Monday, October 5, 2015

"The Detective Story Is Looking Up": Reviews from THE BOOKMAN I

"Diplomat's Delight - Detective and Mystery Stories, Good and Bad, Passed in Review."
By Gilbert Seldes (1893-1970) (Wikipedia HERE).
From The Bookman, September 1927.
Online HERE.
. . . It is my fixed belief that the best detective stories are the best written detective stories, but this is a proposition that does not go into reverse. The fact that a detective or mystery novel is well written is no proof of its value; but it happens that most of the very good ones are pretty well written.  . . .
Unlike many critics of his day (and ours, too, come to think of it), according to Wikipedia Gilbert Seldes didn't look down his nose at detective fiction, believing that art—whether it was high-, middle-, or low-brow—had universal value and could be appreciated by every-body. Brief excerpts:

~ The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930):
. . . Sir Arthur is obviously weary of his detective and weary of writing; almost all the stories are pretty bad, largely because there is hardly a trace of detecting in them . . .
Wikipedia HERE - GAD Wiki HERE - FictionMags HERE

~ The Eye in Attendance by Valentine Williams (1883–1946):
. . . he [Williams] is sparing of those long chapters which most writers put in to give atmosphere; he carries his story along and he plays fair with the reader. The murderer is in plain view all the time, has an adequate, but not over-powering motive, and even if you guess who he is you still can wonder a little about the how and the why.  . . .
Wikipedia HERE - GAD Wiki HERE - FictionMags HERE

~ The Sixth Commandment by Carolyn Wells (1862-1942):
. . . seems to me very badly written indeed  . . .
Wikipedia HERE - GAD Wiki HERE - FictionMags HERE

~ The Murder at Manson's by R. E. Young:
. . .  it is so choked with color and attempts at humor in the early pages that one despairs even of finding out what the mystery is — it may be a good one.  . . .
~ Vanishing Men by G. McLeod Winsor:
. . . The solution of this excellent mystery requires the intervention of a scientific discovery still unknown to man.  . . .
Pretty Sinister Books review HERE

~ The Man in the Sandhills by Antony Marsden:
. . . we follow not the detective, but the supposed criminal . . .
~ The Man They Couldn't Arrest by Austin J. Small (1894-1929):
. . . we are in the confidence of the Master Mind, who is not a criminal, but a private scientific enemy of robbers and murderers and is, reasonably enough, suspected of the very crimes he helps to discover . . .

~ The Crookshaven Murder by Alexander Morrison (1894-1931):
... a man stages an amateur playlet in which he is supposed to be murdered ...
FictionMags HERE

~ The Crooks' Game by George Dilnot (1883-1951):
. . . It has some good points and the actual workings of the Yard are carefully brought into the book; but . . .
GAD Wiki HERE - FictionMags HERE - Mystery*File review HERE

~ The Cask by Freeman Wills Crofts (1879-1957):
. . . one grows a little dizzy following shipments and dates and telephone calls, but it is a weatherproof piece of business . . .
Wikipedia HERE - GAD Wiki HERE and HERE - FictionMags HERE

~ The Death of a Millionaire by G.D.H. Cole (1889-1959) and Margaret Cole (1893-1980):
. . . a little silly.  . . .
Wikipedia HERE and HERE - GAD Wiki HERE and HERE - FictionMags HERE and HERE

~ The Victory Murders by Foster Johns (Gilbert Seldes, 1893-1970):
. . .  solidity of writing and good characterization . . .
FictionMags HERE

~ The Benson Murder Case by S. S. Van Dine (1888-1939):
. . . obviously the Elwell case . . .
Wikipedia HERE - GAD Wiki HERE and HERE - FictionMags HERE - Mary Reed's review HERE - ONTOS HERE

~ The Canary Murder Case by S. S. Van Dine (1888-1939):
. . .  just as obviously the case of Dot King.  . . .
GAD Wiki HERE - Mary Reed's review HERE

Moreover, Seldes isn't the first and certainly won't be the last to register this complaint about Van Dine (emphasis added):
. . . Another distressing point is that these two novels are identical; the conceal-ed murderer is placed in the same relative position in both, and if you have read one you guess the other one on page twenty, or wherever it is that the villain enters. In good simple English and with a little variety in placing the characters, these would be easily the best detective stories of the year; the method of deduction is fresh and the incidents are exciting. But if a detective is going to be pretentious at all, which is undesirable, he had better be pretentious about detection and nothing else . . .

Category: Detective fiction criticism

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