I am a huge fan of detective novels and frequently complained about how the selection of goodauthors in the genre is very limited as far as English books are concerned. Except for Agatha Christie and Sir Authur Conan Doyle, I always found that others authors could not manage to construct a coherent and interest plot and their characters were uninteresting.
Originally, I became a member of the Alliance Française library in Mauritius mainly because I did not find any other interesting library (note: I keep hearing the municipality libraries are however very good and will try them later this year). When I became a member, I did not actually check out the book selection because I was so happy that I actually had a huge collection of books to rent from. I'm even more pleased to have taken this membership now as this has allowed me to "accidentally" discover something I would have never imagined before: France actually has some absolutely brilliant authors when it comes to detective novels.
So, I decided to make a list of the authors I've discovered at Alliance Française.
1) Maurice Leblanc
Roger Borniche, who signs his books as Borniche, was a French policeman and detective who then decided to become an author when he retired as he already sort of had the experience to come up with good plots. And experience he does have as Borniche has been heralded as one of the outstanding detectives in France, including bringing down Emile Buisson who was France's public enemy No. 1 at the time and performing a staggering number of arrestations (although this has been disputed numerous times). It is no surprise that his books are great as he was a true detective and can thus draw on his real life experience in his books, and some of his novels are actually based on real life eents. Even more surprising however is that Borniche is also an outstanding writer. His French is simple and entertaining, and I once completed one of his books in only 3 days. Basically, once I start reading one of his books, I can't put it down.
San-Antonio is an alias for Frédéric Dard who still remains one of the most prolific authors France has had and follows the adventures of a police commissioner by the same name. If you're thinking it is strange that an author would decide to sign his books using the protagonist's name, think again. Frédéric Dard was also notable for his excessive use of aliases which exceeded the dozen and included names such as Colonel Milk, Kaput and Kill Him. It is my understanding that he wanted to create a new Guinness World Records entry for "most author aliases ever". Either that or he was simply messing with his publishers.
The San-Antonio novels were ground-breaking when they first came out as they were the first to successfully appeal to a broader audience thanks to a very light-hearted approach to the genre, comical moments throughout the novels, and unique characters. For example, San-Antonio, who is also the narrator, has a never-ending habit of creating new and elaborate nonsensical words as he investigates and is always sharing his thoughts with the reader. He is assisted by two almost useless detectives who nevertheless sometimes manage to point him in the right direction.
The books are quite short and a breeze to read. Even if you are not a fan of the genre, the San-Antonio books are a must-read simply because of the humour and the unique way San narrates his adventures.
4) Gaston Leroux
Gaston Leroux is revered as the author who created one of the best (and in my opinion, the absolute best) locked-room mysteries ever in Le Mystère de la Chambre Jaune (The Mystery of the Locked Room) but also the ever-famous Phantom of the Opera. His detective novels are always brilliant and he has created one of the strangest detectives in Joseph Rouletabille who is only 18 years old when he solves the attempted murder in The Mystery of the Locked Room. Rouletabille then goes on to solve several other mysteries and some of the plot explanations are fantastic. Leroux additionally writes his novels in such a way as to encourage readers to also figure out what happened (and even includes maps to help readers) in his books but I have never been able to figure out the whole story on my own.