Tuesday, April 29, 2014

"It Shows Just How Bad a Detective Story Can Be"

THE CIRCULAR STUDY.
By Anna Katharine Green (1846-1935).
McClure, Phillips & Company.
1900. 289 pages.
Online HERE and HERE.
Criticism of this book is all over the map:
Last month we said something about the making and influence of the detective story, which was suggested by the publication of a new edition of the best-known works of Emile Gaboriau. The subject we deem an interesting one from many sides, and a little book which we have since read provokes us to further comment.
The book in question is The Circular Study, by Anna Katharine Green, and we think it an object of curiosity and interest because it shows just how bad a detective story can be.
Anna Katharine Green enjoys a considerable popularity which is more or less deserved. The Leavenworth Case and Behind Closed Doors were in their way rather good stories. Mrs. Rohlfs put in them the ingredients of real horror. In each book she succeeded admirably in keeping suspicion away from the real criminal until the very end, and if they had not been so badly written and so long-winded, they would have been rather striking books.
The Circular Study, on the other hand, has nothing to recommend it. In our opinion, it is an utterly dreary book. The plot is meaningless, or rather the book contains practically no plot at all.
One Felix Adams is found murdered in an extraordinary house in New York. The first suspect is his butler, the demented and deaf and dumb witness of the crime. There are false clues, which, of course, are the inevitable factors of the commonplace detective story, and the inevitable Mr. Gryce is aided by a young man by the name of Sweetwater, who is likely to be a character of considerable importance in the stories which Mrs. Rohlfs may in future write.
In the present volume, however, he is rather obscure, and the part played by him is comparatively insignificant. The real culprit, or rather culprits, remain in the dark simply because they are not introduced until the latter part of the book, and then the whole thing is so obvious that the reader turns the last page rather disappointed that the closing chapters do not bring about a real surprise.
The central episode in the feud between the Cadwaladers and John Poindexter which directly led to the crime is not only utterly extravagant and ridiculous, but is in a measure an obvious imitation of an incident in Mrs. Augusta J. Evans's St. Elmo, Of course, it is very likely that Mrs. Wilson took it from some one else, who in turn had filched it from an earlier story-teller. — "A Shocker That Fails to Shock," THE BOOKMAN (November 1900)
Other critics give the book qualified respect:
The talented author of the 'Leavenworth Case' ought to be warned in time, or she will make of the detective novel a Chinese puzzle which the reader, even with the author's aid, will "give up" in despair.
The "Circular Study" is a room, of course; a room in which a justifiable homicide, at first thought to be murder in the first degree, was committed.
To learn the causa causans of this shocking event, we have to go back three generations and get very tired of the journey.
Possibly Mrs. Rohlfs cannot help herself, but the interest of such stories cannot be kept up if the plot becomes too involved to follow. — "Novels Old and New," THE NATION (May 10, 1906, page 390, top right)
Although "The Circular Study" develops along orthodox sensational lines that are beginning to show distinct signs of wear, it is a well-constructed and breathlessly-interesting story of its kind.
When Felix Cadwalader is discovered murdered in the strange study he had built for himself, we expect very strong suspicions of the crime to fall on four or five persons, whilst the guilty one is scarcely suspected until near the end, and it happens so in accordance with our expectations.
Nevertheless, the mystery is a good mystery. — "Novel Notes," THE BOOKMAN [U.K.] (August 1902)
The Circular Study (1900) shows a similar dichotomy to The Leavenworth Case, between outstanding detection, and less enjoyable material. The first half of the book (Chapters 1-10) is a straightforward investigation of a crime, with excellent detective work. There is a great deal of pleasant humor and entertaining storytelling as well, in this first half of the novel. At this point we start learning about the suspects' history, and we are in another world, Green's unique universe of nightmarish suffering and horror, where her characters have to endure the most terrible events imaginable. This flashback look at the suspects' tragic lives takes up most of the second half of the book. — Mike Grost, A GUIDE TO CLASSIC MYSTERY AND DETECTION ("Anna Katharine Green")
My verdict: This case is one solved by reasoning, and very clever reasoning it is. The explanations of how certain persons of interest are traced is a particularly interesting demonstration of police leg work in the early 1900s. I should mention the roots of the tragedy go back decades and are more gothic in nature than some mystery readers would prefer, but all in all I found The Circular Study a good read and recommend it. — Mary Reed, GAD Wiki

Category: Detective fiction

Samuel Lyle, A Very Obscure Criminologist Indeed

SAMUEL LYLE, CRIMINOLOGIST.
By Arthur Crabb.
The Century Company.
1920. 347 pages. $1.90
Collection: 11 stories.
Online HERE, HERE, and HERE.
Contents:

1. "A Pleasant Evening"
2. "Among Gentlemen"
3. "The Greatest Day"
4. "A Story Apropos"
5. "Perception"
6. "The Alibi"
7. "Number 14 Mole Street"
8. "The Raconteur"
9. "Juror No. 5"
10. " 'Compromise, Henry?' "
11. "Beyond a Reasonable Doubt"

According to a New York Times reviewer, "The writer of fiction—mostly cheerful mystery stories—who uses the name of Arthur Crabb on the title-page, is a lawyer whose real name is altogether different, and who, since he was graduated from Harvard, has won a fair-sized following in his literary endeavors."

Full review:
A collection of interesting detective stories. They are scarcely less ingenious than Sherlock Holmes, but they are much more probable.
There is, indeed, not one of the mysterious incidents which might not quite naturally have occurred, and the explanation is as natural as it is surprising when it is furnished.
Additional interest is lent to the stories by some curious studies in psychology illustrating the strange tricks which sometimes faulty memory and sometimes defective perception play in the minds of entirely honest witnesses. — "The New Books," THE OUTLOOK (December 1, 1920)

GHOSTS: A SAMUEL LYLE MYSTERY STORY.
By Arthur Crabb.
The Century Company.
1921. 261 pages.
Online HERE, HERE, and HERE.

Booklist found GHOSTS "wholesome but not absorbing," while a Boston reviewer wrote: "He pretends to write a detective story and really produces a very pretty little tale of true love."

Three reviews, the first two complete:
George Duncan Webb was advised by his physician to go to Rose Hill, because "nothing ever happens there that could by any possibility excite you or make you use your brain."
But when he arrived, he found there was Marjorie Thurston to excite him, and the mystery of the Brown jewels to exercise his mind.
He promptly fell in love with Marjorie, and almost as promptly found Mrs. Brown's jewels, which had been stolen the year before in such a way that it seemed as if ghosts alone could have been responsible.
Though the jewels were found that did not solve the mystery of their theft, and it was not until Samuel Lyle, criminologist and student of human nature, who was spending his vacation nearby, began to delve into the matter, that it was cleared up. Incidentally he tried to be of some use to Duncan in his campaign for Marjorie. BOOK REVIEW DIGEST: "Reviews of 1921 Books"
The author of the book is on the right tack to become a mystery writer, but he must try to avoid being reprehensibly and unnecessarily mysterious.
Here it is over the theft of jewelry from a seaside house, and as the theft incriminates no one in the story, so it arouses no strong interest, nor can we condole with the loser, as she recovers her loss unexpectedly in an unthought of place.
Arthur Crabb, like most modern fiction writers, has enjoyed reading up on dual personalities and a few other medico-legal points which are styled "psychological problems," and gives the result of his reading.
Why the book is called Ghosts, no one can say. They are not there, either as a cold shadow or a shuddery sigh or a dismal moan; and the stealer of the jewels is [SPOILER], whereas real ghosts can outdo MacSwiney in the fasting way, and "squeak and gibber" (according to Shakespeare) with unalloyed joy.
But another thread running through the story is that of the love affairs of Duncan Webb, the jewel finder, and a young war widow, Marjorie Thurston, with an infant daughter.
When not proposing to her, he is discussing the identity of the robber, and both matters are satisfactorily settled on the arrival of Samuel Lyle, the criminologist, on a visit. He finds the thief easily, and also that it is the clear duty of Marjorie to marry Duncan.
The main defect is that we cannot get interested in that robbery; it is an ordinary one, with a dash of medico-legalism and ruffled courtship to give it a double interest. — NEW YORK MEDICAL JOURNAL (May 18, 1921)
. . . "Ghosts" is a smoothly-written, logical tale, with one of those mild mysteries for the solution of which one is quite willing to wait till the last chapter, a charming heroine, a likable principal character—one cannot call him a "hero"—and a detective, the redoubtable Samuel Lyle, whose skill as a criminologist enables him to get to the core of the puzzle which has stumped everybody else with a facility that is almost ludicrous.
Whether Samuel Lyle will ever become as popular as his prototype, Sherlock Holmes, is extremely doubtful, but he has the collection of personal eccentricities, including a baggy suit of clothes and an impressive taciturnity, which do so much for the detective of fiction, and is altogether an interesting personality. — "The Ghostly and Mysterious," THE NEW YORK TIMES (May 15, 1921)

Category: Detective fiction

"The Author Outdoes Himself in the Number of People Upon Whom He Brings Suspicion"

THE ORANGE-YELLOW DIAMOND.
By J. S. Fletcher (1863-1935).
Alfred A. Knopf.
1921. 321 pages.
Online HERE, HERE, and HERE.
Fletcher seemed to have a thing for diamonds [see HERE]. Instead of being a superior "Yellow Room"-style detective story, THE ORANGE-YELLOW DIAMOND would seem to qualify as a "Yellow Peril"-type of tale [according to G. K. Chesterton's schema; see HERE].

Following are excerpts from a review which is so laced with SPOILERS that we can in all good conscience reproduce only a small fraction of it:
. . . The author outdoes himself in the number of people upon whom he brings suspicion.
. . . Half-way through the book it is pretty well ascertained that a wonderful orange-yellow diamond is the cause of the murder . . .
. . . The author is one of the few who is able to keep his readers in the dark until the proper moment arrives for their illumination. — "Thrills for Blue Monday," THE LITERARY DIGEST (April 23, 1921)
As Curt Evans notes, THE ORANGE-YELLOW DIAMOND, like so many novels of the period written by Englishmen, has dialect difficulties:
In a generally favorable notice of J. S. Fletcher's mystery The Orange Yellow Diamond (1920), an American reviewer was moved to comment about how unconvincing he found portrayals of American speech in British crime novels. — Curtis Evans, THE PASSING TRAMP (August 5, 2013)

Category: Detective fiction

Saturday, April 26, 2014

"For Unity, Strength, and Integration of Detail No Better Story Has Been Written"

OUR SHORT STORY WRITERS.
By Blanche Colton Williams (1879-1944).
Moffat, Yard & Co.
1920, reprinted 1929. 357 pages.
Chapter XVII: "Melville Davisson Post" and Chapter XVIII: "Mary Roberts Rinehart."
Online HERE and HERE.
A survey of contemporary masters of the short form that includes two accomplished experts in the field of detective fiction.

Concerning Melville Davisson Post (1869-1930)—and beware of SPOILERS:
Of all American writers who have converted to fictive purposes the science of logic, two are preeminent. They grew up, some fifty years apart, in the same section of the United States, and by a pun the surname of one is the superlative of the other. They are Edgar Allan Poe and Melville Davisson Post.
The first of these formulated the laws of the short story. He originated the detective story, his model for which served writers half a century. That model is well known: a crime has been committed, or is about to be committed, and the agent of the law bends his efforts to apprehending the crime. It was left for the second to invent a new type of detective tale.
As Mr. Post has himself remarked, the flood of detective stories succeeding Poe's poured forth "until the stomach of the reader failed" [page 293].
Poe had required an acute and subtile intellect, a highly trained ratiocinative mind, for his detective. These he incorporated in Monsieur Dupin. Mr. Post required, first of all, an unmoral intelligence, preferably that of a skilled unscrupulous lawyer who would instruct men how to evade the law. Hence, arose the figure of Randolph Mason [page 294].
One does not like to read with the feeling that some criminal may profit by the plan unfolded; it is more pleasant to harbor the thought that the law will take note, as well as the lawless . . . In any event, Randolph Mason has the fascination, and the repulsion, of the serpent [pages 296-297].
[Post is quoted as saying] "The primary object of all fiction is to entertain the reader. If, while it entertains, it also ennobles him this fiction becomes a work of art; but its primary business must be to entertain and not to educate or to instruct him" [page 298].
[For Post] The plot is first; character is second. The Greeks would have been astounded at the idea common to our age that "the highest form of literary structure may omit the framework of the plot." The short story is to our age what the drama was to the Greeks. Poe knew this. And he is the one literary genius America has produced [page 299].
Mr. Post also holds a brief for his large employment of tragic incident . . . He pleases the popular audience because he writes of crime [page 299].
Motive and mystery, in short, are the sources of entertainment, rather than the crime itself. But murder is interesting because of its finality: it is the supreme crime, because it is irreparable [page 300].
Uncle Abner (1919) is proof that Mr. Post had by no means exhausted his fecundity in creating the unmoral Mason. His sense of justice and his sense of balance have produced a hero the antithesis of his hero-villain. Whereas Mason delighted in struggling against pagan Fate, Uncle Abner finds joy in furthering the beneficent operations of Providence. These two men express, respectively, the heathen and the Christian ideal; and they are as complementary as Jekyll and Hyde [pages 300-301].
The death of a criminal may be the subject of investigation, as in The Doomdorf Mystery [NOTE: The solution of this story, as well as several others, is revealed here] . . . For unity, strength, and integration of detail no better story has been written [page 302].
Dupin recalls to us the crime of the city; Sherlock Holmes lives in London. Abner is a man of the hills, whose detective work leads him among the hill people [page 304].
Concerning Mary Roberts Rinehart (1876-1958), who at this time was just getting started in mystery fiction:
No other writer reflects more accurately the age of the motion picture. This is neither to assert nor to deny that she has been influenced by motion picture technique. It is to say that, being a child of the twentieth century, she recognizes the demand for rapid action and the eagerness for one unique visual impression after another. She supplies the demand by unreeling film after film from a mind fertile in invention and prodigal of picture-story stuff which, translated in terms of black and white, reel off before the reader. There is the same lack of depth, or "thickness," in her narrative which the motion-picture play illustrates. It is art of two dimensions [pages 309-310].
[Rinehart's abilities include] deftness in plot construction, her skill in arousing suspense, her ability to hold off the climax relentlessly while apparently advancing relentlessly toward it, and her final seeming clever solution of the mystery [page 313].
[In The Amazing Adventures of Letitia Carberry, 1911] the two hundred pages in which Letitia turns detective at the hospital are the most important. Mrs. Rinehart may have found the germinal idea in Poe's The Murders in the Rue Morgue. So similar is the likeness at one point that, just as the reader begins to wonder whether she will solve the story similarly, she takes the occasion to mention The Murders in such manner as to convey that her dénouement will be different. The solving, however, lacks the convincingness of Poe's story, as the manner lacks his clarity [pages 314-315].
Resources:
- On his megasite, Mike Grost has much more about Melville Davisson Post HERE and Mary Roberts Rinehart HERE.

Category: Detective fiction

True Crime Roundup

Here are links to a few random items concerning early 20th century crime and law enforcement:

~ "The New York Police Court" (1902)
~ "The Third Degree" (1909)
~ "Doubtful Light on Jack the Ripper" (1911)
~ "The Case of the 'Mona Lisa' (La Gioconda)" (1911)
~ "Is Bertillon a Back Number?" (1915) "Is Bertillon a Back Number?"
~ "Thief-Catching by Card-Index" (1916)
~ "A College-Bred Police Force" (1916)
~ "W. J. Burns" (1916)
~ " 'Dope-Cops' at Work" (1916)
~ "Of Literary Forgers" (1917)
~ "Finger-prints in the Orient" (1917)
~ "The Superstition of Dope" (1917) (Willard Huntington Wright, a.k.a. S.S. Van Dine)
~ "A New Kind of Prison" (1917)
~ "A Graphic Spy Code" (1918)
~ "Wireless in Police Work" (1918)
~ "Finger Print Testimony in Court" (1919)
~ "The Phonograph As a Wireless Detective" (1919)
~ "The New London Police" (1920)
~ "The Cult of Violence" (1920)
~ "Bursting of the Ponzi Bubble" (1920)
~ "Self-Closing Doors to Trap Thieves" (1920)
~ "Wall Street's Bomb Mystery" (1920)
~ "American Films Corrupting Britain" (1920)
~ "Literary Fascination of Crime" (1921)
~ "A Pocket Machine Gun" (1921)
~ "A New Terror for Picture Fakers" (1921)
~ "Meeting the Crime Wave: A Comparison in Detective Methods" (1921)
~ "The Real Dick Turpin" (1921)
~ "Guarding the Cash" (1921)
~ "Moving Pictures, Books, and Child Crime" (1921)
~ "Crime and the Movies" (1921)
~ "Call the Yard, Watson!" (1929)

Category: Detective fiction (true crime)

Thursday, April 24, 2014

"The Good Detective Story Is in Its Nature a Good Domestic Story"

THE USES OF DIVERSITY.
By G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936).
Dodd, Mead and Co.
1921. 289 pages.
Chapter V: "The Domesticity of Detectives."
Online HERE and HERE.
"Chesterton's fiction seems to be the main model for the great works of the Big Three puzzle plot detective novelists, Christie, Queen and Carr." — Mike Grost
From the master of the paradox. Excerpts:
The truth is that there are two types of sensational romance between which our wilder sensationalists seem to waver; and I think they are generally at their strongest in dealing with the first type, and at their weakest in dealing with the second. For the sake of a convenient symbol, I may call them respectively the romance of the Yellow Room and the romance of the Yellow Peril [page 38].
We might say that the great detective story deals with small things; while the small or silly detective story generally deals with great things [pages 38-39].
. . . the good detective story is in its nature a good domestic story. It is steeped in the sentiment that an Englishman's house is his castle; even if, like other castles, it is the scene of a few quiet tortures or assassinations [page 39].
The real romance of detection works inwards towards the household gods, even if they are household devils. One of the best of the Sherlock Holmes stories turns entirely on a trivial point of housekeeping: the provision of curry for the domestic dinner [pages 40-41].
Resources:
- Chesterton could write about detective stories with authority because, as you may recall, he was responsible for a few of them himself; see HERE and HERE.

Category: Detective fiction

Thursday, April 17, 2014

"As Bright and Hard and Competent As a Jack-knife"

FAMOUS DETECTIVE STORIES.
Edited by J. Walker McSpadden.
T. Y. Crowell Co.
1920. 323 pages. $1.50
Available online HERE and HERE.
Contents:

1. "The Purloined Letter" - Edgar Allan Poe
2. "An Interview with M. Lecoq" - Emile Gaboriau
3. "A Scandal in Bohemia" - A. Conan Doyle
4. "The Adventure of the Hansom Cabs" - Robert Louis Stevenson
5. "The Adventure of the Toadstools" - Sax Rohmer
6. "Gentlemen and Players" - E. W. Hornung
7. "The Black Hand" - Arthur B. Reeve
8. "The Grotto Spectre" - Anna Katherine Green
9. "The Mystery of the Steel Disk" - Broughton Brandenburg
10. "The Sign of the Shadow" - Maurice Le Blanc
11. "The Mystery of the Steel Room" - Thomas W. Hanshew

A reviewer marvels at how these stories so closely follow the Poe plan:
. . . Yet in spite of these minor differences [among the stories collected here], what seems most striking is the fidelity with which all these authors have followed the formula of Poe. Instead of inventing the form did he discover something inherent in the structure of the detective tale?
Must all detectives have mediocre companions through whose consciousness the narrative can be reported up to the moment when the lightning strikes and the master reveals what has not been guessed by the stupider companion—and the readers?
Are the motives and methods of crime, under all the surface disguises, capable of being reduced to such simple formulas?
One thing is certain, the detective story, entertaining as it may be, is the most thoroughly standardized product in modern literature, as bright and hard and competent as a jack-knife, and hardly one iota more humane. — "Books in Brief," THE NATION (September 25, 1920)

Category: Detective fiction

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

"He Holds the Attention of the Reader Till the End"

A CASE IN CAMERA.
By Oliver Onions (1873-1961).
MacMillan.
1921. 320 pages.
Online HERE and HERE.
Onions is most known nowadays for his psychological horror fiction, but even his limited output of detective stories isn't of the ordinary sort:
The name of the book is in itself a play on words, in which lurks a solution of the story's mystery.
Why do so many people in this case discourage the solving of what seems to be plain murder? That is the second problem—and the answer is a strange one.
The story is original and its incidents singular. — THE OUTLOOK (May 11, 1921)
In "A Case in Camera" we have the mystery story, replete with the usual paraphernalia of inexplicable events that await the concluding chapter for their solution.
A murder is committed under the most unusual circumstances; apparently an accident, it is really the deliberate slaying of a man by a [SPOILER]; and out of it arise numerous complications that are not unraveled until the final scene.
Oliver Onions tells his story convincingly; he musters his army of facts so as to create and maintain suspense; he makes the explanation ingenuous [ingenious?] as well as comparatively simple; and he holds the attention of the reader till the end. — "Brief Reviews of New Books," THE BOOKMAN (June 1921)

Category: Detective fiction

"The Villainy Is of a Much Less Pronounced Description"

A CONFIDENTIAL AGENT.
By James Payn (1830-98).
1881.
Online scanned facsimile editions available (see below).

James Payn was a Victorian writer in the Dickens tradition who likewise meandered into the crime fiction field:
By nature James Payn was a humourist of the older or Dickens-like school, delighting in puns and turns of thought which owed their laughter-giving quality mainly to their unexpectedness, delighting also in semi-farcical characters like his Chinamen and the Wardlaws in "By Proxy," delighting most of all in half-cynical sketches of exceedingly good but rather out-of-the-way old ladies and young women. 
He had succeeded, however, with "Sir Massingberd," and that gave him ever after what he would himself, we fancy, have described as a Miltonic twist, a disposition to make of a Satan his central figure and the cause of all the mischiefs in his story.
His Satans were seldom very formidable. They never in the twelve or fifteen of his novels that we have read and remember murdered any one, or lusted after any one, or succeeded in any of the villainies they devised. They are simply utterly selfish scoundrels, caring nothing for anything but success in their own immediate plans, and riding rough-shod over anybody who might stand in their way.
Even Ralph Pennicuick in "By Proxy," though he dooms his best friend to death by slow torture, is essentially no more than that; and in most of them, as for instance in the capital story, "Kit: a Memory," the villainy is of a much less pronounced description, the villainy of a swindler merely; as in "The Confidential Agent," also a most enjoyable story, it is that of an ordinary robber . . . 
They [his Satans] are, however, fairly interesting, they act as motive powers to cause the necessary complications, they produce strong situations, and their fate as a rule produces the necessary curdling of the blood. For it was part of Mr. Payn's intellectual idiosyncrasy to hate his villains very hard. He never really explains them, never allows them good qualities unless it be a power of loving selfishly, and never lets them off, but just hangs them up, as we doubt not in real life he would have been delighted to do. One of them whom he specially hates he boils alive. — THE SPECTATOR (2 April 1898)
A CONFIDENTIAL AGENT was published in three volumes which still survive on the Internet:
~ Volume 1 HERE.
~ Volume 2 HERE.
~ Volume 3 HERE.

Resource:
- Wikisource has a Dictionary of National Biography entry on Payn HERE.

Category: Detective fiction

Friday, April 11, 2014

"The Crook Language"

It looks as if at one time criminal slang was threatening to get completely out of hand:
What are we going to do with the crook plays and the crook novels now so much with us? I refer of course to the trouble the authors of them deliberately cause us by their flourishing of the crook language.
. . . I have come to the conclusion that what the reading public needs is a little discreet guidance. To this end I have prepared a short examination paper in crook terms which I give below, and which I believe covers the ground with some completeness.  . . . — Moreby Acklom, " 'Wise-Cracking' Crook Novels," THE BOOKMAN (April 1919)
Take the exam and see how much you know about the subject.

Resources:
- George Bronson Howard (1884-1922), mentioned in the piece, has an impressive filmography, which is HERE.
- Lists of '20s slang, much of it gangster related, are HERE, HERE, and HERE (but no
fair if you use them to cheat on the exam).

Category: Detective fiction

"Better Quality Than Usual"

The demand for detective stories produced quite a few in the period during and after the First World War:
The recent supply of mystery stories, on the other hand, has been of distinctly better quality than usual. You have to have an idea of some sort in a story of crime and detection, and this saves it from the complacent banality of the tale of conventional "adventure." The difficulty has often been that the workmanship was so crude, the style so vulgar, the people so absurd, the dialogue so stilted, that mere ingenuity of plot—though hardly a secondary matter in this kind of fiction—could not make up for them, for any reader of intelligence.
The standard in these respects is certainly going up. Writers are discovering that it cannot do harm and may do good to make their characters something like human beings, with the gait and accent of every-day; and we may as well suppose that this is in response to some sort of demand on the part of their special public.
In short, I gather that the taste for mystery fiction not only holds in quantity but improves in quality.
If you ask for instances I would cite offhand among very recent publications, "The Solitary House," "The Apartment Next Door," "The Mystery of Hartley House," and "Sinister House"—a rather odd uniformity of title, now that I notice it. There are current fashions in titles, as in everything else. — John Walcott, "Current Taste in Fiction," THE BOOKMAN (March 1919; Jump To page 41, top left)

Category: Detective fiction

"How Old Is Sherlock Holmes?"

Sherlockians (a.k.a. Holmesians) have debated the age of the Sage of Baker Street for, well, centuries. A critic writing in THE BOOKMAN had a go at it (and this was while Doyle was still publishing Holmes's adventures). The article begins:
IT was many years ago that Conan Doyle, for the moment grown weary of his most widely known creation, sent Sherlock Holmes to apparent death in an Alpine pass, only to bring him back for a series of new adventures.
In many cases the exact period of these adventures was indefinite, but "His Last Bow" established the fact that Holmes was alive and in the full vigor of his powers as late as August, 1914.
It is to be assumed that he is still of the earth today, and that, as the brains and energy of the British secret service, he was a conspicuous factor in bringing the Great War to a victorious conclusion.
It is to be hoped that eventually the story of these exploits will be told. In the meantime an obvious question is: "How old is Sherlock Holmes?"
Here and there in the course of the forty-odd tales involving the eminent practitioner of the science of deduction there is a vast amount of personal information, but on the point of his exact age there is a certain latitude for conjecture. . . . — Beverly Stark, "How Old Is Sherlock Holmes?", THE BOOKMAN (July 1920)
Stark also takes time for some observations about how Holmes was being treated—mistreated might be a better word—in other parts of the world, particularly Spain,
Spanish-America, and Russia:
Barcelona is the birthplace of an Iberian Sherlock Holmes . . . The fabrication of his adventures is an industry of the city, employing the imaginations of a score of hack writers.
. . . The nature of these lurid tales of Spanish fabrication may be indicated by a translation of some of the titles: for example, "Blackwell, the Pirate of the Thames," "The Seller of Corpses," "Jack the Ripper," "The Bloody Hammer," "The Red Widow of Paris," "In the Pittsburgh School of Crime," and "Sherlock Holmes and the Opium Smugglers."
Russia, as well as Spain and the lands of Spanish influence and tradition, has had its transplanted, adopted, and adapted Sherlock Holmes. . . . Among the titles of the tales of the Doyle hero told with a Slavonic twist were "The Stranglers," "The Hanged," "The Expropriators," and "The Disinterred Corpse."
. . . The then new craze [in Russia] for Sherlock Holmes stories, a critic thought, foreshadowed a complete change in the Russian reader, the decay of the literature of passivity, and the rise of a new literature of action and revolt. — Beverly Stark, op. cit.
So do we have here at least an inkling that, unwittingly on Doyle's part, Sherlock Holmes's adventures might have helped cause the Russian Revolution?

To return briefly to the matter of Holmes's age:
Explicit details about Sherlock Holmes's life outside of the adventures recorded by Dr. Watson are few and far between in Conan Doyle's original stories; nevertheless, incidental details about his early life and extended families portray a loose biographical picture of the detective. An estimate of Holmes's age in the story "His Last Bow" places his birth in 1854; the story is set in August 1914 and he is described as being 60 years of age. Leslie Klinger cites the date as 6 January. — Wikipedia, "Sherlock Holmes"

Category: Detective fiction

Thursday, April 10, 2014

"He Is Concerned Mainly to Give His Readers the Indispensable Thrill"

Frank L. Packard (1877-1942) was, as this journalist puts it, a "born story-weaver and self-made writer, who never uses his middle name which happens to be 'Lucius'." Veteran detective fiction readers remember Packard for his Jimmie Dale stories, to which reference is made in the following excerpt:
Too often authors are either praised for qualities that they do not possess or are adversely criticized for wanting qualities to which they make no claim and that are by no means essential in their chosen field.
Now Frank Packard isn't a Joseph Hergensheimer, nor an Arnold Bennett, nor a Joseph Conrad, but he is a decidedly effective Frank Packard. He is not—nor does he make any pretense of being—a profound psychologist; he is a born story-teller with a born story-teller's instinct for vivid incident, vigorous action, and dramatic or even melodramatic climax. But he is not merely a weaver of plots.
In his detective stories, it is true, he is concerned mainly to give his readers the indispensable thrill, and works to that end. Accordingly in "The Wire Devils" we find his detective hero, as elusive and nearly as bullet-proof as a shadow, re-peatedly foiling the schemes of a gang of wiretappers and thugs in spite of all the efforts of the miscreants and the minions of the law, both of whom believe him to be a master-criminal.
In the "Jimmie Dale" stories we have essentially the same hero—this time a "millionaire clubman" of New York, known, in various disguises, to the baffled police and malevolent underworld as "the Gray Seal"—committing all sorts of innocuous and benevolent burglaries to the discomfiture and final annihila-tion of the most desperate bands of criminals. Of course, as in all tales of the character, it is borne upon the reflective reader that both police and criminals are wooden Indians to allow even a prodigy of ingenuity and invulnerability to repeat the same exploits with such frequency and impunity.
But detective stories are not built for reflection. They are our modern fairy tales for adults, intended to engross, divert, and thrill; and "The Adventures of Jimmie Dale" as well as the adventures of that mysterious detective "the Hawk" in "The Wire Devils," amply fulfil that laudable purpose. — Arthur Guiterman, "Frank L. Packard and His Miracle Men," THE BOOKMAN (June 1920)
Packard wasn't finished with the Gray Seal, however, taking the character from the teens into the mid-'30s:
"The Gray Seal" is the first story in Packard's The Adventures of Jimmie Dale (1914-1915). It sets up the background of his popular gentleman thief. It is a very entertaining piece that shows great ingenuity in its plotting. The respectable hero with his thief secret identity of the Gray Seal seems close to several later pulp magazine characters. These are the Rogue tales that seems closest to Erle Stanley Gardner's Lester Leith and Ed Jenkins, who like the Gray Seal, use their "criminal" activities to aid the innocent, and interfere in evil schemes. And the hero's adventures in his secret identity remind one of Frederick Davis' The Moon Man. In later stories, Dale will adopt other underworld identities, as well. These multiple secret identities anticipate Walter Gibson's The Shadow. Herman Landon's Gray Phantom seems to be a straightforward imitation of Packard's The Gray Seal. The Adventures of Jimmie Dale seem like a complete blueprint of the way in which secret identities will be used in later fiction. — Mike Grost, "Frank L. Packard," A GUIDE TO CLASSIC MYSTERY AND DETECTION
Resources:
- "The Miracle Men" in the title above is an oblique reference to the 1919 film starring Lon Chaney that was adapted from Packard's 1914 novel. See THE BOOKMAN article for more.
- David L. Vineyard takes a synoptic look at Jimmie Dale HERE.
- The GAD Wiki has a Packard bibliography HERE.
- Project Gutenberg has two of the five Jimmie Dale titles online HERE and HERE.

Category: Detective fiction

We'll Always Have Paris

"When good Americans die, they go to Paris." — Oscar Wilde
"The Mystery of Marie Roget."
By Edgar Allan Poe.
Short story.
First appeared in The Ladies' Companion, serialized 1842-43.
Online HERE.
Arthur Bartlett Maurice (1873-1946) once took a trip to Paris. Good for him, you might be thinking; but being the litterateur that he was, he toured with an eye to fiction, including works by detective story writers:
Edgar Allan Poe, unless the present Pilgrim be grievously in error, never saw Lutetia; never was nearer to it than in his youthful days in the English school at Stoke-Newington; yet there is a very definite Paris that is the background of "The Purloined Letter," "The Murders in the Rue Morgue," and "The Mystery of Marie Roget."
. . . As everyone knows, "The Mystery of Marie Roget" was based on the murder, in 1842, of Mary Cecilia Rogers, the beautiful cigar girl of the John Anderson shop at the corner of Broadway and Duane Street, New York, whose body was found floating in the Hudson River near what was once known as the Sybil's Cave at Weekhawken. It was the cause célèbre of the time, and Poe, in common with almost everyone else in New York—or rather in the country at large, for Poe was not at the time living in New York—had a theory as to the method and the perpetrators of the crime. So in the story, under pretence of a Parisian grisette [a young working-class Frenchwoman], employed in a perfumery shop in the Palais Royal, the author followed, in minute detail, the essential, while merely paralleling the unessential, facts of the real murder of Mary Rogers. Thus Nassau Street became the Rue Pavée Saint-André; John Anderson, Monsieur Leblanc; the Hudson, the Seine; Weehawken, the Barrière du Roule; and the New York Brother Jonathan, the New York Journal of Commerce, and the Philadelphia Saturday Evening Post, "a weekly paper," respectively, L'Étoile, Le Commerciel, and Le Soleil.
There is not, and it may be said with probable safety, any such street in Paris as the Rue Morgue, the scene of the strange and terrible murders of Madame L'Espanaye and her daughter Camille L'Espanaye. But the apartment was in the Quartier Saint-Roch, that familiar section of the city which lies within the triangle of which the hypotenuse is the Avenue de l'Opéra, and the other two sides the Rue de Rivoli and the Rue de la Paix continued through the Place Vendôme and along the Rue Castiglione. Dr. John Watson first met Sherlock Holmes in a hospital where the latter was engaged in the amiable pastime of beating corpses in order to ascertain how far wounds might be produced after death. The historian of the deeds of Monsieur C. Auguste Dupin, of all the sources from which Conan Doyle drew his investigator of criminal activities one of the most direct, found him in a library in the Rue Montmartre, where the two men had gone in search of the same rare and remarkable volume. As one encounter resulted in Watson and Holmes sharing the now famous apartment in Upper Baker Street, the other led to a common residence in a time-eaten and grotesque mansion tottering to its fall in a retired and desolate portion of the Faubourg Saint-Germain. — Arthur Bartlett Maurice, Chapter XII: "The Paris of Some Americans," pages 179-181, in THE PARIS OF THE NOVELISTS (1919)

Category: Detective fiction

Monday, April 7, 2014

Gidleigh of the Yard

WHERE'S MR. CHUMLEY?
By Seldon Truss (1892-1990).
Crime Club.
1948. 191 pages. $2.25
If you're in the market for Scotland Yard police procedurals, trust in Truss to deliver:
Where indeed is the Reverend Mr. Chumley, curate at Charwell? The police suspect that he is off with an illicit lover, but those who know the good man are dubious, perhaps incredulous. As well they might be, for the unfinished letter to his "lover" turns out to be a forgery. — William F. Deeck, MYSTERY*FILE (3 November 2010)
English curate's strange disappearance first interests local parties, then Scotland Yarder Gidleigh, who quietly unearths some chilling matters. - Excellent suspense item, with good background, lively characters, believable detective, and outcome that may dawn early but is tragically right. - Verdict: High-grade British. — "The Criminal Record," THE SATURDAY REVIEW (January 1, 1949)
Other Seldon Truss works:

   GALLOWS BAIT (1928) a.k.a THE LIVING ALIBI [review HERE; Jump To page 784]

   THE STOLEN MILLIONAIRE (1929) [reviews HERE (Jump To page 682) and HERE]

   The Man Without Pity (1930) a.k.a Number Nought

   The Hunterstone Outrage (1931)

   Mr. Coroner Presides (1932) a.k.a. The Coroner Presides

   Turmoil at Brede (1932)

   THEY CAME BY NIGHT (1933) [review HERE]

   The Daughters of Belial (1934)

   Escort to Danger (1935)
   DRAW THE BLINDS (1936) a.k.a. THE CROOK'S SHEPHERD [review HERE]
   Murder Paves the Way (1936)

   Rooksmiths (1936) a.k.a. Deadline for a Diplomat

   Footsteps Behind Them (1937)

   The Man Who Played Patience (1937)
   She Could Take Care (1937)

   Foreign Bodies (1938)

   The Disappearance of Julie Hintz (1940)

   LADIES ALWAYS TALK (1950) a.k.a. WHY SLUG A POSTMAN? [review HERE]
   NEVER FIGHT A LADY (1950) [review HERE]
   Sweeter for His Going (1950)

   DEATH OF NO LADY (1952) [review HERE]
  ALWAYS ASK A POLICEMAN (1953) [reviews HERE and HERE]
    PUT OUT THE LIGHT (1953) a.k.a. THE DOCTOR WAS A DAME [review HERE]

   THE HIGH WALL (1954) a.k.a. THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WALL [review HERE]
   THE LONG NIGHT (1955) a.k.a. FALSE FACE [review HERE]
   THE BARBERTON INTRIGUE (1956) a.k.a. A STORE OF WRATH [review HERE]
   The Truth About Claire Veryan (1957)

   In Secret Places (1958)

   THE HIDDEN MEN (1959) a.k.a. A MAN TO MATCH THE HOUR [review HERE]
   One Man's Death (1960) a.k.a. One Man's Enemies

   Seven Years Dead (1961)

   A TIME TO HATE (1962) [review HERE]

   TECHNIQUE FOR TREACHERY (1963) [review HERE]

   Walk a Crooked Mile (1964)

   The Town That Went Sick (1965)

   Eyes at the Window (1966)

   The Bride That Got Away (1967)

   The Hands of the Shadow (1968)

   The Corpse That Got Away (1969)

As by George Selmark:

   Murder in Silence (1939)


Category: Detective fiction

"Its Shifting of Emphasis from Pure Puzzle to the Study of Character and Setting"

THE WARRIELAW JEWEL.
By Winifred Peck (1882-1962). 
Dutton.
1933. 320 pages. $2.00
No e-versions or reprints seem to be available.
Detective fiction expert Curt Evans points to this book as one that presaged the impending advent of the modern "crime novel":
Dour Scottish family owns famous jewel which precipitates murder solved by young barrister and his wife. - Best for its atmosphere. Better written and characterized than most mysteries. A grim picture of family hatred and its results. - Verdict: Good. — "The Criminal Record," THE SATURDAY REVIEW (September 16, 1933)
The Warrielaw Jewel actually is set in the Edwardian era, 1909 specifically ("that period, so far away from modern youth, when King Edward VII lived, and skirts were long and motors few, and the term Victorian was not yet a reproach").  . . . Jewel is notable as an early example of a Golden Age mystery that, in its shifting of emphasis from pure puzzle to the study of character and setting, helped mark the gradual shift from detective story to crime novel which Julian Symons famously celebrated in his history of the mystery genre, Bloody Murder. — Curt J. Evans, MYSTERY*FILE (26 October 2010) and THE PASSING TRAMP (January 15, 2012)
The plot and prose are well-constructed. However, I felt that they were both rather ponderous, and I found myself longing for a bit of excitement. Even potentially dramatic scenes had a rather soporific feel to them. This book is interesting as an example of a novel written in the midst of the Golden Age that sought to be something more than a puzzle, and really is a study in character and setting. — Martin Edwards, DO YOU WRITE UNDER YOUR OWN NAME? (11 February 2011)

Category: Detective fiction

Friday, April 4, 2014

"The Plot Is an Excellent One"

THE COUNTERFEIT MURDERS.
By Victor MacClure (1887-1963).
Harrap.
1933. 252 pages. 7s. 6d.
"Victor MacClure," says the GAD Wiki, "was the creator of Chief-Inspector-Detective Archibald Burford, who has intelligence, money, and a talented scalp."
Mr. Victor MacClure is one of those astonishingly versatile people; he is equally at home on the stage, with a paintbrush in his hand, or at the novelist's desk. He has written not a few readable books, but nothing to beat "The Counterfeit Murders."
In the present craze for the eccentric detective it is refreshing to find a real, honest-to-goodness fellow like Inspector Burford, of decent manners, modest outlook and jolly good common sense.
The plot is an excellent one, concerning the linking up of certain strange murders with a very convincing scheme by the Bolsheviks to upset the financial system of this country.
The writer of this note is able to hazard a shrewd guess at the highly reliable sources from which Mr. MacClure has evidently drawn the information on which to base what is certainly one of the best crime stories published for a long time. — "The Bookman's Table," THE BOOKMAN [U.K.] (March 1933)
Some other MacClure titles (with reviews where possible):

DEATH BEHIND THE DOOR.
By Victor MacClure.
Houghton Mifflin.
1933. $2.00
Wakeling's death looked accidental to casual eye but Inspector Burford scented murder though he couldn't prove it. - Capital battle of wits between Scotland Yard man and "well-intentioned" killer. Invisible ink rings main clue. - Verdict: Good. — "The Criminal Record," THE SATURDAY REVIEW (August 26, 1933)
THE "CRYING PIG" MURDER.
By Victor MacClure.
Harrap.
1933. 287 pages.
THE CLUE OF THE DEAD GOLDFISH.
By Victor MacClure.
Lippincott.
1934. 254 pages. $2.00
Corpse in blackened ruins of British inventor's workshop brings Insp. Burford (whose scalp is wriggly) to scene. - Every little footprint has a meaning all its own in this extra-carefully worked out and slightly mechanical affair. - Verdict: Good hunting.  — "The Criminal Record," THE SATURDAY REVIEW (September 22, 1934)
DEATH ON THE SET.
By Victor MacClure.
Lippincott.
1934. 252 pages.
Filmed (rather badly, it seems) in 1935 as DEATH ON THE SET, later retitled MURDER ON THE SET.
SHE STANDS ACCUSED [nonfiction].
By Victor MacClure.
Lippincott.
1935. $2.50
Six factual cases of lurid ladies who slew and slew and slew. - A grisly book of murderesses. For those who find the horrible truth about killing more fascinating than fiction. - Verdict: Shuddery. — "The Criminal Record," THE SATURDAY REVIEW (June 29, 1935)
This book is a portrait-gallery of celebrated women criminals. Jean Livingstone, who had her husband poisoned and was executed for the crime; Anne Turner, known all over England for her shady deeds, and who was finally ex-ecuted for her part in the conspiracy to kill Thomas Overbury; Sarah Malcolm, a char-woman who did away with three people in one night; Sophie Dawes, suspected of killing her lover, the Duc de Bourbon; Helene Jegado, the woman who murdered more than two dozen people over a period of twenty years, but who betrayed herself in the end by a careless slip of the tongue; and the merry widows - Mmes. Bouisier and Lacoste - who also had husbands who died mysteriously of poisoning - these are the ladies whom the author has chosen for his subjects.
Unfortunately, the book, as a whole, is disappointing. From such an array of criminal notables as these, more, certainly, should have been made. Mr. MacClure, one feels, has approached his material much too seriously; he informs but he does not entertain. — "Checklist of New Books," THE AMERICAN MERCURY (September 1935). [SHE STANDS ACCUSED is available on Project Gutenberg HERE.]
HI-SPY-KICK-THE-CAN.
By Victor MacClure.
Harrap.
1936. 269 pages.
Like the only other MacClure mystery I've read, The Clue of the Dead Goldfish, much of the investigation centres on tracking the movements of people at the crime scene through the use of footprints and other physical clues. These clues, along with re-enactment of the game of hi-spy-kick-the-can, soon prove that not everyone in the game has been forthright about their movements that night and it's up to Burford, who strives to be genial, fair and not given to premature theorizing, to discover what really went on during the game. — Darrell, THE STUDY LAMP (6 February 2012)
THE HOUSE OF DEATH.
By Victor MacClure.
Hodder and Stoughton.
1937. 320 pages.

Category: Detective fiction