Thursday, December 26, 2013

Half and Half

By Lee Foster Hartman (1879-1914).
Harper & Bros.
1914. 297 pages.
Online HERE, HERE, and HERE.

Purloining valuable jewels seems to have been all the rage in detective fiction for years and years. This story tries to add a new wrinkle:
The subtitle, "A Mystery Romance," indicates the dual interest of this story. Half is romantic and half detective.
The story has the merit of an unexpected climax, with still another climax for the final page.
The action takes place in a country house in the Berkshires, and has to do with the theft of a precious ruby which has been abstracted from a safe, evidently by a burglar expert in the use of a steel drill. But that he should have taken twenty dollars and the ruby and left behind fifteen diamonds lying next to the ruby constitutes the mystery.
This is finally solved, to the confusion of an old-time villain, by a guest at the house, a young cosmopolitan American, who, though an amateur at sleuthing, has once confuted Scotland Yard. That he is aided by a knowledge of radioactivity indicates the utter timeliness of the story. — "Current Fiction," THE NATION (February 12, 1914; scroll to page 160, middle top)
It is greatly to any author's credit if he can do the unusual thing with his first book. Not that The White Sapphire as a novel is particularly unusual, it is an amiable, well-constructed story written in easy, natural style and it holds the reader's attention pleasantly until the end even if it is hardly likely to keep him sitting up nights.
But while announcing itself as a mystery story it departs from the type in that it gives us no bloodshed, no tragedy of murder, guilt or deception. When the mystery is cleared up, no one has suffered, except possibly one attractive youth who turns out to be not quite as reliable as he should be. But even he is a gainer by his experience in that he has learned his lesson and will do better next time.
A mystery story with a happy ending is a good commercial asset and we can wish this one all luck on its way.
All the pleasant turmoil of mystery hinges about the breaking into a safe in the Winthrop country home, and the theft of a ruby. For a time it brings tears to pretty Evelyn Winthrop and anxiety to some other members of her family. Yet in the end, it fulfils an excellent purpose in that it brings together in mutual love two young persons who seem eminently suited to each other.
Therefore, since the preservation of the race is an all-important matter to this old world, a mystery which serves so good an end cannot be too highly recommended.
The solution of the mysterious disappearances and reappearances of the ruby is a clever bit of modern scientific reasoning. But the reader must find out for himself what happened to the ruby and to the white sapphire, for it would be cruel to him to rob him of a very pleasant hour by revealing the plot here. — "Books by New Authors," THE BOOKMAN (May 1914)

Category: Detective fiction

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