Thursday, May 8, 2014

"Murder Is an Amateur Crime in England"

Here is a true crime article comparing the methods of Scotland Yard with those of the Sûreté in the heart of the Golden Age of Detection. Brief excerpts:
In France, detectives come directly to the service from the army without any previous police experience, usually have a high educational background, and are impatient of the self-subordination which is the first duty of the Scotland Yard man. They are put through a course of training which begins in a refreshing and rather startling manner with the reading of Gaboriau's works and the Sherlock Holmes stories.
Edgar Allan Poe, by the way, is not rated very high.
"His methods would be useful if detectives were only mindreaders," comments a French writer acidly. But the aphorisms of the great Sherlock have become proverbs in the French service — "You see, but you do not observe" — "No detail is too small to be significant" — "When all other possibilities have been eliminated the one that remains, however improbable, must be correct." And the Sûreté has imitated Holmes' methods in more than one particular . . .
It is only in dealing with murder that the British police obtain really brilliant results, yet here again they are greatly helped by the characteristics of the British criminal. Murder is an amateur crime in England; there are no gangster killings as in America and no rapid-fire knife wielders as in France. Thus when Scotland Yard is confronted with murder, it has an immediate advantage in the almost certain knowledge that the crime is (1) a family matter (murder for insurance or inheritance, crime passionnel), (2) the result of a quarrel among foreigners, or (3) the inadvertent pendant of a robbery. 
— Fletcher Pratt, "Sherlock Holmes vs. Arsène Lupin," THE AMERICAN MERCURY (January 1936)
The Sûreté was founded in 1812 by Eugène François Vidocq, who headed it until 1827. It was the inspiration for Scotland Yard, the FBI, and other departments of criminal investigation throughout the world. 
Vidocq was convinced that crime could not be controlled by then-current police methods, so he organized a special branch of the criminal division modelled on Napoleon's political police. The force was to work undercover and its early members consisted largely of reformed criminals.
By 1820 – eight years after its formation – it had blossomed into a 30-man team of experts that had reduced the crime rate in Paris by 40%.

          Wikipedia ("Sûreté")

- A few fictional French detectives: Henri BencolinJules MaigretMonsieur LecoqJavert, and Inspector Clouseau.

Category: Detective fiction (true crime)

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