Detection Series in France in the 1920’s


In France, the 1920’s saw  a decisive evolution in the critical recognition of the crime genre (with, notably, the 1929 publication of Régis Messac’s thesis on the detective novel)  and in the organisation of the publishing industry towards the promotion of crime fiction. The most notable series created at the time was certainly the perennial “Le Masque”. It was by no means the only significant one.  Neither was it the first. Here are a few landmarks

 Les Chefs-d’œuvre du roman feuilleton, Gallimard, 1925-1929

Directed by Jean Sorgues, illustrated by Bécan, this Gallimard Series shows the progressive dominance of Crime Fiction within the market of entertainment literature. While the first novels published there reflect a variety of popular genres, the subsequent are mostly linked with a Crime fiction narrative.  Such as :René Girardet,    L’Etrange M. de Lorgemont, Les Chefs-d’oeuvre du roman-feuilleton, Gallimard, 1927. Or Jean Fournier,   Higgins and C°, détective, Les Chefs-d’oeuvre du roman-feuilleton, Gallimard, 1928. A.E.W. Mason (Le Reflet dans la nuit, 1928), Gustave Le Rouge, H.J. Magog and S.S. Van Dine were equally published there. The series later morphed into ” Les Chefs-d’oeuvre du roman d’aventures”,  where Dashiell Hammett was first published in France.

Masque pourpre

Jean d’ Hourec, La Fille au masque pourpre, Chefs-d’œuvre du roman feuilleton, Gallimard, 1925

The   Ferenczi’s Series  “Le Petit roman policier” (Second series, 1926- 1927)
Starting in  1926, this series consists of 39 booklets In-16. The format was 18 x 12,5 cm and the cost of the 32 pages novels  was 50 centimes.The covers were illustrated by  Gil Baer (aka Gilles Berr, 1863-1931).  Georges  Simenon published   in this series in 1926, under the Pseudonym of Christian Brulls what is considered his first venture into the detective genre : Nox l’insaisissable (see below).

The Series « Le Masque » (Librairie des Champs-Élysées, 1927-2012)

« Le Masque » (“Mask”) is one of the most successful and longest crime series worldwide, with 2540 titles published. While not  the first series devoted to detective novels in France, it was  a landmark in the publishing industry. Launched in 1927 by Albert Pigasse, founder in 1925 of the Librairie des Champs-Élysées it soon acquired iconic status.  Its first publication was Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. Pigasse acquired Christie’s exclusive rights in France. But among other mainstay household authors were Dorothy Sayers, R. Austin Freeman, John Dickson Carr.


Valentin Williams, Le Trois de trèfle (The Three of Clubs), 1927

The Series Les Chefs-d’œuvre du roman d’aventures (Librairie Gallimard, 1928- 1934)

 This prestigious “collection” (Publisher Series) predates the influential Série Noire, launched after W.W.2 with the same publisher,  the Librairie Gallimard in Paris.  International bestsellers of the crime genre, comprising Classics of mystery and detection novel (Austin Freeman) ,thrillers (E. Wallace)  and authors representative of the “golden age” of crime fiction (Van Dine) were  published here together with illustrious French heirs to the 19th Century’s Serials (Le Rouge). This is also were the first French translations of Hammett’s Glass Key and the Dain Curse were published.


Dashiell Hammett, La Clé de verre,  translation P.J. Herr, Gallimard, 1932


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