I’m heading to France momentarily and have been reading a lot of French-themed books. At the height of my crime fascination I picked up this memoir by famed criminal turned informer turned police chief, Francois Eugène Vidocq. It’s sat on the shelf for over 2 years, perhaps due to my reluctance to read a memoir of the late 18th/early 19th century.
I finally picked it up and the writing was actually strong. No question that Vidocq was a fascinating chap, and one who could weave a pretty interesting yarn. He tells of a life of crime, and in his case the ability to be one of the top escape artists. The man could master a jailbreak. Eventually, Vidocq goes straight, becomes a police informer, and is such a skilled detective he becomes Chief of the Paris Sûreté. The book is definitely an interesting look at the back alleys and low-lifes from a different era.
All of that said, the book definitely drags on. The books biggest problem is that it reads more like a series of anecdotes and episodes rather than a memoir with a conventional arc. Vidocq is a transformed man by the end, but you never really feel that transformation. It happens as a matter of course. The book just bulldozers on with one anecdote following the other. After awhile, no episode seems more important than the next. A hundred pages shorter and I would have loved it, but at its length, I was kind of waiting to be done with it. And I imagine I could have just stopped reading it and not missed a thing.
So there you have it. Some good. Some bad. Absolutely fascinating. Mildly longwinded.