Friday, March 7, 2014

"A Yarn with Genuine Thrills"

THE MARATHON MYSTERY.
By Burton E. Stevenson.
Henry Holt & Co.
1904. 323 pages. $1.50
Online HERE and HERE.
This was Stevenson's sequel to THE HOLLADAY CASE (reviewed HERE). Two full contemporary reviews follow:
This is a detective story of ingenious plot and method. Despite the fact that in the beginning, the middle, and the end of the book a murder is chronicled, it is also a very pleasing and well-written narrative. — "Books of the Week," THE OUTLOOK (December 31, 1904; scroll to page 1096)
Mr. Stevenson's The Marathon Mystery is far and away a better story than his Holladay Case. With it the author has stepped at once to the front rank among American writers of detective tales. It is a yarn with genuine thrills, a yarn that will cause the most steady-nerved, while reading, to start at sudden shadows and exaggerate unexplained noises, and that, after all, is a pretty good test of one kind of a detective story.
In a general way The Marathon Mystery belongs to the type that Anna Katharine Green introduced to us ten or fifteen years ago with The Leavenworth Case and Behind Closed Doors. It is written or at least constructed backwards. The writer plans the last half dozen chapters of the book, mapping out the vital complications and every detail of what happened in the room in Chapter One or Two of the story.
With this well in hand the first two or three hundred pages may safely be given over to mystifying the reader by the introduction of new people and episodes, false clues and by diverting suspicion from one character to another, while keeping the real culprit well in the background. The very simplicity of the formula makes the dearth of good detective stories the more amazing.
As a story The Marathon Mystery is as good as Behind Closed Doors, That Mainwaring Affair or The Leavenworth Case. It does not keep you so long in the dark so far as picking out the villain is concerned; but the English is better and cleaner cut, the love passages are never maudlin, there is throughout more dignity and sense, and the book shows a far wider knowledge of the logical technique of detective fiction. 
Mr. Stevenson knows his "Purloined Letter" and his Affaire Lerouge and Crime d'Orcival. Perhaps Mrs. Rohlfs does also, but she has not as yet convinced us on this point.
There is just one feature about The Marathon Mystery with which the present reviewer wishes to express dissatisfaction. At times the people do not talk like New Yorkers at all. The reporter is not a New York reporter. The slang is not the slang of any one year of New York, but a strange jargon of the incongruous expressions and phrases which have found the way into print as having emanated from New York during the past ten or twelve years. But this, after all, is a feature of the book of relative unimportance. And so being, it is perhaps hypercritical to dwell upon it in a story otherwise so good, and so generous in the number, nature, and variety of its thrills as The Marathon Mystery. — Arthur Bartlett Maurice, "Six Books of the Month," THE BOOKMAN (February 1905)

Category: Detective fiction

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