Monday, June 30, 2014

"Something New and Rather Pleasing in the Detective Line"

THE ADVENTURES OF DETECTIVE BARNEY.
By Harvey J[errold] O'Higgins (1876-1929).
1915. 305 pages. $1.30
Collection: 7 stories.
Online HERE.
Contents:
(1) "The Blackmailers" [reprinted in AHMM, June 2005]
(2) "The Case of Padages Palmer" [Collier's, November 30, 1912]
(3) "Though Mountains Meet Not" [Collier's, December 7, 1912]
(4) "The Kidnappers"
(5) "The Anonymous Letters" [Collier’s, January 4, 1913]
(6) "Barney and King Lear" [Collier’s, September 20, 1913]
(7) "Barney Has a Hunch" [Collier’s, September 5, 1914]
One story featuring Barney not included in the collection was "The Dummy" [Collier’s, December 21, 1912], which is online HERE. Not only was it converted into a Broadway play that ran from April 13, 1914 to October 1914 (200 performances), it was also filmed twice, as a silent in 1917 [see HERE] and a talkie in 1929 [HERE and HERE].
The Adventures of Detective Barney narrates a series of incidents in the career of a messenger boy who, through the influence of Nick Carter and other inspiring authors, concluded that there was more life to be enjoyed in ferreting out crime than in delivering telegrams.
This same "Detective Barney" is also the Barney Cook who is the hero of "The Dummy," one of the most successful plays of the New York theatrical season.
Among the cases to which he devotes his attention are those of the anonymous letter, the blackmailers, the disappearance of Miss Baker, the finding of Padages Palmer and the kidnappers.
Detective Barney is a typical Eastside type, with all the wit and ingenuity of the boy who has lived on the streets, and his adventures make a book that will delight all readers who enjoy original detective stories that are told with humor and a shrewd understanding of human nature. The illustrations, by Henry Raleigh, are particularly good. — THE BOOKSELLER, NEWSDEALER AND STATIONER (February 1, 1915)
A new and amiable variation of the detective type of fiction appears in The Adventures of Detective Barneyby Mr. Harvey J. O'Higgins. Barney's exploits, by the way, have been presented on the stage in a play entitled The Dummy.
Barney is sixteen years of age, the product of the lower west side of New York City. To him the world beyond the North River, the East River and the Harlem River does not exist, or, at any rate, has no obvious reason for existing. Informed that he is about to be taken to Philadelphia, he is puzzled. Hitherto, Philadelphia has meant to him, not a city, but a base ball team. An adventure involving a night in the country leaves him terror sticken.
On the other hand, no aspect of the great city is a mystery to him. Separated from Broadway for the briefest moment, he yearns for the white lights as Private Ortheris in his madness yearned for the Tottenham Court Road.
His grammar is frequently defective, but never his native shrewdness or his resource. An interesting type. May be appear for our amusement in many new incarnations. — "Chronicle and Comment," THE BOOKMAN (March 1915, page 16)
. . . Mr. O'Higgins is frequently asked if the young detective of The Dummy isn't a little too bright for even a bright boy detective. "And I tell them," said Mr. O'Higgins, "that the original of Barney in the play was a real boy, a Secret Service operative, whose amazing adventures would make the exploits of the boy detective in the Meredith case seem like matter-of-course experiences." — Grace Van Braam Gray, "The World of Drama," THE BOOK NEWS MONTHLY (April 1915, pages 405-6)
Ellery Queen observed:
. . . Mr. O'Higgins's approach was consistently unusual. Earlier, as the result of having written a series of articles on the Burns detective agency, he saw the possibilities of depicting simple, realistic, private-eye work through the eyes of a typical American boy; his Barney Cook . . . is the most believable boy-bloodhound in the entire short-story field. — Ellery Queen, QUEEN'S QUORUM (1951, page 85)
Mike Grost characterizes these stories this way:
Are these Mysteries? It is unclear whether all the tales in The Adventures of Detective Barney are full-fledged mysteries, in the strictest sense of the term. The tales are certainly full of crime and detection. But the stories often do not center on solving a mysterious situation.
Stories like "The Blackmailers" and "Barney Has a Hunch" show Barney investigating someone. Barney doesn't know all about this man at the start, and learns more about him as the investigation progresses. In this sense Barney is investigating a mysterious situation, and learning answers. This makes these tales mystery stories, in the loosest sense of the term.
But these tales are not "puzzle plot" mysteries. In other words, the tales are NOT works in which a "mysterious situation leads to a logical but surprising solution." — A GUIDE TO CLASSIC MYSTERY AND DETECTION ("Harvey J. O'Higgins")
DETECTIVE DUFF UNRAVELS IT.
By Harvey J[errold] O'Higgins (1876-1929).
Horace Liveright.
1929. 303 pages. $2.00
Collection: 8 stories.
Used copies fetch between $300 and $600.
Contents:
(1) "The Marshall Murder"
(2) "The Gold Frames"
(3) "The Parson Case" [Red Book, November 1925]
(4) "James Illinois Bell" [Red Book, June 1925]
(5) "The Love Charm"
(6) "Abe Enger and the Princess"
(7) "The Fogull Murder"
(8) "The Hefflin Fund"
Something new and rather pleasing in the detective line is Mr. Duff, who with some knowledge of modern psychoanalytical methods, and with very little reliance on fingerprints, bits of torn cloth and cigarette butts, solves eight cases for you in this book. He finds his clues in the complexes, dreams and suppressed desires of the criminals. The solution in each case is logical and inevitable. There is humor and subtlety in the handling—enough to go in a dozen detective stories of the usual kind. Highly recommended. — Walter R. Brooks, "Picked at Random, " THE OUTLOOK (July 17, 1929)
EIGHT cases are cleverly worked out by Duff, who works from mental clews, his method being quite at variance with those of most of his confrères. The subjects are totally unalike and each is handled in a neat psychological manner. — "Notes on New Books," THE BOOKMAN (September 1929; go to page XXV, top right)
EQ tells us that:
Detective Duff Unravels It represents the first serious approach to psychoanalytical detection. As the publisher wrote in 1929, every crime is committed in two places—at the physical scene of the crime, where the police investigate it, and in the mind of the criminal. Detective John Duff followed the second trail—deep in the mind of the perpetrator.
He unravels one murder mystery by analyzing the victim's dreams; he discovers the identity of a thief who steals gold picture frames by probing the unconscious fears of the owner's wife; he solves a kidnaping by uncovering the suppressed desires of a beautiful debutante; he even invents a love charm as a psychiatric aid to detection. — Ellery Queen, QUEEN'S QUORUM (1951, page 85)
Resources:
- Heywood Broun has an elliptical appraisal of Harvey O'Higgins HERE.
- The GAD Wiki entry for O'Higgins is HERE.
- THE THRILLING DETECTIVE website has an entire page devoted to Detective Barney HERE.
- O'Higgins seemed to accept Freudian views of the mind, particularly the power of the subconscious to shape art: "The most popular American novel in the past has been the romantic, because the great need of the American psyche has been to escape the pressure of reality." — "A Note on the Novel," THE NEW REPUBLIC (April 12, 1922)

Category: Detective fiction

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Ten by Gladys (and We Don't Mean Mitchell)

After Rich Westwood recently posted his review of Gladys Edson Locke's 1925 novel The House on the Downs (see below), we looked for more by this very obscure thriller writer; what follows, we freely admit, is all that we could find on the Internet (given time limitations), but there certainly must be much more we haven't stumbled across. Nearly all that we know about Locke, who like John Dickson Carr was an American stricken with a severe case of Anglophilia, is in Ronald Smyth's entry on the GAD Wiki HEREThe Dorchester Atheneum (go HERE) assures us that "Most of her books were top selling novels."

THAT AFFAIR AT PORTSTEAD MANOR.
By Gladys Edson Locke (1887- ?).
Sherman, French & Co.
1914. 266 pages.
Online HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE.
[Excerpts] Three detectives are enlisted in the effort to solve the mystery of a stolen and mysteriously restored diamond necklace, or rather the more engrossing mystery of the murder of the master of Portstead, which temporarily eclipses the interest in the initial problem.  . . . with the woman detective, Mercedes Quero, alias Mary Grey, on their [the culprit's] trail, clue is added to clue, until, with a mass of information in her hand, a confession is forced. Who makes that confession only a very skilful reader of detective stories will be likely to guess. — "Current Fiction," THE NATION (August 13, 1914; go to page 194, left bottom)
THE RED CAVALIER: OR THE TWIN TURRETS MYSTERY.
By Glady Edson Locke (1887- ?).
The Page Company.
1922. 372 pages.
Online HERE and HERE.
The Red Cavalier was pronounced by the critics in 1923 as the “best mystery novel of the year.” One critic wrote, “It begins as a typical English week-end house party in a haunted castle with twin turrets in Yorkshire. Miss Locke is able to weave a weird and absorbing tale of a modern detective romance.
Termed “A Mystery Story That is Different” The Red Cavalier portrays a vision of India common in England in the 1920s, an India exhibiting subtlety and strangeness, poison and daggers, impassive faces and fierce heats of Prince Bardai and his priestly advisor contrasted with a typical English weekend house party at Twin Turrets, in Yorkshire, inevitably the setting of a mystery.
And the Plot! Who is the mysterious Red Cavalier? Is he the ghost of the ancestral portrait in the library? Is he responsible for Prince Kassim’s murder? Or is it only coincidence that one of the guests at the masked ball happened to wear the costume of the Red Cavalier? — THE DORCHESTER ATHENEUM ("Gladys Edson Locke")
THE SCARLET MACAW.
By Gladys Edson Locke (1887- ?).
L. C. Page & Co.
1923. 315 pages.
Online HERE and HERE.
THE PURPLE MIST.
By Gladys Edson Locke (1887- ?).
L. C. Page Inc.
1924. 363 pages.

THE HOUSE ON THE DOWNS.
By Gladys Edson Locke (1887- ?).
L. C. Page & Co.
1925. 305 pages.
[Excerpt] . . . The mystery aspect of the book is thin. There’s an entirely needless secret passage. The Scotland Yard detective’s activity is restricted to waiting outside Rotherdene Grange and following anyone who sneaks out at night. Which is almost everyone. And ultimately the identity of the murderer is so obvious that I thought it was a ham-handed red herring.  . . . — Rich Westwood, PAST OFFENCES (June 24, 2014)
THE GREY GABLES.
By Gladys Edson Locke (1887- ?).
1927. 287 pages.

THE GOLDEN LOTUS.
By Gladys Edson Locke (1887- ?).
L. C. Page & Co.
1927. 328 pages.

THE REDMAYNES.
By Gladys Edson Locke (1887- ?).
L. C. Page.
1928. 327 pages.

THE FENWOOD MURDERS.
By Gladys Edson Locke (1887- ?).
John Long.
1931. 288 pages.

THE RAVENSDALE MYSTERY.
By Gladys Edson Locke (1887- ?).
L. C. Page.
1935. 403 pages.

Category: Detective fiction

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

"Something of a Work of Art"

THE TWISTED FOOT.
By Henry Milner Rideout (1877-1927).
Houghton Mifflin Co.
1910. 248 pages.
Online HERE, HERE, and HERE.
The mystery content of this one is, comparatively speaking, virtually nil:
[Excerpt] . . . The purpose of the rest of the story is twofold: to discover the identity of the girl and to run down and wreak vengeance upon the man with the twisted toe—and both of these purposes Mr. Rideout accomplishes with a maximum of suspense and impending dangers. — Frederic Taber Cooper, "Mine Own People and Some Recent Books," THE BOOKMAN (July 1910; go to page 524, left center)
[Excerpt] . . . Mr. Rideout has a peculiar descriptive power. This finds free play in a rich setting of lonely sea, volcanic island, and tropic forest. The same quality makes out of an ordinary story of action and excitement something of a work of art.  . . . — "Current Fiction," THE NATION (August 18, 1910; go to page 145, right center)

Category: Adventure fiction

"An Hour or Two of Exciting Reading"

THE DANGER TRAIL.
By James Oliver Curwood (1878-1927).
Grosset & Dunlap.
1910. 306 pages.
Online HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE.
James Curwood's fiction closely followed the themes and settings first explored by Jack London:
[Excerpt] . . . It would be unfair to the book for the reviewer to reveal the mystery [thanks!] that surrounds [John] Howland [the protagonist], because the unravelling of this mystery is all the book has to offer the reader. He ought to be left to find it out for himself [agreed], and it is safe to predict that he will not put the book out of his hand until he does find it out. It will give him an hour of two of exciting reading, and he will regret that the author was so saving with his material.  . . . — Grace Isabel Colbron, "Thirteen Books of the Month," THE BOOKMAN (April 1910)

Category: Mystery fiction

"It Is Extremely Hard for Anyone at the Present Day to Make Detective Stories Original"

THE TRIUMPHS OF EUGÈNE VALMONT.
By Robert Barr (1849-1912).
D. Appleton and Co.
1906. 330 pages.
Collection: 8 (+ 2) stories.
Online HERE, HERE, and HERE.
Contents:
1. "The Mystery of the Five Hundred Diamonds"
2. "The Siamese Twin of a Bomb-Thrower"
3. "The Clue of the Silver Spoons"
4. "Lord Chizelrigg's Missing Fortune" [also online HERE]
5. "The Absent-Minded Coterie"
6. "The Ghost with the Club-Foot"
7. "The Liberation of Wyoming Ed"
8. "Lady Alicia's Emeralds"
APPENDIX: Two Sherlock Holmes Parodies
1. "The Adventures of Sherlaw Kombs"
2. "The Adventure of the Second Swag"

First, contemporary assessments:
[Excerpt] Detectives themselves now write their reminiscences. To whom they appeal, we do not know, but we have certainly seen them published with great flourish of trumpets, in country newspapers. Fiction is not to be outdone. Mr. Robert Barr has written the reminiscences of Eugène Valmont, imaginary chief detective to the government of France; and they seem to be distinctly better than the real thing of the aforesaid country newspapers. As for reality ... — "Novel Notes," THE BOOKMAN [UK] (May 1906)
[Full review] Mr. Robert Barr is extremely fond of the detective story, and contrives to impart a slight element of novelty to the present series of adventures by making his amateur detective a retired professional from the Paris Police Force.
To say that the stories are written by Mr. Robert Barr is to say that they are ingenious; but it is extremely hard for any one at the present day to make detective stories original. The plots have all been used up long since, and the best efforts of modern authors can now only accomplish variations of some four or five essential themes.
There is indeed hardly one of these stories of which the reader does not forecast the end as quickly as M. Eugene Valmont himself. It is curious that, in spite of this fact, detective stories continue to be produced, for we may be sure that the supply would soon fall off if publishers did not find that this class of goods was largely asked for. — THE SPECTATOR (July 7, 1906)
Assessments from a century later:
Eugène Valmont, a conceited, pompous, vain French detective, acts as comic mouthpiece in these satirical tales, which poke fun at both detective stories and English society. You need a little background in the popular fiction of the time to get some of the humor. Barr often is spoofing some of the more sensational fiction of the Victorian age here, but he has also created a memorable character, hailed by some critics as "the first, most important humorous detective in English literature." This collection of stories is something of a romp, though I found there was a sort of stylistic repetitiveness in Valmont's wordy first-person accounts that precluded rating the stories more highly. — Kay, GOODREADS
This is a book I pull off my shelf perhaps once every ten years. The stories are of their time stylistically so there is an emphasis on the mechanics of the mysteries rather than the psychology of the characters. But they are very well written with a light touch. I would add that if Barr had written after Agatha Christie the stories would have been viewed as parodies of Hercule Poirot. However, I think it is clear Valmont was at least in part a source of inspiration for Christie of Poirot. This makes these stories important to be read for any serious fans of Christie. — Henry Patterson, GOODREADS
Charles Gray as Valmont in The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes TV series (1973)
Resource:
- Mike Grost clears up the mystery as to just how many stories were included in this volume: "Barr's The Triumphs of Eugène Valmont (collected in book form 1906) is a series of eight short stories, but the individual tales were broken up into chapters on book publication, to make the book look like a novel."

Category: Detective fiction

Monday, June 23, 2014

More from Marsh

MARVELS AND MYSTERIES.
By Richard Marsh (Richard Bernard Heldmann, 1857-1915).
Methuen & Co.
1900. 312 pages.
Collection: 9 stories.
Online HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE.
Contents:
(1) "The Long Arm of Coincidence" [Crime, Anarchism, Identity]
(2) "The Mask" [Horror, Duality, Prison]
(3) "An Experience" [Hypnotism]
(4) "Pourquoipas" [Occult, Humour]
(5) "By Suggestion" [Hypnotism]
(6) "A Silent Witness" [Crime, Catalepsy]
(7) "To Be Used Against Him" [Crime, Duality]
(8) "The Words of a Little Child" [Urban squalor, Journalism]
(9) "How He Passed" [Mesmerism]
[NOTE: Genre classifications in brackets are from Victorian Fiction Research Guide 35 by Minna Vuohelainen.]

It was always up in the air what you'd get with Richard Marsh; it could be a horror/science fiction story, a mystery, a comedy, a romance, or something else passing strange.
Wikipedia informs us: "One of Marsh’s most striking creations is Miss Judith Lee, a young teacher of deaf pupils whose lip-reading ability involves her with mysteries that she solves by acting as a detective." The Judith Lee stories have been collected; see HERE for more. At least one of them, "The Man Who Cut Off My Hair," was reprinted in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, July 1988.

As late as 1960 another of his stories, The Datchet Diamonds (1898), was adapted for television.
Resource:
- A previous article on ONTOS discusses some of Marsh's other works.

Categories: Detective fiction, Horror, Science fiction

Saturday, June 21, 2014

"These Stories Are Good"

MORTMAIN.
By Arthur Train (1875-1945).
D. Appleton and Company.
1907. 314 pages.
Collection: 8 stories.
Online HERE, HERE, and HERE.
Contents:
(1) "Mortmain"
(2) "The Rescue of Theophilus Newbegin"
(3) "The Vagabond"
(4) "The Man Hunt"
(5) "Not at Home"
(6) "A Study in Sociology"
(7) "The Little Feller"
(8) "Randolph, '64"

The critics of his day thought more highly of Arthur Train's style than his content:
Mr. Train's books always appear to come under the heading of detective fiction; that is their quality . . . Within their obvious limits, these stories are good. They are quick, lively, ingenious, better written than the majority of their class, more competently worked out, less childish.  . . . — "Current Fiction," THE NATION (November 21, 1907)
[SPOILER ALERT: The following review discusses the first story in great detail.] Mr. Arthur Train's recent volume of short stories, which takes its title from the opening story, "Mortmain," are of such excellent average quality that one naturally makes a mental note to keep a watchful eye upon this author's future productions.  . . . — Frederic Taber Cooper, "The Romantic Creed and Some Recent Books," THE BOOKMAN (February 1908; go to page 671, left center )
Resource:
- Our previous encounter with Train is HERE.

Categories: Science fiction, Detective fiction, General fiction

"Farce of a Very Light Order"

THE FLIGHT OF FAVIEL.
By R. E. (Robert Ernest) Vernède (1875-1917).
Henry Holt and Company.
1912. 318 pages.
Online HERE, HERE, and HERE.
[a.k.a. THE PURSUIT OF MR. FAVIEL]
Here's one with a great premise that should have been better. Wikipedia says the author, known to posterity as a poet, "died after being wounded by machine gun fire" in World War One:
[Excerpts] . . . it does not make any difference what type of story you are going to write, whether a Richard Yea-and-Nay or a Dolly Dialogue, a Moonstone or a Brewster's Millions, the principle is the same: it is your duty, in any case, to get the biggest value out of your germ idea, whether it is tragedy or the lightest of farces. In fact, the book which suggested this line of thought is farce of a very light order: The Flight of Faviel, by R. E. Vernède.  . . . The book leaves an abiding impression that a good deal more could have been made of its opportunities, if the author had chosen to build it less at haphazard. — Frederic Taber Cooper, "The Question of Full Value and Some Recent Novels," THE BOOKMAN (October 1912; go to page 201, left center)

Category: Detective fiction (barely)

The Top Ten

Since ONTOS set up shop, we've had a pleasantly surprising upsurge in viewers from unexpected areas of the world, such as Ukraine. Here are our Top Ten as of June 21st:

Country - Pageviews
===================
(1) United States - 8648
(2) Malaysia - 1712
(3) Spain - 1301
(4) China - 1207
(5) United Kingdom - 899
(6) Ukraine - 837
(7) France - 600
(8) Germany - 559
(9) Russia - 373
(10) Belgium - 253

We want to thank all of you faithful readers for sticking with ONTOS.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

"Who Killed the Old Man?"

J. S. Fletcher kept plugging away, sometimes crossing thrillers with detective fiction with, according to some contemporary critics, more than a little success. Here are some excerpts from longer reviews:

THE BOROUGH TREASURER.
By J. S. Fletcher (1863-1935).
Macmillan. 1921. 305 pages. $2.00
Online HERE and HERE.
THE latest J. S. Fletcher novel is less a thriller than a puzzle. It is one of those cold analytical detective stories that can boast a couple of murders and never upset the reader's mood of contemplation.  . . . — J.F., "The Editor Recom-mends: Picnic Reading!", THE BOOKMAN (September 1921; Jump To page 68)
[SPOILER ALERT: This review reveals most of the plot but not the solution.] . . . "The Borough Treasurer" is a thoroughly enjoyable story and will uphold the author's reputation as one of the best of the present writers of mystery fiction. — "Pursued by One's Past," THE LITERARY DIGEST (December 3, 1921)
THE HERAPATH PROPERTY.
By J. S. Fletcher (1863-1935).
Grosset & Dunlap.
1922. 319 pages.
Online HERE, HERE, and HERE.
[SPOILER ALERT: This review also reveals most of the plot but not whodunnit.] . . . in Mr. J. S. Fletcher's stories there is no stint of adventure. The solution of this mystery is most unexpected. The reader will find it hard to lay down "The Herapath Property" until he finds out who killed the old man. — "Who Killed the Old Man?", THE LITERARY DIGEST (January 28, 1922)
Resources:
- Other ONTOS postings about Fletcher are HERE and HERE.

Category: Detective fiction

True Crime Roundup II

The Twenties were just starting to roar, but due to well-meaning mistakes like Prohibition crime was on the upswing:
~ "Detection of False Handwriting" (1921): "THIS TAKES ON GREAT IMPORTANCE in criminal jurisprudence—in cases of suspected frauds in wills or documents, forged checks, etc. Recent methods [have been] devised and used by Dr. Locard, director of the Police Laboratory in Lyons, France . . . It is claimed that these are more scientific and more mathematically exact than previous ones. Dr. Locard places great reliance on measurement of the peculiarities of a handwriting on photographic enlargements.  . . . when we have to deal with simple free-hand imitation of handwriting, if it is apparently perfect, identification is difficult. This is the problem solved by Dr. Locard.  . . ." — THE LITERARY DIGEST (August 6, 1921)
~ "The Necessity of Pistol-Toting" (1921): ". . . one of the editors of Field and Stream (New York) dismiss[es] the claim of an Iowan clergyman and a United States Senator that prohibiting the sale of small arms would prevent crime, the editor arguing that the effect of such a statute would be exactly the reverse of what its advocates desire, since the criminal would still go armed, while all good citizens would obey the law.  . . ." — THE LITERARY DIGEST (August 6, 1921)
~ "Rum Ships That Pass in the Night" (1921): "The traffic which they [government ships and airplanes] are going to suppress is carried on not only in coastwise ships, says The Tribune, but a fleet of fast motor-boats carry wet cargoes ashore at strategic points, and are there met by motor-trucks which distribute the smuggled liquor, valued at millions of dollars, along the coast. Obviously, it is not a poor man's game.THE LITERARY DIGEST (August 20, 1921)
~ "Accounting for the 'Crime Wave' " (1921): "BURGLARY AND EMBEZZLEMENT resulted in the loss of $100,000,000 and the payment of more than  $16,000,000 in claims by thirty of the principal insurance companies, according to a recent statement by President William B. Joyce, of the National Surety Company . . . Prohibition; lessening of respect for law, which is said by some newspaper editors to be partly due to reform agitation; envy induced by the exploitation of wealth; extravagance, and the spread of radicalism are among the causes listed by Mr. Joyce for the prevalance of these particular forms of crime.  . . ." — THE LITERARY DIGEST (August 27, 1921)
~ The “war to end all wars” was over, but a new one was just beginning—on the streets of America.
It wasn’t much of a fight, really—at least at the start.
On the one side was a rising tide of professional criminals, made richer and bolder by Prohibition, which had turned the nation “dry” in 1920. In one big city alone—Chicago—an estimated 1,300 gangs had spread like a deadly virus by the mid-1920s.
There was no easy cure. With wallets bursting from bootlegging profits, gangs outfitted themselves with “Tommy” guns and operated with impunity by paying off politicians and police alike. Rival gangs led by the powerful Al “Scarface” Capone and the hot-headed George “Bugs” Moran turned the city streets into a virtual war zone with their gangland clashes. By 1926, more than 12,000 murders were taking place every year across America.  . . ."The FBI and the American Gangster, 1924-1938," from The FBI: A Centennial History, 1908-2008
~ "A New Way to Trap Forgers" (1921): "PRESS DISPATCHES from California tell of the confession of a forger after he had been confronted with photographic evidence of his crime obtained by Chauncy McGovern, a San Francisco handwriting expert, by a method said to have been employed for the first time on this case.  . . ." — THE LITERARY DIGEST (October 1, 1921)
~ "Tear-Bombs for Mobs and Bandits" (1921): "THE PHILADELPHIA POLICE think that they now have the means of stopping a charging mob or a fleeing bandit, putting either out of commission and yet inflicting no permanent injury. This is to be done by grenades throwing out a gas similar to the 'tear-gas' used in the late war.  . . ." — THE LITERARY DIGEST (October 15, 1921)
~ "Finger-Prints to Settle Art Disputes" (1921): "Modern criminology has given the answer. The police made reply where art critics could not. An expert inspector in the criminal identification department [C.I.D.] of the Scotland Yard pointed to the finger-prints and said: 'This is the work of Leonardo da Vinci'." — THE LITERARY DIGEST (October 15, 1921)
Resources:
- Our first True Crime Roundup is HERE.
- An angry-toned study of how the Puritans' "blue laws" paralleled the modern Prohibition crusade is Ye Olden Blue Laws (1921), online HERE, with reviews HERE and HERE.

Category: True crime

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Four-in-One

Reviews of stories about spies, spooks, and detectives clumped together in one column. Follow the links for more:

THE CAB OF THE SLEEPING HORSE.
By John Reed Scott (1869 - ?).
G. P. Putnam's.
1916. 361 pages.
Online HERE, HERE, and HERE.
The Cab of the Sleeping Horse is the absurd title of a story that fits the title.  . . . Detectives, male and female, spies, statesmen, even our Secretary of State, thieves, burglars and lady-like swindlers are mixed up in the race.  . . . — Philip G. Hubert, Jr., "Fiction: One and Twenty Strong," THE BOOKMAN (November 1916, pages 276-277)
THE HOUSE OF FEAR.
By Wadsworth Camp (1878-1936).
Doubleday, Page.
1916. 342 pages.
Online HERE.
Filmed in 1929.
. . . The sense of abject fear produced by an unseen foe is well portrayed and for those who like to read with cold shivers running down their backs The House of Fear is just the book. — Philip G. Hubert, Jr., op. cit. (page 277)
. . . Mr. Camp's greatest sin as a maker of fiction in this genre is his failure to let the reader into the secret of McHugh's [the sleuth's] pursuit; the detective work is all, so to speak, off the stage. But the invention of story is sufficiently ingenious to make good reading. — "Current Fiction," THE NATION (November 9, 1916; go to page 444, left center)
THE CURIOUS CASE OF MARIE DUPONT.
By Adele Luehrmann (? - ?).
The Century Company.
1916. 324 pages. $1.35
Online HERE, HERE, and HERE.
The Curious Case of Marie Dupont is said to be the first book of Miss Adele Luehrmann. If it were the lady's tenth, it would still be a credit to her, for as mystery stories go this has all the attributes of a good one—sustained interest, movement, and the sort of ingenuity that keeps the reader guessing and guessing wrong all the time.  . . . the mystery presented by the author, who unravels it cleverly, at times in too melodramatic a fashion, but always with sufficient skill to hold the reader's interest. — Philip G. Hubert, Jr., op. cit. (page 277)
THE KINGDOM OF THE BLIND.
By E. Phillips Oppenheim (1866-1946).
Little, Brown, and Company.
1916. 305 pages.
Online HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE.
. . . The book teems with detectives, secret intelligence officers, envoys in every possible guise, and of course the most harmless man in the world turns out to be the most dangerous. There are surprises without end and excitement on every page—for, of course, Mr. Oppenheim may be trusted for that. — Philip G. Hubert, Jr., op. cit. (page 278)

Categories: Detective fiction, Spy fiction

"A New Kind of Detective Story"

NO. 13, RUE DU BON DIABLE.
By Arthur Sherburne Hardy (1847-1930).
Houghton Mifflin Co.
1917. 212 pages. $1.35
Online HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE.
This would seem to be Hardy's only attempt at detective fiction; he might not have had the time to write more, since Wikipedia credits him with producing texts on analytic geometry and calculus, as well as being the American ambassador to several other countries, including Persia:
[Full review] A new kind of detective story which gives in the beginning the details of the murder of the charming French girl's uncle as he is about to present her with birthday pearls, the interest centring about the efforts of the detectives to arrive at a solution. — "The Bookman Recommends," THE BOOKMAN (December 1917; go to page 502, left middle)

Category: Detective fiction

Friday, June 13, 2014

"Both Literal Masterpieces of Sensational Fiction"

THE WOMAN IN WHITE.
By Wilkie Collins (1824-89).
Serialized 1859-60 in All the Year Round; book publication 1860.
Online HERE.
THE MOONSTONE.
By Wilkie Collins (1824-89).
Serialized 1868 in All the Year Round; book publication 1868.
Online HERE.
As early as the 1920s, there was some concern that once-highly regarded Victorian authors would end up "forgotten" by the public. Even those of us living in the early 21st century can remember Scott, Thackeray, Dickens, the Brontes, and Wells, thanks to their works being continually reprinted, but what about Mackenzie, Kingsley, Reade, and Trollope, for example?

The author of one article feared that a formerly popular "sensation" novelist would suffer such a fate:
[Excerpts] . . . Another almost equally prolific contemporary of Trollope's appears to be even more forgotten; and yet I refuse to believe that even the present generation has never heard of Wilkie Collins, and can find no pleasure in The Moonstone and The Woman in White, which are both literal masterpieces of sensational fiction. Indeed, the former is in my humble opinion the best story of its kind ever written.  . . .
[About The Woman in White] . . . Yet, to me, great novel as it undoubtedly is, it lacks the artistic construction of The Moonstone . . . all the other characters in the book [The Woman in White] pale before the incomparable FOSCO,—I love to write his name in capitals as he would have written it himself,—surely the most perfect, as the most attractive, of all that large family of foreign villains in fiction, of which he was to be the progenitor.  . . .
. . . Fosco was an undoubted scoundrel, but the author contrived to make him a very attractive one. It is curious, no less than regrettable, that the reputation of so prolific a writer as Wilkie Collins should rest almost entirely on these two books, though they in themselves are surely a sufficient monument; for I cannot recall any of his others that repay perusal. — Percy Stephens, "Some Forgotten Victorian Novelists," THE LIVING AGE (March 17, 1923; see pages 654-655)
Scene from the 1948 film version of The Woman in White
According to the following piece, Percy shouldn't have worried:
. . . Often singled out as the foundation text of "sensation fiction"–a genre distinguished by its electrifying, suspenseful, and sometimes horrific plots, as well as its unsavoury themes of intrigue, jealousy, murder, adultery, and the like–The Woman in White was an immediate sensation in its own right.  . . . Margaret Oliphant hailed it as "a new beginning in fiction," while at the same time Edward Bulwer-Lytton dismissed it as "great trash." And while Henry James disliked the "ponderosity" of The Woman in White (calling it "a kind of 19th-century version of Clarissa Harlowe"), he acknowledged that the book had "introduced into fiction those most mysterious of mysteries, the mysteries which are at our own doors."
. . . Despite such drastically mixed reviews, The Woman in White was a mad success with the public, and made no less of a sensation out of its 35-year-old author, Wilkie Collins. In middle-class dining rooms everywhere, discussion turned to the intriguing cast of characters Mr. Collins had invented–mannish, eloquent Marian Halcombe; faithful and angelic Laura Fairlie; sinister, secretive Percival Glyde; and of course Count Fosco, seductive and cunning, with his cockatoo, his canary-birds, and his white mice running over his immense body. Two months in, Dickens was calling the novel "masterly", and Prince Albert admired it so much that he later sent off copies as gifts.
. . . Collins's storytelling talents were utterly mesmerising for Victorian readers–and they are no less captivating for readers today. He was the master of the "cliff-hanger", and given the 40 or so of them that strategically punctuate The Woman in White, it's not difficult to see why this Victorian novel continues to thrill us. Our flesh creeps when Anne Catherick places her hand on Walter's shoulder; our hearts ache when Marian Halcombe falls ill and Count Fosco violates her diary; our blood curdles when Walter Hartright stands next to his beloved's tombstone, only to look up and find her standing there. The apparitions that Collins conjures are the ghosts that ensured not just his success but his longevity.  . . . — Jon Michael Varese, "The Woman in White's 150 Years of Sensation," THE GUARDIAN BOOK BLOG (26 November 2009)
Resources:
- See Allan Griffith's posting about The Moonstone on his VINTAGE POP FICTIONS weblog HERE.
- Says Wikipedia:
The Moonstone introduces in novel form, as opposed to Poe's short story form, a number of elements that were to become classic attributes of the twentieth-century detective story:
~ English country house robbery
~ An "inside job"
~ Red herrings
~ A celebrated, skilled, professional investigator
~ Bungling local constabulary
~ Detective enquiries
~ Large number of false suspects
~ The "least likely suspect"
~ A rudimentary "locked room" murder
~ A reconstruction of the crime
~ A final twist in the plot

Categories: Detective fiction, Literature

Thursday, June 12, 2014

"Mrs. Balfame Had Made Up Her Mind to Commit Murder"

MRS. BALFAME: A NOVEL.
By Gertrude Atherton (1857-1948).
Frederick A. Stokes.
1916. 335 pages.
Online HERE, HERE, and HERE.
A mainstream novelist tries her hand at a psychological mystery, and by this account she succeeds. It's quite possible that Francis Iles (1893-1971) might have read Mrs. Balfame, if for nothing else than that arresting first line:
[Excerpts] Mrs. Atherton's new novel will be especially interesting, to those who follow her work, because of the experiment she has tried in it. For her, it is quite a new departure.
From her usual method of study of character and the relation of the individual to environment she has turned to the uses of plot, crime and mystery.
The very first sentence of the story forecasts the different tone in which it is written: "Mrs. Balfame had made up her mind to commit murder."
But, although the tale is so much given over to the weaving of plot and the mystification of the reader, the author has not relinquished entirely the psychological study of her people.
. . . The story is ingeniously constructed and developed with skill. The reader's interest will hardly fail to be tensely expectant from the early pages to the unfolding of the mystery.
Mrs. Atherton has been careful of all the small details that make for the smooth running of the machinery of such a plot.  . . . — Florence Finch Kelly, "Some Novels of the Month," THE BOOKMAN (March 1916; scroll to page 83)
Resource:
- Curt Evans has an article about Gertrude Atherton's "public spat" with Anna Katharine Green HERE.

Category: Detective fiction

Two Stabs at It by Mrs. Rohlfs

AGATHA WEBB.
By Anna Katharine Green (1846-1935).
G. P. Putnam's Sons.
1899. 360 pages. $1.25
Online HERE and HERE.
Despite Green's numerous shortcomings, she still managed to engage not just her fans but also reluctant critics:
[Full review] Agatha Webb, by Anna Katharine Green, is a complicated, intricate, and sensational story of crime and detection. The plot is purposely twisted to mislead the reader's suspicions.
Lovers of the literature of crime may find the story attractive; but even in this class of literature it falls far below the author's "Leavenworth Case." — "Books of the Week," THE OUTLOOK (July 22, 1899)
[Excerpts] The name of Anna Katharine Green has always been associated with detective stories, so in Agatha Webb we find the usual murder in the first chapter, followed by the usual suspicion of nearly every person at all connected with the story and the final clearing up of all the suspicion and the mystery. In this story Mrs. Rohlfs does not stop at one good, clean murder, but she gives it to us in wholesale quantities.  . . . in spite of such a bundle of impossibilities, she contrives to hold the interest of the reader to the end, which is all that can be expected of Anna Katharine Green. —"Novel Notes," THE BOOKMAN (September 1899)
ONE OF MY SONS.
By Anna Katharine Green (1846-1935).
Ward, Lock & Co.
1904. 3s. 6d.
Online HERE, HERE, and HERE.
[Full review] The methods of Miss A. K. Green (Mrs. Charles Rohlfs), though never excessively intricate, are always successful, and One of My Sons is a story of sterling merit in its own line—the detective line.
Which of three sons murdered his father by a dose of prussic acid? We waver along through thirty-two exciting chapters before we realise the truth.
Perhaps these stories, besides thrilling, teach a stern moral lesson against hasty condemnation (for who ever read of the likely person being guilty?); but, at any rate, they thrill, and that seems enough for us at the time. — "Notes on New Books," THE BOOKMAN [UK] (May 1904)
In relation to One of My Sons, a commentator couldn't resist talking about the clever trick Green plays on the reader in the book involving a dying clue (pace, Ellery Queen), but in doing so he REVEALS who DIDN'T do it; so if you read the following article in its entirety then note we're issuing a SPOILER ALERT:
[Excerpts] From Dr. Conan Doyle and Mr. Richard Harding Davis to the detective stories of Anna Katharine Green is considerable of a step downward.
Yet in Mrs. Rohlfs's latest story, One of My Sons, there is a chapter which deserves more than passing attention.  . . . In the chapter to which we have referred, [Ebenezer] Gryce's young assistant [Sweetwater] clears away the mystery by experimenting with the typewriter by which the dead man had tried to send his last message. In the death struggle the victim's fingers had become covered with paste from an overturned bottle, and from the blurring of the keys which have been struck, Sweetwater follows the course of the incomplete message.  . . . — "Chronicle and Comment: An Idea of Unusual Ingenuity," THE BOOKMAN (January 1902)

Category: Detective fiction