Tuesday, February 3, 2015

"The Detective Story As We Know It Is a Modern Development and Its Technique Is Still in the Making"

"Detectives in Fiction."
The Living Age (September 18, 1926), pages 638-643.
First appearance: The Times Literary Supplement, August 12, 1926.
Online HERE.

The Times writer manages to produce a brief but entertaining survey of detective fiction as it was in the mid-'20s, just before Van Dine and Philo Vance exploded onto the scene. A few random excerpts:
IT is, we are assured by the observant, to the complexity of modern life that we owe the increasing vogue of the detective story.  . . .
Vegetarian or carnivorous:
. . . The mature brain . . . has a palate for a fine bouquet of reasoning and deduction . . . It can be content with vegetarian fare . . . The mental Peter Pan, on the other hand, is inclined to be more carnivorous in his tastes. For him the corpse of a loathly and splenetic millionaire, venerated nobleman, or beauteous damsel should decorate the carpet in the first chapter, with horrifying adjuncts of hot lead, cold steel, or colder poison . . . .
Then and now:
. . . [With the reissuance of older mysteries by publishers] we can readily compare the technique of those who thrill us now with that of the men who kept our sires and grandsires awake till dawn with the prowess of heroes who landed each criminal fish . . . It is, indeed, remarkable what those giants of old were able to accomplish with their almost unaided eyes and brains.  . . .
Good cop, bad cop:
. . . It is chiefly in America nowadays that we find in fiction that antagonism which it was once fashionable to assume in England between the private practitioner and the police.  . . . [In England, in contrast] it is even possible plausibly to present a police hero in a detective story.  . . .
Mike Hammer wouldn't qualify:
. . . [There is an] opinion, now increasingly prevalent, that the modern detective should be provided with medical training . . . .
Holmes conferring with his fidus sed hebes Achates.
The advantages of having a "Watson":
. . . By allowing his reader to follow the working of his hero through the senses of a third party an author is able to give him something for his mind to chew upon. He thus keeps the reader more interested in the mechanism of detection than if he were to tell the story direct and run the risk of serving up a diet of predigested facts.  . . .
Edgar Wallace had his detectives "commit bigamy two or three times a year."
Then there's the ancient question of whether the sleuth should be married or, at worst, have a love interest:
 . . . In this matter of matrimony for detectives there is a difference of opinion; but, in deference to the older and, as many think, sounder tradition of celibacy, a detective benedick, although he may use up a whole book catching her, seldom obtrudes his wife in any following volume.  . . .
Detectives should watch what they say:
. . . If some authors clutter up their detectives with a love affair of their own when they ought to be busy elsewhere, more spoil their man's chances by saddling him with an impossible weight of irritating or clumsy dialogue which makes the poor fellow appear to be a prig, a vulgarian, or a propagandist.  . . .
The "under-dog" effect:
. . . it is a matter of only a few generations since readers could be persuaded to allow their sentiment to support law and order and those who labored to uphold them, instead of as a matter of course taking the side of the picturesque and outlawed under-dog fighting against odds. . . . Consequently the detective story as we know it is a modern development and its technique is still in the making.  . . .
Among the authors/characters/books mentioned in the article are a few that we frankly admit we've never heard of:

~ November Joe (". . . the 'Sherlock Holmes' of the Canadian wilderness, tracking down murderers and thieves and solving criminal puzzles, using his keen outdoors skills and his quick mind." — Amazon.com) (See also HERE.)
~ R. Austin Freeman/Dr. Thorndyke and Polton (For more go HERE.)
~ Sherlock Holmes/Dr. Watson (HERE)
~ H. C. Bailey/Mr. Fortune (HERE)
~ Arthur Morrison/Martin Hewitt (HERE)
~ Carolyn Wells/Fleming Stone (HERE)
~ Inspector French (HERE)
~ Trent's Last Case (HERE)
~ Edgar Wallace/Mr. Reeder (HERE)
~ Lynn Brock/Col. Gore (HERE)
~ Landon/The Grey Phantom (HERE and HERE)
~ Strong/Professor Criddle
~ Herbert Jenkins/Malcolm Sage (HERE)
~ Anthony Wynne/Dr. Hailey (HERE)
~ G. K. Chesterton/Father Brown (HERE)
~ Bennet Copplestone/Dawson (HERE)
~ Foster/Ravenhill.

Category: Detective fiction criticism

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