37. Sherlock Holmes

It is said, “Set a thief to catch a thief”. The best legendary example to this statement is the life of a convict turned detective, Eugene Vidocq. Yes! He was a criminal turned to a police chief!

A Frenchman and an ex-criminal, Vidocq, utilized his first hand knowledge of the underworld, to create a whole newly formalized “Criminal Investigation”. He made crime fighting a highly organized social science. His rare achievements are being used widely even today, while he himself has been pushed into obscurity most ungraciously!

Some of his novel ideas included introduction of record keeping, Criminalistics and the Science of ballistics into the police work. He introduced the system of making plaster-of- Paris casts of the foot and shoe impressions, to be used in the investigation.

He was a master of disguise and surveillance. He was an inventor too. He held the patents on the indelible ink and unalterable bond paper. He was the founder of the first modern Detective Agency. He was the first ever bona fide private eye!

The success of Vidocq inspired the world class authors so much that, they borrowed some of his brilliance, to add credibility to their own fictional heroes. Sir Canon Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes was based on Vidocq. In Hugo’s Les Miserable, both Jean Val Jean and the inspector were based on Vidocq.

Vidocq was a philanthropist helping the poor, wretched and the abandoned dwellers of Paris. He hunted the guilty and freed the innocent. Conventional people who lacked his sheer love of life, condemned him.

Vidocq was a fugitive, an under cover agent, a private investigator, an author, an inventor, an actor, a master of disguise, a humanitarian and a philanthropist all rolled into one.

Indeed Vidocq was a very unusual man with many rare talents. While Sherlock Holmes based on Vidocq has earned world wide popularity, he himself has been unduly pushed into obscurity!

Visalakshi Ramani


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