Monday, August 1, 2016

"In at the Brush"

Dan Neyer at Famous (and forgotten) Fiction (HERE) does a fine job of summing up the influence that Inspector Hanaud, our main character today, had on detective fiction, but especially on a certain little Belgian heavesdropper:
Inspector Gabriel Hanaud of the French Surete-General was introduced in Mason’s 1910 novel At the Villa Rose, and would go on to figure in four more novels, a novelette, and two short stories. Hanaud was intended by Mason as a deliberate revolution against the brilliant amateur reasoning-machines that had dominated detective stories since the success of Sherlock Holmes; the Inspector was not only an official police officer but also a jovial, good-natured fellow with none of the antisocial quirks that had beset Holmes, the Old Man in the Corner, and others. Hanaud also relied on routine police work, intuition, and knowledge of human nature, as much as on sheer deductive reasoning, setting him further apart from the Holmesian school.
. . . Hanaud, with his healthy ego, fractured English, and verbal Gallicisms, was a definite influence on Christie’s Hercule Poirot. Christie’s Mr. Satterthwaite, a Watson of sorts in her Harley Quinn short stories and a couple of her Poirot novels, also owed a lot to Mason’s Mr. Ricardo—the dilettante detective and lovably conceited aesthete who serves as Hanaud’s regular associate, providing gentle humor through his vanity and his futile attempts to Anglicize the inspec-tor’s manners and language (Ricardo, despite his exotic name, is English).
"The Ginger King."
By A.E.W. Mason (1865-1948).
First appearance: The Strand Magazine, August 1940.
Reprinted in EQMM, August 1950.
Short story (~15 pages).
Online at Roy Glashan's Library (HERE) and Famous (and forgotten) Fiction HERE.
"But he was unjust. For later on that evening, in his own good time, the Ginger King told them plenty."
In this case Hanaud (with Ricardo tagging along) is asked by an insurance company to investigate the scene of a fire that could have been an accident or, conversely, an instance of arson with the intent to collect a big settlement. To Hanaud's little grey olfactory bulbs something just doesn't smell right about the situation, and his doubts deepen when the victim of the inferno evinces what could be the worst case of ailurophobia anybody's ever seen.

Principal characters:
~ Inspector Hanaud:
   "Chance, my friend, is the detective’s best confederate. A little unimportant word you use and it startles—a strange twist of character is provoked to reveal itself—an odd incident breaks in on the routine of your investigation. And the mind pounces. 'Ping,' you say, if you play the table-tennis. 'Pong,' you say, if you play the Mahjong. And there you are!"
~ Mr. Ricardo:
   "Mr. Ricardo was in no mood to pursue his large friend through the winding mazes of his metaphors. 'I am beginning to understand you,' he answered with resignation."
~ Thomson, Ricardo's "incomparable" butler:
   ". . . Mr. Middleton was in hopes that Monsieur Hanaud was staying with you. He seemed very anxious."
~ John Middleton, Secretary of the Unicorn Fire Insurance Company:
   "Mr. Middleton was a collector's piece of Victorian England. Middle-aged, with dangling whiskers like lappets at the sides of an otherwise clean-shaved face, very careful and a trifle old-maidish in his speech, he had a tittering laugh and wore the long black frock-coat and the striped trousers which once made the City what it was."
~ Enoch Swallow:
   "He is a Syrian gentleman by birth and an English gentleman by naturalization. But again I beg you not to be misled. There is nothing of the cunning of the Orient about him. He is a big, plain, simple creature, a peasant, one might say as honest as the day."
~ Superintendent Holloway:
   ". . . a large man with his hair speckled with grey, and a genial, intelligent face."
~ The feline:
   "A large—everything about the Marlborough Street police station seemed to Hanaud to be large—a large beautiful ginger cat with amber-coloured lambent eyes lay with his paws doubled up under his chest on a fourth chair, and surveyed the party with a godlike indifference."
- Roy Glashan has an impressive collection of A.E.W. Mason's writings (HERE). Mason was quite popular in his day; see Wikipedia (HERE), the GAD Wiki (HERE), the IMDb (HERE) and the ISFDb (HERE), while Mystery*File has more about Hanaud (HERE), as does Classic Mysteries (HERE).

The bottom line:
   Some men there are love not a gaping pig,
   Some that are mad if they behold a cat,
   And others, when the bagpipe sings i' th' nose,
   Cannot contain their urine. For affection,
   Mistress of passion, sways it to the mood
   Of what it likes or loathes.
   — Shakespeare

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