?Iron Lady? is France?s first female police boss

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The Independent Online

What Commissaire Maigret, or the redoubtable Mme Maigret, would have said, we will never know. France yesterday appointed a woman, Martine Monteil, 54, as its top detective for the first time.

Mme Monteil, the daughter and grand-daughter of policemen who is married to a senior police officer, has been blazing a trail for women in the macho world of law enforcement in France for 30 years. She was the first woman to head the Brigade Criminelle in Paris and occupy the legendary office 315 at 36 Quai des Orfèvres, where Georges Simenon's fictional Maigret worked.

For the past three years she has been, as the director of the Police Judiciaire in Paris, the top detective in the capital.

From next week she will be directeur central of the Police Judiciaire (the equivalent of the CID) for the whole of France.

Mme Monteil, small, slender and blonde, is known in the Police Nationale as the dame de fer, or iron lady. She likes to pose for photographs with a lamp made from an old police-issue Luger pistol, which used to belong to her father, a senior detective.

Her rapid rise was passed off at first as token gender discrimination but she has since forged a reputation as a tough and effective police officer. Announcing the appointment, Dominique de Villepin, the Interior Minister, said she was "the best, the most experienced and the most appropriate candidate" for the job.