Monday, December 30, 2013

It Simply CAN'T Be Her . . . Can It?

By Carolyn Wells.
J. B. Lippincott Co.
1914. 309 pages. $1.25
Available on Kindle.
Online HERE and HERE (includes a diagram).

Whatever else her merits (or lack of them) may have been, Wells was ahead of Christie, et al., in anticipating the Golden Age of Detection:
A wealthy eccentric has conceived the plan—strongly opposed by his young wife and the son and daughter of his first marriage—of putting the bulk of his fortune into a public library. He goes so far as to have the deed of gift drawn up ready for signing—and the next morning is found dead in his study. Apparently he has died by his own hands, for the room is too impregnably barred and bolted on the inside to permit any other explanation than suicide. Yet the ambiguous nature of the wound, the absence of any weapon to account for it, the fact that his wife's pearls are missing from his safe and the deed of gift from his desk, all point another way.
The guests of the house suspect his housekeeper and valet, the neighbors his son, and the servants his wife—by one of whose admirers the investigation of the mystery is prosecuted in the spirit suggested by the title. There is a seemingly inexplicable tangle of incriminating evidence and only one apparent clue—the one that nobody is willing to follow.
The quandary is quite enough to satisfy all lovers of this genre. When the time comes for the solution, this proves rather disappointing on the mechanical side, the preparation in one important particular having been most clumsy. On the psychological side, however, the mystery has been more successfully masked, and the fixing of the guilt comes as a genuine surprise. — Unsigned, THE NATION (April 16, 1914; scroll to page 433, middle bottom)
Anybody but Anne (1913-1914) shares most of the characteristics of Wells' later Faulkner's Folly:
- It is a full, formal mystery novel, of the kind that would later be popular in the Golden Age.
- It is set in a country house, and anticipates the mysteries soon to be popular in such houses.
- The cast of suspects resemble those to be found in many later detective books.
- It is a locked room mystery — but the solution of the locked room is based on ideas that would later be regarded as cheating. Still, the cheat of a solution shows some real ingenuity.
- The book shows the imagination with architecture, that would later be part of the Golden Age. It comes complete with a floor plan. The country house is of the kind that might have later inspired the mystery game known as Clue or Cluedo: there is even a billiard room!
Wells pleasantly includes some subsidiary mysteries, that have nothing to do with the locked room. These too show some mild but pleasing ingenuity. Such subplots are also standard in Golden Age detective novels.
I do not know if Wells invented the above template for formal mystery novels, or whether she derived it from other authors. Anybody but Anne does establish that what we think of as a "typical Golden Age style mystery novel" was in existence before what is often thought of as the official start of the Golden Age in 1920. It is also a fact that Wells was American, and that her book is set in the United States: somewhere in New England. — Mike Grost, A GUIDE TO CLASSIC MYSTERY AND DETECTION ("Carolyn Wells")
- Previous ONTOS articles concerning Wells are HERE and HERE.

Category: Detective fiction

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