Monday, October 6, 2014

"It Is Surely Better, Other Things Being Equal, to Keep the Structure Sound and the Wires Hidden"

By Clarence New (1862-1933).
W. R. Caldwell & Co.
1918. 376 pages.
Online HERE, HERE, and HERE.
(1) "The Mystery of the Free Lances"
(2) "The Aldershot Affair"
(3) "Touching Upon the Honor of Islam"
(4) "The Neutrality of Holland"
(5) "The Greater Plot"
(6) "The Skager-Rack and Kitchener"
(7) "The Mysterious Camp in the Pyrenees"
(8) "A Machiavellian Coup in Roumania"
(9) "The Shifting Ministries and the Green Circle"
(10) "The Breeding of Suspicion"
(11) "Capt. Creighton's Account of the Russian Revolution"

The First World War (1914-18) was both a massive disaster and a transformative event, producing repercussions that are still being felt today. The Great War was also a chance for thriller writers to run riot; one of them was Clarence New:
[Full review] "The Unseen Hand," while it has more the form of a novel . . . is in effect a series of linked episodes in the present fashion. Here our narrator is an American sleuth-journalist. Our theme is the mystery of the "diplomatic Free Lance," whose distinction it is to have "intervened—not once but fifty times since 1914—to save England from disaster, and, in so doing, unquestionably preserved the structure of modern civilization."
This useful person turns out (rather too early in the game) to be a well-known English lord, who is really [SPOILER], but under any name a most ingenious and accomplished fellow. Unhappily, the whole affair is too elaborate and artificial—or rather its elaboration and artificiality are insufficiently concealed even for our complaisance as patrons of this sort of performance.
It is said that people who make a habit of the fiction of crime and mystery are indifferent to questions of "literary" quality. In that fiction, no doubt, one finds a mechanical romance nearly independent of the graces and accessories one demands in other types of fiction. Is it a really new thing? Does it deserve a patent? Is it at any rate a fresh contrivance or combination of old devices? These are the questions the expert reader of detective stories asks himself. But he is not precisely (or always) a fool; and it is surely better, other things being equal, to keep the structure sound and the wires hidden. — "Substance and Mechanism," THE NATION (July 20, 1918)
[Full review] . . . "The Unseen Hand" by Clarence Herbert New works out in wild and somewhat unconvincing improbability an excellent idea of a sort of super-secret service group of amateurs.  . . . — Brian Hooker, "Concerning Yarns," THE BOOKMAN (May 1919; go to page 313, top right)
Category: Spy fiction

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