Spécial Police

First of 2076 : inaugurating the Special Police Series

Jean Bruce


With thanks to Didier Poiret

This novel by Jean Bruce is the first book published in the famous “Spécial Police” series by Fleuve Noir. It was published in Paris in August 1949 some four years after the launch of the Série Noire by Gallimard, of which it would be a strong competitor, albeit with a different model (publishing French authors rather than Americans in French translations) and targeting a much broader readership. While the Série Noire celebrates its 70th birthday this year, Spécial Police was discontinued in 1987. By then, it had published 2076 novels, from 155 authors. The illustrator of the cover reproduced above was artist Michel Gourdon, who would illustrate some 3000 covers in the series (including re-editions). Gourdon, as the illustrator of all the original covers from the first  (above)  to No 1402, gave the Series its distinctive flair and largely contributed to its success.

Whereabouts unknown

mon ami

Less celebrated than its model (and, in ways, polar opposite), Gallimard’s legendary “Série Noire”, the Fleuve Noir series “Spécial Police” was the most popular of all French crime fiction series. It sold hundreds of millions of books and published a total of 2075 novels. Jean Cocteau was among its admirers. It was, needless to say, largely ignored by critics, academic, literary or otherwise. The books tended to be available at train stations, newsagents, and supermarkets rather than in bookshops. You would not expect to find one in a library. Yet, the series was one of the great matrices of literary imagination in France during the second half of the 20th century. Launched in 1949, it continued to publish until 1987. The majority of its more than 300 authors were either French or francophone, save for one Russian, one (prolific) American, two Germans and a handful of other exceptions. It became an amazing pool of creative talent. How many hundreds more submitted manuscripts? In the twenty-eight years since the series ceased to exist, some of the authors who had been published there have fallen into the most complete obscurity. Very little is known about them, not even their names (many used pseudonyms) or what they did next – or even if they are still alive and writing. Who were and who knew André Goss, Michel Coulmer, Sanz Boto, Mike Cooper and J.M. Valente? Who met Thierry Bataille, and Susan Vialad (or the author publishing under her name), and who remembers them?


André Goss, aka André Gossiaux, Repassez le suaire. Paris, Fleuve Noir, “Spécial Police” n°58 , 1954.

Illustration Michel Gourdon. Continue reading

Punctuating Crime Fiction: a Comparison of 6886 Titles


 (Total number  of titles with exclamation marks, by series)

The following pie charts represent the  varied use of three types of punctuation signs in the titles of  all the novels published in the three longest series of Crime Fiction in France : Le Masque (Librairie des Champs-Elysées), La Série Noire (Gallimard), and Spécial-Police (Fleuve Noir).  While the amount of books published in all three series is roughly comparable (all three series have published more than 2000 books each), there are manifest discrepancies in their use of punctuation marks. Continue reading

Death-driven Series : a quick comparison


(click to enlarge)

The three leading series of Crime Fiction  which were launched  in France after the war are :  “La Série Noire” (Gallimard, 1945-) ; “Un Mystère” (Presses de la Cité, 1949-1972) and “Spécial-Police” (Fleuve Noir,1949-1987).  This post sets out to compare them  visually, on the basis of their most frequently recurring title words. No translation needed.  (I think ?)

The following representation is based on the most frequent words in  the titles of all the books published in each series. The size of the words represented here is proportional to their total amount of occurrences in the titles.

Série Noire, Paris,  Gallimard, 2743 Titles (between 1945- and 2005)


Un Mystère, Paris, Presses de la Cité, 769 titles (first serie :1949-1966 )


Spécial-Police, Paris, Fleuve Noir, 2075 titles (1949-1987)


Profiling Crime Fiction Series


The question this post  tries to  answer visually is twofold, and runs  as follows.  Is it possible, first,  to visualise the denotations and connotations carried in the  titles of crime Fiction series ? What are the words most frequently used ? And what are the emotions, atmospheres and tropes suggested already by the titles, on the threshold of the books ?  What are the most common elements forming part of the contractual promise contained in a title ?  Which ones seem to be recurring the most often? And second, do such patterns vary from series to series, reinforcing their distinctive identities?  Can one, after  listing  the literal meanings of the words most frequently used in their titles,  and the emotions associated with them,  determine the series’ s profiles ? In practice,  is it for example  possible to compare the three longest French Crime Fictions series (totaling almost 7000 books between them),  based only on the words most used in their titles ? Can one try to “profile” Crime series, on the basis  of the terms  through which the authors, and the series’ s editors choose to market the books ?  And which are the words which are more apt at representing each of the three series? The  three following pie charts reflect the frequencies of  six  heavily connoted and intuitively chosen words for each of the three series. Continue reading

Death-driven Series


(Click to enlarge)

The truth of French Crime Fiction series is death. Not Detection or investigation, not mystery, and not Police. What the series are about really, is death. Or at least, this is what data visualization suggests, based on the titles of one the most successful of these Series.  The three graphs presented here represent the top most frequently used words in the 2075 titles published in the  Fleuve Noir Spécial-Police Series, between 1949 and 1987.

The 13 most frequent words have been translated in the circle chart above. The Worcloud below, generated with Voyant, and the word -trends graph below, are based on the same source.  They present the same words, albeit with  some  more of the words most used in the titles (below),  and in their original French.


(Click to enlarge)


(Click to enlarge)