Tuesday, March 15, 2016

"Jules Gervaise Is, If I Do Not Err, the Name of a Detective"

"The Accusing Shadow."
By Harry Blyth (1852-98; pen name: Hal Meredeth).
First appearance: The "Halfpenny Marvel", October 6, 1894.
Reprinted in Victorian Tales of Mystery and Detection (1992).
Novelette (39 pages).
Online at SFFAudio HERE (PDF).
Our story actually appeared in No. 48.
"I am glad I have no Sexton Blake with me. He would inevitably ride a bicycle, plunge into a stream, or stop an engine in full career, before he got to the end of this business."
The wedding date has been set, and the father of the bride couldn't be more pleased; but when the groom disappears from a train he never traveled on, some people stand to lose considerably because of it while, as you may surmise, others stand to profit from it. Only a French detective intent on retirement ("I shall raise my cabbages") will be able to find a missing man, solve a murder, squelch an insurrection, foil several attempts at fraud (including a forced marriage or two), and in the end reunite two young lovers.

Principal characters:
~ Jules Gervaise ("of Paris"): Described as "the most astute of cosmopolitan detectives, the expertest unraveller of mysteries, the most profound of observers, a terror to evil-doers . . . thin, wiry, alert, and wonderfully keen-eyed."
~ Saul Lynn: Indebtedness blinds him to the obvious.
~ Daisy Lynn: Saul Lynn's daughter ("a fair, sunny creature"), betrothed to George Roach; as Gervaise archly notes, their wedding "will include that rare combination of a love-match enveloping a business necessity." If only it were that straightforward . . .
~ George Roach: For him it really is the last train to Glasgow.
~ Rupert Peel: A former rival for Daisy's affections and (surprise!) the one she really loves.
~ Felix Sark: He learns a lesson about boiling pitch.
~ The (unnamed) chief of the French secret police: Anxious to export criminals and revolutionaries ASAP.
~ Julia Barretti: The "infamous English adventuress" with a good memory for shadows.
~ Madame Ollivier: Not her real name.
~ Den Lockier: Not her real name's brother; he carries a gun and doesn't hesitate to employ it.
~ Lord Sellford: Conspicuous by his absence.

Gervaiseisms: Smoke from a jacket alerts Gervaise to the presence of blood; he recommends photographing bootprints; he recognizes the evidentiary value of burned ashes in a fireplace; and in normal conversation he is able to detect when someone is attempting to learn a new language. Quotes: "One may plunder a man, yet not condescend to pick his pockets." - "It savours of madness for me to pursue this case, for I shall not get even the husks of thanks for my pains." - "I think it better for the police to discover such things for themselves." - "I shall not be the first detective who has set out in chase of such airy and unsubstantial nothings."

Felicitous phraseology:
A warehouse: "It appeared to have been accidentally jammed in between two larger build-ings, and it wore a constant look of pain, as though suffering from the tightness of the squeeze."
A cashier: "The bottoms of his trousers showed a marked tendency to creep up to his knees, while his sleeves were absolutely eager to get about his neck. He had a hairless, parchment-like face, and his eyes might have been of glass for all the expression there was in them."
A reception: "Light streamed from every window, while inside all was colour, movement, and melody. The very air seemed rich with delight and harmony."

Resources:
- Making a far bigger splash than Jules Gervaise (one of many detectives to rush in after the Sage of Baker Street's precipitous plunge) was "the poor man's Sherlock Holmes," Sexton Blake; our author made history with that character:
The first Sexton Blake story was "The Missing Millionaire." Written by Harry Blyth (under the pen-name Hal Meredeth) it appeared in the story paper The Halfpenny Marvel Number 6, on 20 December 1893. He appeared in a few more stories by Meredeth. — "Sexton Blake," Wikipedia
As for Gervaise, possibly the prototype of Hercule Poirot:
Blake's first associate from The Halfpenny Marvel No. 6 ("The Missing Million-aire") is the Frenchman Jules Gervaise, who gives him the first recorded case. By issue No. 7 ("A Christmas Crime") they set up an investigative firm together. In the third story in issue No. 11 ("A Golden Ghost") Gervaise is not mentioned. — "Sexton Blake," op. cit.
- Volumes have been written about Blake, including a fine account by researcher Jess Nevins, who says:
. . . Blyth, who died in 1898, only wrote a few Blake stories and was not respon-sible for the stories which gave rise to Blake's enormous popularity. Really, the creator of Blake isn't so important as the character itself; after all, the character and franchise has passed through so many hands that credit for the character should go to the writers in toto, rather than just to its creator. — Jess Nevins, The Sexton Blake Page
- Some info about Harry Blyth is HERE, FictionMags has more HERE, and Derek Hinrich has a very readable page ("Sexton Blake's Partner," with a few SPOILERS) discussing Jules Gervaise HERE.

The bottom line: "I've given my memoirs far more thought than any of my marriages. You can't divorce a book."
Gloria Swanson

2 comments:

  1. Gervaise had his cabbages and Poirot his vegetable marrows. Hysterical coincidence for two retiring detectives.

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    1. John - That's what prompted the "prototype of Hercule Poirot" line. Did Agatha read this story and, unconsciously or otherwise, incorporate it into Poirot's characteristics, or was it just, as you say, a "hysterical coincidence"? We may never know.

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