Places: Monsieur Lecoq

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1869 (English translation, 1879)

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Detective and mystery

Time of work: Nineteenth century

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Paris

*Paris. Monsieur LecoqAlthough the French capital is the country’s political, cultural, and artistic center, none of these attributes appears to matter in Monsieur Lecoq, except insofar as they contribute to the quest for justice, or, more likely, to crime. The only time that one of Paris’s famous cathedrals appears is when its bell wakes Lecoq; the only allusion to the city’s arts is made when Lecoq visits theaters investigating the identity of a man suspected of a triple homicide. Likewise, no private or public Parisian venue exists except as it relates to the investigation. Émile Gaboriau, who worked in Paris as a journalist, describes the living quarters of the very rich and the very poor; crime and justice are all that unite them. This is emphasized when Lecoq visits the morgue, which many Parisians of the period visited for entertainment.

A great deal of Lecoq’s expertise is his knowledge of Paris. There, Gaboriau draws on his own knowledge of the city, learned as a journalist. This knowledge extends beyond the official maps of the city; Lecoq trails his murder suspects out of a garden and into the unmarked wasteland beyond; he can track suspects even down unnamed streets.

Locales outside Paris are important primarily as they influence Paris, symbolizing European anxiety over a shifting sense of place in the nineteenth century. Some places produce known characters, such as a coachman who volunteers his help in the investigation in part because he is a Breton. However, unnamed places are threats. When the murder suspect May tells of being found as an infant by the side of the road, Lecoq is at a loss as to know his character.


Poivriere (pwah-vree-ehr). Fictional Parisian saloon in which the murder occurs. The saloon takes its name from the fact that it is a place where men get “peppered” (drunk). While Lecoq studies the saloon in sufficient detail to draw it as part of his police report, the only descriptions given are those that contribute to his investigation, such as knowing the sight lines between levels. Because the saloon represents any lower-class public meeting house, the crime itself could have been committed anywhere.

Palais de Justice

Palais de Justice. Official building housing judges. Lecoq’s investigation divides into three interwoven approaches. First, information gathering happens throughout Paris. The bulk of the novel follows Lecoq through its streets. Second, that information is sorted at the Palais de Justice, where the magistrate (or judge of instruction) responsible for rendering a verdict in the case has his offices. The Palais is described in enough detail to seem threatening, but the description is still sketchy. Gaboriau keeps the focus on the judge’s interrogation of suspects and witnesses. When Lecoq fails to obtain justice through his work at the official Palais, he visits its symbolic counterpart: the home of Papa Tarabet, a consulting amateur detective who prefigures Sherlock Holmes in his use of logic.


Prison. Parisian jail in which Lecoq takes a cell next to the suspect May’s in order to observe him in secret, thereby undertaking the third approach to his investigation: observation. Like the novel’s descriptions of the morgue, descriptions of the prison demonstrate the novel’s link to the nineteenth century sensational novel. However, the act of observing the prisoner is a necessary step in confirming his guilt. Like Lecoq’s ultimate failure to convict May, the inability of the officials to keep criminals from communicating symbolizes modern society’s inability to keep any place safe from crime and corruption. Likewise, May’s refusal to drop his guard in his cell gestures toward an erosion of the belief in a private space; May, and perhaps readers, must treat all places as public.

BibliographyMandel, Ernest. Delightful Murder: A Social History of the Crime Story. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984. Monsieur Lecoq, among other detective and mystery novels, is analyzed as a social commentary. The novel is explored as a statement on the society during which the book was written.Murch, A. E. The Development of the Detective Novel. New York: Kennikat Press, 1968. Explores the influence Monsieur Lecoq had on the detective novel genre. Contains an analysis of Lecoq as a character.Symons, Julian. Bloody Murder: From the Detective Story to the Crime Novel. Winchester, Mass.: Faber and Faber, 1972. Monsieur Lecoq is analyzed in this work as an exemplary and influential detective novel. Places Monsieur Lecoq within the tradition and development of the detective and mystery novel.Thomson, H. Douglas. Masters of Mystery: A Study of the Detective Story. London: Folcroft, 1969. Explores Monsieur Lecoq as an influential work. Contains a detailed analysis of the structure and characterizations in the novel.Wright, Willard Huntington. “The Great Detective Stories.” In The Art of the Mystery Story: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Howard Haycraft. New York: Biblo and Tannen, 1946. Contains an analysis of Monsieur Lecoq as he develops in the novel. Monsieur Lecoq is compared to other great mystery characters.
Categories: Places