Monday, January 6, 2014

"Measuring the Shudder"

THE TECHNIQUE OF THE MYSTERY STORY.
By Carolyn Wells.
The Writer's Library.
1913. 336 pages. $1.50
Available on Kindle.
Online HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE (scanned), and HERE.
Contents:
I. "The Eternal Curious"
II. "The Literature of Mystery"
III. "The History of Mystery"
IV. "Ghost Stories"
V. "Riddle Stories"
VI. "Detective Stories"
VII. "The Detective"
VIII. "Deduction"
IX. "Applied Principles"
X. "The Rationale of Ratiocination"
XI. "Close Observation"
XII. "Other Detectives of Fiction"
XIII. "Portraits"
XIV. "Devious Devices"
XV. "Footprints and Fingerprints"
XVI. "More Devices"
XVII. "Fake Devices"
XVIII. "Murder in General"
XIX. "Persons in the Story"
XX. "The Handling of the Crime"
XXI. "The Motive"
XXII. "Evidence"
XXIII. "Structure"
XXIV. "Plots"
XXV. "Further Advices"
XXVI. "Final Advices"

In his article (not strictly speaking a review), this particular critic finds it hard to take Wells's book of advice seriously and has mild objections to some of her opinions. A few excerpts follow:
One of the most readable of all [the books about the short story] is "The Technique of the Mystery Story," by Carolyn Wells (Home Correspondence School). In spite of many passages in fine print, I cannot imagine any one leaving it unfinished, once having begun to read it. Yet, when you see it announced as "a complete practical study of the form, with examples from the best mystery writers," you not only smile, but feel sure that the author smiled, too.
The table of contents is delicious, and the index irresistible. Chapter IV, for instance, the table tells us, is about ghost stories, and it is divided into four parts: a working classification, the ghost story, famous ghost stories, the humorous ghost story. Against attempting the last, by the way, the novice is warned. Chapter XIV deals with Devious Devices, as tracks in the snow or mud. Another speaks of footprints and fingerprints, with a note on teeth-marks. Another describes disguises and discusses the literary value of false whiskers.
Miss Wells makes some surprising statements. "A true lover of detective fiction,"' she writes, "never reads detailed newspaper accounts of crime." This, I fancy, is altogether too sweeping. Certainly, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle—who loves detective fiction so well that he writes a great deal of it—has become interested in real crimes, and presumably through the newspapers. The Edalji and Slater cases have occupied him at home, and during his recent visit in New York he expressed his interest in the Becker case and sought an interview with the convicted man.
It is possible to carry one's hostility to the adage "Truth is stranger than fiction" too far, and this Miss Wells does when she declares Arthur C. Train's "True Stories of Crime" dull and prosy. As a rule, of course, the fictitious is more entertaining than the true, but it is certainly unsafe to declare that this is always and invariably the case. — Edmund Lester Pearson, "Measuring the Shudder," THE NATION (July 9, 1914)
Read the article to find out why Pearson believes Sherlock Holmes is superior to both Dupin and The Thinking Machine.

Category: Detective fiction

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