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A Polite Burglar?

A Gentleman Thief!  Can a man, or woman, do good even while being on the wrong side of the law?  Beginning with a serialized story in the French magazine Je Sais Tout (I Know All) in 1905, Arsene Lupin’s exploits as a burglar with impeccable manners and an amazing ability to wriggle out of trouble were popular from the start. Creator Maurice Leblanc (1864-1941) was educated in several countries and dropped out of law school (good career move, as it turned out), eventually settling in Paris and launching his writing career with short fiction and turning to novels later. His work was critically acclaimed but sold little.  Things began to turn around for Leblanc in 1905 when, likely by request of the editors of Je Sais Tout in response to the ongoing popularity of Sherlock Holmes, he created a kind of anti-Holmes, along the lines of Hornung’s Raffles, featuring the roguish burglar whose crimes were usually perpetrated upon those even less savory than he. But, like Doyle, Leblanc was a bit uneasy with his success in the field of crime fiction, trying to catch lightning in a bottle with other characters, but always returning to Lupin, whose Leblanc-penned adventures continued into the 1940s. Eventually a total of 17 novels featuring the gentleman crook were released by Leblanc along with 24 collections of novellas and/or short stories.

Perhaps inevitably, the young Lupin met the aged Sherlock Holmes in Sherlock Holmes Arrives Too Late (1906) wherein the violin-playing pipe smoker solves the case in short order, only to find that the Frenchman has not only beaten him to the solution, but got away with several valuables.  In a show of respect for Holmes, Lupin leaves a car behind for Holmes’ driving pleasure, as well as the great detective’s pocket watch which the burglar had lifted!  Having temporarily outsmarted Holmes with a disguise, Lupin is shrewd enough to realize that he probably won’t be able to do so again, and in The Blonde Lady (1908), Holmes is called to France to help the authorities locate and retrieve the Blue Diamond, which Lupin has stolen with the help of a blonde accomplice.  This time the Briton bests the Frenchman by personally delivering him to the gendarmes, but again Lupin has the last laugh by escaping from custody and waving farewell to Holmes at the train station.

By this time, A.C. Doyle had registered his dismay at having his creation thus appropriated, and after the first crossover, the character’s name was changed to Herlock Sholmes (and later, Holmlock Shears), names that no one would ever guess came from the famous detective!  Leblanc produced two more Lupin/Holmes (or ‘Sholmes’) novels, The Jewish Lamp (1907) and The Hollow Needle (1909), and continuing to produce Lupin stories until his passing in 1941.

Since then the gentleman burglar and charming rogue has been featured elsewhere, notably in five novels published in the 1970s by the team of Boileau-Narcejac and in a couple of dozen different filmed versions, both for television and theaters.


Have a read of some of the Gentleman Burglar’s adventures:

Includes 'Sherlock Holmes Arrives Too Late,' which is the final chapter.


Gentleman thief Lupin meets Holmlock Shears in a battle of wits for which each man is eminently qualified.


Questions/Comments/Your valuables?


Written by Ian Kern — August 29, 2016

Specializing in Mystery Fiction and all its subgenres, including Detective, Crime, Hardboiled, Thrillers, Espionage, and Suspense.

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