as the wildest adventure tale, full of seductions, hair-raising prison escapes, criminal capers, and mysteries worthy of Sherlock or Sam Spade. I couldn't do it justice by trying to paraphrase it, so I'll just direct interested parties to the Wikipedia article on Vidocq. It's long, but it's worth it if you like true-life adventure.

Interestingly, Vidocq was apparently the subject of this French science fiction film, which looks rather cool. I will have to check it out - I'll let you know how it is!

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