If you were to wander around the 1er arrondissement in Paris, you might come across an intriguing, old looking green neon sign on an anonymous looking building on the Rue du Louvre. At night it captures the imagination, looking like a lot something from a film noir, saying simply “Duluc Détective”…
The Duluc Détective might sound like something you’d perhaps expect to find within the pages of a Georges Simenon Inspector Maigret novel, but it is in fact a real working private investigation firm. It has made an appearance in Woody Allen’s film Midnight in Paris, and helped inspire the best selling series of Leduc Detective novels by Cara Black.
There is a plain blue door outside the agency, with a simple brass plaque engraved ‘Enquêtes – 1er Etage’ (Investigations, first floor). We ventured inside to meet the remarkable woman who still runs one of the last family owned detective agencies in Paris…
Martine Baret was just 18 when she started working for her father at the detective agency back in the 1960s, but the story of the Duluc goes back much further. “It’s true that we’re the oldest on-site agency to this day, as the cabinet was founded by Mr. Jean Duluc in 1913”, explains Madame Baret. “Thats 105 years of existence, one hell of a long time!”
Mr. Jean Duluc had been an investigator with the highly respected Sûreté Nationale, the former criminal investigative bureau of the Parisian police. Just over a century ago he left the police and set up his own private investigation company. His original license still graces the wall of the Duluc, his enormous moustaches every bit as impressive as Poirot’s.
“The agency can be traced through two families”, continues Madame Baret. “Jean Duluc and his daughter, and my father and me”. With over half a century of experience as a private investigator in Paris, Baret specializes in all manner of secret investigative work, from missing persons, to industrial espionage, to embezzlements and swindling. “Every case, big or small is important”, explains Baret. “When researching a client’s dossier it takes you on a journey that feels like unwinding a ball of yarn; most of the time you end up digging into very old aspects of a case given by the mandate. When you finally reach your goal, it’s marvelous.”
When Martine Baret began working at the family firm in the 1960s, there were about ten private eye firms in Paris. The number of firms grew in the 1980s and 90s to about a hundred, but today there are hardly any left. Social media might have made us all amateur detectives at one point or another, but Baret believes another reason for the decline in French professional detective agencies is the relatively recent changes to divorce laws in France. Baret explains; “Since 2004, divorce by mutual consent was established.” Once it became no longer necessary for couples to prove infidelity in court, the need for surveillance of possible indiscretions declined. “When I started in 1966, infidelity dossiers accounted for 80% of my cases”, says Baret, “whereas today they make up 20%.” But the highly experienced real life private eye still recommends surveillance in such cases; “People still need to take the proper steps to educate themselves….be in the know before you make decisions. If we trace the evolution of infidelity, both cell phones and email have become practical – everything moves much faster!”
Private investigators have long been a staple of the fictional universe. But how does a Philip Marlowe or an Hercule Poirot compare to the real life world of the private detective?
“Regarding private fake detectives of the silver screen, and real detectives…well, the fictional ones can do everything!”, opines Madame Baret, “and the real life detectives are a bit more limited, albeit only by their own actions. The line between myth and reality becomes fuzzy!”
But there is one fictional private detective who has enjoyed a unique relationship with the Duluc Detective agency.
We caught up with Cara Black, author of the award winning Aimée Léduc mystery novels, a series centered around a similar sounding, female run and family owned detective agency on the Rue du Louvre.
“I missed the bus one day on rue du Louvre and looked up and saw the Duluc Detective sign”, Cara Black explains. “Since my story was set in the Marais and I needed to find out what private detectives did – the nuts and bolts of the business – I entered that blue door, climbed the stairs, introduced myself and asked Martine, the owner, if she had time to answer questions.”
Eighteen novels later, and the Leduc Detective series has been inspired by the real life Duluc agency to popular and critical acclaim. “Martine has been very helpful and supportive,” Cara Black explains. “She and her agency appealed to me because she’s a woman, and at that time, only three women owned and operated private detective agencies in Paris at that time. Quite a trailblazer and unique!”, Cara continues. “Her work is primarily investigating missing persons. In my stories, Aimée Leduc, like Martine, inherited the agency from her father, and he from his father before him. So it’s a family business, like Martine’s, but Aimée a modern woman embraces technology and has turned the agency focus to computer crime.”
Part of what sets Cara Black’s detective novels apart from other private eye fiction is the level of geographical detail in her books. “I consult archives, libraries, join the historical societies of the arrondissement I’m writing about, meet the local police and make friends with cafe owners. It’s important to get the setting right, the sensory details, the march of the seasons and strikes to paint a Paris a reader would feel if they were walking down the street with my detective. The arrondissements, where the stories take place, are characters in my books – each with a distinct ambiance and flavor. Paris is really a collection of villages and I’m always looking for the vestiges of the distinct past of each district.”
Whilst the real life Duluc Detective helped inspire Cara Black’s novels at the fictional Leduc, the agency remains one of the last, upstanding private eye firms in a somewhat shadowy world. “We are their last hope whether finding a runaway daughter, a son lost in the war, an illegitimate child, a sister one never new existed,” says Baret.
The next Aimee Leduc novel, ‘Murder on the Left Bank’ is published this summer. But what lies in store for the real life detective agency on the Rue du Louvre? “My future plans for the Duluc?” says Madame Martine Baret…..”Only time will tell!”