Saturday, March 25, 2017

"I Have Never Before Caught a Burglar, and the Experience, I Find, Has Taken It Out of Me a Little"

"Chance, the Juggler."
By William Caine (1873-1923).
First appearance: The Century Magazine, January 1918.
Short story (10 pages).
Online at (HERE).
(Note: Faded text; hit the "Zoom In" button several times.)
"His hands rose, with grotesque effect, above the door of the safe."
What are the odds? In doing the artwork for a poster advertising a new safe manufactured by the Maddison Domestic Thesaurus Corporation, Señor Mendoza, a commercial artist, acci-dentally depicts as the would-be safecracker a real man he has never seen, an individual renowned for his charity and upright character, a pillar of the community who isn't above suing the pants off anybody and everybody for this outrageous libel. Alarmed, Mendoza contacts his solicitor Wetherby and they both take it to Mr. Abbott, the head of the corpora-tion, who, however, sees the controversy as an opportunity for tons of free publicity:

   "Mr. Abbott was enchanted. Had the injunction been refused, he must have cut his throat. Instead, he got, in the company of two of his junior counsel, his own solicitor, Wetherby, and Mendoza slightly drunk."

And so it is that Señor Mendoza, upon returning home at "ten minutes to four of a dark, foggy morning" and discovering that he has forgotten his latch-key, must break and enter his own house, only to encounter a situation that will cause his eyes to grow large and force from his astonished lips an exclamation: "Caramba! Car-r-ramba!"
- What little information that we could find about William Caine comes from entries on the SFE (HERE) and the ISFDb (HERE).

The bottom line:
   For neither Man nor Angel can discern
   Hypocrisy, the only evil that walks
   Invisible, except to God alone,
   By his permissive will, through Heaven and Earth.
   — Milton

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

"Locomotives Were Urgent Creatures of the Night, Racing Along Full of Fire and Smoke and Noise"

"Mystery Trains: Crime Writers and the Railway."
By Ian Bell (born circa 1956).
First appearance: The Strand, Number 5 (2000).
Article (5 pages).
Reprinted at The Strand Online (HERE).
"In many ways, trains were magical devices. They emphasised speed and eliminated distance. They brought people together, but they also pulled them apart."
Ian Bell, our author, asks and then answers a very pertinent question about the romantic image which train travel has acquired over the years:

   "Of course we must remember that we are dealing here not with reality, but with representation. Despite the poetic and evocative depictions of opulence and travelling 
in style, most train journeys even then were in fact just long, expensive, and not very comfortable. (And this remains true in the U.K. today, alas.) So where did all those 
more glamorous images of rail travel, so firmly embedded in the common imagination, originate from? Why, from the cinema and the popular press—including crime fiction, Watson. Where else are such powerful fantasies established and disseminated?"

The answer can largely be attributed to those writers, Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie in particular, who used railways as not just convenient conveyances but also presented them in "a more sinister and threatening version": "Instead of being associated with the successful transportation of the detectives, the trains here are the source of the mystery itself."
Works the author references:
  Doyle: "The Boscombe Valley Mystery" and "The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans." "For Doyle, imagining a less complex Victorian world, the trains are a way of regularising energy and of making power predictable. Whether they are a force for good or evil depends on whether you stress their predictability or their potential subversiveness."
  Crofts: The Cask. — "Trains figure prominently throughout his work, although in a remark-ably unromantic and prosaic way."
  Christie: The Mystery of the Blue Train, Murder on the Orient Express, The ABC Murders, and 4.50 from Paddington (What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw). — ". . . we can see that the railway is much more imaginatively and romantically exploited by the Queen of Crime, Agatha Christie."

- We decided to see which ONTOS posts have a relationship, however tenuous, with crime and railways, and were surprised at how many there are. Here, as up-to-date as we can make it, is our . . .

   Oct. 23: "Few readers are likely to share the gaping mystification with which the other people in the story follow his unerring steps towards prevention and detection, or to be as profoundly impressed as is the author by those seizures of sphinx-like immobility in which Sprague did his best thinking." - (HERE).
   Nov. 8: "The murder mentioned in the title has all the trappings of a classic locked room mystery, but is investigated, and solved, in a manner that owes more to the hard-boiled school of detection than the cerebral style that one usually associates with the locked room dilemma." - (HERE) (Note: Offsite link DEAD).


   June 13: "Fen is very much the armchair detective in these stories, solving cases purely with his intellect and scarcely exerting himself: no fistfights, gunplay, or car chases for him (quite different from the Fen of, say, The Moving Toyshop)." - (HERE; first story only).

   Aug. 21: "Did he throw a raw egg at you?" - (HERE).

   Jan. 6: "It's only when the train has stopped that Step discovers he's been riding with a dead man." - (HERE).
   March 19: "The train has vanished, and the people on it. But the System is closed. Trains are conserved. It's somewhere on the System!" - (HERE).

   May 6: "It's simply because there is a mystery connected with my hobby—railways. That's what makes me a little extra sharp" - (HERE).
   May 10: "All he has to do is turn off eight illumination lamps after the last train has run; simple, yes, but simple doesn't always mean easy." - (HERE).
   June 2: "You will understand that I am going to work upon the theory that the boy has been kidnapped and that the original intention has been carried out, in spite of the accident of your presence in the train." - (HERE).

   June 12: "An ordinary train car becomes, for one of the passengers, a scene of horror and, for Scotland Yard, the site of an apparently unmotivated murder committed by a killer who has managed to disappear, leaving not a trace." - (HERE).

   July 28: "A challenge story in which readers were asked to supply five words that would cause the prosecution in a train-robbery trial to lose its case." - (HERE).

   Nov. 12: ". . . one of the most inexplicable crimes of the century—an incident which is, I believe, absolutely unprecedented in the criminal annals of any country." - (HERE).

   Nov. 16: "For another indivisible second of time Ughtred Carnegie's soul was the theatre of a terrible and appalling struggle. What on earth was he to do?" - (HERE).

   Dec. 26: "For Stanley, the Pullman conductor on the west-bound Mississippi Limited, tonight is going to be far from ordinary . . ." - (HERE).
   Feb. 17: "What Happened on the Night That Denver Joe Made a Haul in No. 47, the Hoodoo." - (HERE).

   Feb. 27: "Sherlock Holmes, Eugene Vidocq, or Arsene Lupin Couldn't Have Kept Track of Them." - (HERE).

  We'll try to update it now and then.

"Rows of Seductive Disks"

"A Million Dollars."
By B. M. Adler (?-?).
First appearance: The Railroad Man’s Magazine, October 1910.
Short short story (8 pages).
Online at (HERE).
(Note: Text is very faded; clicking on the "Zoom In" function 3 or 4 times should make it easier to read.)
"What This Great Sum Really Earned When It Was Placed on Public Exhibition."
Down on his luck and with a severely depleted bank account, Samuel Doniford is determined to make a comeback in the business world; he'd like to get a position with Joseph Carwell, an old college chum, but he won't take charity. Doniford evolves a scheme whereby he can earn enough to secure a place at the brokerage firm of Biddle, Carwell & Johns, a plan involving Carwell and a substantial sum. They say it takes money to make money; in Doniford's case, to earn the thirty thousand dollars he needs will take a cool million . . .
Comment: This story feels incomplete. It's a shame the author's imagination failed him (or her) when he tacked on an irrelevant subplot at the end instead of finishing out the main story line. Otherwise his prose is just fine, as shown by this nifty piece of descriptive writing:

   "A savage and shrieking gust seemed to blow into the lobby a weazened figure that weakly tried to resist the rude play of the wind. Then the blast died as suddenly as it had come, leaving its shivering plaything stranded in the expanse of onyx and marble.
   "He was very old, and a much-shrunken man, with a short, thick, snow-white beard. What little flesh was left on his deeply lined face was livid, scarlet, and purple with cold. His eyes, that had retreated far back in their sockets, were of an intense blue, but watery and uncertain. A suit of shabby black, shoes cracked and holed, but much polished where there was any leather to polish, a frayed but clean collar, the remnants of a white tie, a single glove, and no overcoat, constituted the attire of the forlorn creature."

- Honest, folks, we couldn't find anything about B. M. Adler, with FictionMags listing "A Million Dollars" as his (or her) sole credit.
- Our author's thinking may have been influenced by the recent Panic of 1907; see Wikipedia (HERE).
- In 1910 America was adhering to the gold standard (Wikipedia: HERE), but in 1971 President Nixon and a compliant Congress abandoned it.
- Even though this story appeared in a railroading magazine, trains aren't even mentioned. If you're a ferroequinologist, or just have tendencies toward it, you needn't worry. We're by no means finished with how crime and railroads intersect; in the future look for more, such as, e.g., the next post just above this one.

The bottom line: ". . . for gold conjures up a mist about a man, more destructive of all his old senses and lulling to his feelings than the fumes of charcoal . . ."

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Top 5 in February

A collection of true crime accounts tops this past February's most viewed list, with one piece of crime fiction and three science fiction stories following close on its heels. We've also included the top ONTOS posts in the month of February for the three years prior.

~ February 2017 ~ 
(1) "Of All the Perfect Crimes Ever Planned This One, Discussed Within Full Hearing of the Police, Was the Strangest" -  (HERE)
(2) "Sometimes It Makes Me Sore That I Did It, Gave Them the Twist" -  (HERE)
(3) "Nothing Is So Innocent As a Piece of White Paper" -  (HERE)
(4) "I Believe in Scientific Methods in Crime Detection, Of Course, but I Do Not Believe They Have Yet Reached the Stage Where They Can Begin to Supplant the Tried and Tested Methods of Scotland Yard" -  (HERE)
(5) "Extra-Sensory Detection" -  (HERE)

~ February 2014 ~
(1) "A Book Remarkable for Completeness, Accuracy, and Infallible Soundness of Judgment" - (HERE)
(2) "It Is a Better Novel Than THE MURDER OF ROGER ACKROYD" - (HERE)
(3) "A Chastened and Far More Palatable Character" - (HERE)
(4) Not Quite So Idiosyncratic - (HERE)
(5) A Defense of the "Puzzle Novel" - (HERE)

~ February 2015 ~
(1) "Life Can Never Be Staid or Humdrum In a Community Where a Detective May Turn Out to Be a Murderer Or a Corpse Or, Stranger Still, a Detective" - (HERE)
(2) "S. S. Van Dine Was Born of a Nervous Breakdown" - (HERE)
(3) "A Few of the Recent Changes in the Police Novel, Which Do Roughly Correspond to Changes in the Social History of Our Time" - (HERE)
(4) "Never in the Long History of Fiction Has There Been a Figure Comparable to Sherlock Holmes" - (HERE)
(5) "He Was Solely an Expression of the Analytical Capacity of the Intellect—A Ratiocinative Device" - (HERE)

~ February 2016 ~
(1) Before There Was Raffles There Was Simon Carne - (HERE)
(2) Four Dr. Feather Mysteries - (HERE)
(3) The Tie That Binds - (HERE)
(4) "The Trunk Had a Nice Corpse in It" - (HERE)
(5) "Herbert Felt Completely Safe" - (HERE)

Monday, March 20, 2017

"In Christie’s Novels Food Is Frequently Viewed or Directly Used As a Threat"

"The Flavour of Murder: Food and Crime in the Novels of Agatha Christie."
By Silvia Baučeková.
First appearance: Prague Journal of English Studies, 2014.
Expanded to book length as Dining Room Detectives: Analysing Food in the Novels of Agatha Christie (2015) (for sale HERE).
Article (12 pages).
Online (HERE) (PDF).
"Through the motif of poisoning Christie was once again able to make use of the technique of distancing and turning the homely and familiar into the uncanny and dangerous."
Freud tried to weld sex and death into two sides of the same coin, as a unified psychological condition that, if you let yourself think too much about it, takes all the fun out of dating. Over the course of her writing career, as you'll see momentarily, Agatha Christie spent a great deal of it poisoning her characters with everyday foods, thereby unifying in our mind afternoon tea on the veranda with the morgue downtown and inadvertently taking all the fun out of scones.

As a follow-up to the previous post, here's an article that focuses narrowly on Agatha Christie's use of food as a plot driver, as a device to foreshadow coming events, and as a means of gauging character—but (SPOILER WARNING!) you'd better know your Christie, because the author doesn't hesitate to reveal whodunit.


   "Food and drink are basic, ordinary, commonplace, and as such they might easily be taken for granted. This paper attempted to demonstrate the paradoxical nature of food and its symbolic potential within the framework of the classic detective novel. Food and detective fiction share a number of characteristics: they both rely to a great extent on ritualization, both are produced following a formula, and both are based on the inevitable interconnection of life and death. Moreover, food can become an especially useful tool in constructing classic detective stories, as are those by Agatha Christie, since they are frequently centred on a 'cosy mystery', i.e., a murder in an ordinary, domestic environment of which food is an indispensa-ble part."

   ". . . as Alexander Walker observes, in addition to functioning as a literary device, food as a symbol can also gain a more sinister undertone in crime stories. Food, crime authors remind the reader, can be dangerous: it can conceal the criminal, distract the victim, or it can even be transformed into a murder weapon."

   "Christie, although on one hand exploiting the traditional cultural symbolism of food as representing safety, peace, and the home also made use of this more problematic aspect of eating. Firstly, she depicted the dining ritual as something governed by strict laws that cannot be bent in the slightest, otherwise disaster ensues. The broken food ritual can be a bad omen. When a member of the dinner party is late or does not show up, it often signals that she/he is in grave danger (By the Pricking of My Thumbs 189) or has already been murdered (Endless Night 216)."

   "Christie often made her criminals hedonists who enjoy life and always welcome the opportunity to eat well . . ., using the traditional notions of food and eating as safe, and of the personality of the well-fed jolly gourmand as inherently good to mask the criminal and misdirect the reader’s suspicion. Thus a criminal’s connection to food can enable her/him to commit the crime unsuspected. Such deflecting of suspicion is so successful that 'it seems that the victim often gratefully received the fatal dose in some delicious little dish served up by an attentive murderer' (Jakeman)."
- Here's the Books-a-Million overview of Silvia Baučeková's book:

   "In the structuralist understanding as proposed by John G. Cawelti, a classical detective novel is defined as a formula which contains prescribed elements and develops in a predefined, ritualistic manner. When described in this way, the crime fiction formula very closely resembles a recipe: when one cooks, they also add prescribed ingredients in a predefined way in order to produce the final dish. This surprising parallel serves as the starting point for this book's analysis of classical detective novels by Agatha Christie. Here, 
a structuralist approach to Golden Age crime fiction is complemented by methodology developed in the field of food studies in order to demonstrate the twofold role that food plays in Christie's novels: namely, its function as an element of the formula – a literary device – but also as a cultural sign. Christie employed food on various different levels of her stories in order to portray characters, construct plots, and depict settings. What is more, incorporating domesticity and food in her novels helped her fundamentally alter the rigid conventions of the crime fiction genre as it developed in the nineteenth century, and enabled her to success-fully introduce the character of the female detective and to feminise the detective novel as such." — (HERE)

- The book's first 42 pages, including the Introduction, are online at the Google Books preview (HERE) and also (HERE).
- If you're REALLY interested in pursuing this subject and find Victorian Gothic fiction 
more to your taste, there's a book-length thesis (which, due to time limitations, we won't 
be covering):

  "The Subtle Art: Poison in Victorian Literature."
   By Cheryl Blake Price.
   Thesis, 187 pages (163 as text), 2012.
   Online (HERE) (PDF).

    Works Cited (17 pages)
    Biographical Sketch

  Other publications by this author are (HERE) and (HERE).

Miscellaneous Monday—Number Three

SINCE EATING IS such an everyday occurrence, readers of crime fiction seldom realize how important food is to the story—not just as the cause of death, but much, much more, as our antipodean authors demonstrate:

"Murder They Cooked: The Role of Food in Crime Fiction."
By Richard Franks, Donna Lee Brien, and Marta Usiekniewicz.
Article, 11 pages, 2013.
Online (HERE) (PDF).
"This paper examines poison’s complex and symbiotic relationship with the culinary, and some of the different ways poisons – and especially poisoned foods – have been utilised by crime fiction writers."

  Classic poisons for crime writers
  Poison and the Golden Age
  Murder, She Wrote
  Food and beverage (and poison) in Murder, She Wrote
  References (2 pages)
  Contributor details and suggested citation

A few excerpts:

   "Poison is a popular choice as a weapon within crime fiction, yet murdering someone by inducing alcoholic or food poisoning is, however, rarely utilised by crime writers. Orches-trating deaths based upon the application of bacteria or alcohol are, unlike other drug over-doses, difficult to execute and such narratives may test the patience of an experienced crime fiction reader. The adding of well-known poisons to food by crime writers is much more common and, traditionally, much more effective."

   "Poison requires both premeditation and access to a poisonous substance, thus the poison of choice changes with developments in technology."
   ". . . [food] helps to establish time of death and provides clues to the crime; while scenes involving cookery or the consumption of meals can add to the suspense of a story, facilitate characters meeting each other or provide the setting for a major plot point. Indeed, crime fiction is a genre with a long history of focusing on food; from the theft of food in the novels of the nineteenth century to the utilisation of many different types of food to administer poison – this trend was firmly established during the genre’s Golden Age (the period that coincided with the years between World Wars I and II) when many writers turned to poison 
to produce foul play."

   "Moreover, poison can also offer a puzzle within a puzzle – expanding upon the traditional idea of ‘whodunit?’ by also asking 'what was it dun with?' Due to these reasons, poison has maintained its strong position within the crime fiction genre – as evidenced in the many poisonings that occurred in the more modern Murder, She Wrote television episodes and accompanying books."
Typos: "food (poisoned or nor)"; "the strong stomach needed [add to] shoot or to stab"

- Here, in no particular order, is a by-no-means complete list of online articles relating to "Murder, They Cooked":

~ Crime fiction and food in general:
    (1) "So if you’re writing a crime novel, and are looking for a different slant, forget about stabbing and shooting, and ask yourself, ‘What’s your poison?’" - (HERE).
    (2) "Anyone today thinking of using Christie as inspiration when plotting a murder, however, should know that they will find it considerably more difficult to obtain poisons." - (HERE).
    (3) "But none of these writers, I think, did more justice to that most famous of homicidal poisons, arsenic, than did Sayers in Strong Poison. The title comes from the lyrics of a 17th century ballad, 'The Poisoned Man': 'O that was strong poison, my handsome young man/O yes, I am poisoned mother; make my bed soon/For I’m sick to the heart, and I fain wad lie down.' But the chemistry is absolutely up-to-date for 1930, the year the book was published." - (HERE).
    (4) "'I began considering what kind of a detective story I could write,' she said. 'Since I was surrounded by poison, perhaps it was natural that death by poisoning should be the method I selected.'" - (HERE).
    (5) "In early-nineteenth-century England, a good way to get rid of your husband was arsenic." - (HERE).
    (6) ". . . poison arguably has a much greater influence on the plot of the story. For instance when someone is stabbed to death or shot, there is not much doubt that it wasn’t natural death. Of course shooting can be made to look like suicides, but I think with poisons, the subsequent detective investigation has to grapple with a number of questions. Was poison used? And if so which one? And then how and when was the poison used? Only then can be the question of who administered the poison be answered." - (HERE).
    (7) "Often the most benign substances can turn deadly in the hands of a knowledgeable poisoner who is acquainted with simple biochemistry or botany or the horrors of anaphylactic shock." - (HERE).
    (8) "Like all crime authors, I’m writing mysteries whose plots lead to whodunit. But in company with many other writers, I see no reason not to offer a few delicious delicacies along the way. In my book, good food and a good mystery will always be a winning combination." - (HERE).
    (9) "But I always end up admitting that – and, yes, this will make me sound a little twisted – I’ve been thinking about poison murders since I was in high school." - (HERE).
    (10) "And you have to admit that it’s a wonderfully geeky solution to a murder mystery." - (HERE).
    (11) "An education in pharmacy not only helped British crime novelist Agatha Christie attend to patients during the First World War, but also aided her creative pursuits in literature." - (HERE).

~ Crime fiction, food, and Murder, She Wrote in particular:
    (12) "The series aired for 12 seasons with 264 episodes from 1984 to 1996 on the CBS network. It was followed by four TV films and an unsuccessful spin-off series, which was produced in 1987, The Law & Harry McGraw. It is one of the most successful and longest-running television shows in history, averaging close to 26 million viewers per week in its prime, and was a staple of the CBS Sunday night lineup for a decade." - (HERE) and (HERE).
    (13) "Professional writer and amateur sleuth Jessica Fletcher uses her intellect, charm, and persistence to get to the bottom of every crime she encounters." - (HERE).
    (14) "For me Jessica represented all that was good about middle America and its traditional values. She was very much a part of Cabot Cove where she and Frank had laid down roots, where they had friends, where she had a sense of community. To throw this 
over to become a 'big city' woman [by moving to New York City] violated everything I believed about her. But that's the writer talking, not the network. Obviously the move 
didn't hurt the show's ratings and in television, ratings are all that really matter. Or so 
they tell me." - (HERE).

The bottom line: "I'm at the age where food has taken the place of sex in my life. In fact, 
I've just had a mirror put over my kitchen table."
— Rodney Dangerfield

Saturday, March 18, 2017

"I Don't Know How It Was Done, I'm Not a Detective—But It Was Done Somehow"

TO HIS CREDIT, we think, Brander Matthews was one of those academic types who didn't share the insensate disdain for detective fiction that his fellow colleagues seemed to revel 
in; his professional career spanned the eras from the late Victorian period to the Roaring Twenties, and on at least one occasion (there may have been others) he tried his hand at 
a detective story:

"The Twinkling of an Eye."
By Professor Brander Matthews (1852-1929).
First appearance: Chapman's Magazine, September 1895.
Reprinted in The Long Arm, and Other Detective Stories (1895).
Novelette (28 pages).
Online at Hathi Trust (HERE) and (HERE).
Note the title on the spine.
"In the realm of the blind the one-eyed man is king."
Someone at Whittier, Wheatcroft & Co., an iron and steel works, is leaking inside information to the company's competitors and, in consequence, threatening to push it into bankruptcy. Young Paul Whittier, son of the company's senior partner, is determined to see that doesn't happen, which means, like it or not, he'll have to do some amateur sleuthing if he hopes to ferret out the mole:

   "He had come and gone and left no trail. But he must have visited the office at least three times in the past few weeks, since the firm had lost three important contracts. Probably he had been there oftener than three times. Certainly he would come again. Sooner or later he would come once too often. All that needed to be done was to set a trap for him."

After some thinking, Paul decides the best way to catch this rat is to bait the trap with something people tend to overlook, something commonplace, something horological . . .
"An old eight-day clock it was . . ."
- Concerning short fiction, Brander Matthews wrote in the "Appendix" (HERE) to The Short-Story (1907):

  "THE SHORT-STORY differs essentially from all the longer forms of fiction because its brevity forces the writer to confine himself to a single one of the three elements which the author of a novel may combine at his pleasure. These three elements are the plot, the characters, and the setting. The novelist may pay equal attention to what happens, to the persons to whom these things happen, and to the places where they happen. But the limitations of space forbid this variety to the short-story writer; he has to make his choice among the three. If he centers his efforts on his plot, he has no time to elaborate either character or background; this is what Poe has done in the 'Murders in the Rue Morgue.' If he focuses the interest on a character, his plotting must be summary, and his setting can only be sketched in; this is what George W. Cable has preferred to do in 'Posson Jone.' If he concentrates the reader’s attention on the environment, on the place where the event happens, on the atmosphere, so to speak, he must use character and incident only to intensify the impression of the place and the time; this is what we find in Hamlin Garland’s 'Return of the Private.' When once the writer has decided which of the three elements he intends to employ, he must abide by his decision."

- A commemorative article about Brander Matthews by Clayton Hamilton is online at UNZ (HERE; scroll down to page 82). More about Matthews is at (HERE).
- Matthews's article, "Poe and the Detective Story" (1907) (online HERE and HERE), is still being cited today; also see (HERE) and (HERE).
- There seems to have been a fad in the last century for authors to stuff a story with as much eye dialect (Wikipedia: HERE) as they could get away with, and our author was no exception.
- This story involves industrial espionage, a nefarious practice that can be dated as far back as 1712; see Wikipedia (HERE) and (HERE) for more.
- About The Long Arm, and Other Detective Stories (1895), LeRoy Lad Panek writes: "This is the book that Ellery Queen identified as the first anthology of detective stories." — Google Books (HERE)

Thursday, March 16, 2017

"While Prominent Features of the Novella Suggest That It Belongs to the Detective Story Genre, It Also Deviates from the Genre in Many Significant Ways"

THESIS THURSDAY, which should appear every two weeks on average, is meant to shed some light on what and to what extent imminent graduates, rather than their eminent profs, have discovered about detective fiction.

MOST OF US don't tend to think of Robert Louis Stevenson's (1850-94) classic novella "Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" (1886) as a work of crime fiction; but Wikipedia notes that, for students of literature seeking to categorize Stevenson's story, it has everything but the proverbial kitchen sink, including discernible aspects of detective fiction:

   "Literary genres which critics have applied as a framework for interpreting the novel include religious allegory, fable, detective story, sensation fiction, Doppelgänger literature, Scottish devil tales, and gothic novel."

. . . all of which, when carelessly bundled together, is usually called horror, and that's how Hollywood has always treated the story. In this thesis, our author seeks to demonstrate both that it's more than just a Gothic terror tale and where in that capacious category of "crime fiction" the story fits. (SPOILER NOTE: If you haven't read "Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" yet, be aware that it differs sometimes radically from movie treatments, and Kristins-dóttir's disquisition necessarily reveals plot details; see "Resources" below for a link to the story.)

"'If he be Mr. Hyde . . . I shall be Mr. Seek': Robert Louis Stevenson's 'Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde' 
and its place within crime fiction."
By Fríða Kristinsdóttir.
Thesis, 32 pages, 2011.
Online (HERE).
"The reluctance or failure of critics and scholars to connect Stevenson’s inherently gothic story to the crime fiction genre can be traced to what is now considered a critical misrepresentation of the chronology and lineage of the genre itself."
  I. Introduction
  II. First came the detective: traditional history of the crime fiction genre
  III. Jekyll and Hyde and the classic detective story
  IV. Jekyll and Hyde compared to contemporary crime fiction
  V. Gothic and supernatural elements in crime fiction and Jekyll and Hyde
  VI. The double, psychoanalysis and Jack the Ripper
  VII. Henry Jekyll: an inspiration for the serial killer in fiction and film
  VIII. Conclusion
  IX. Bibliography (2 pages).
Several excerpts:

   "This paper focuses primarily on the early days of the crime fiction genre, starting with the so-called 'classic detective story' and tracing its evolution into the contemporary crime novel, a period covering the late 19th century and the first half of the 20th century. While crime fiction certainly continued beyond this period, novels published in the second half of the 20th century are more diverse. The genre is now considered to have a number of sub-genres, such as police fiction, spy fiction, the thriller, and others that are not discussed in detail in this paper. Before taking a closer look at the elements in Jekyll and Hyde that indicate that it belongs in the canon of crime fiction, it is useful to take a brief look at the history of the genre and its most traditional presentation."
   "Incidentally, a dramatised version of Jekyll and Hyde was being staged in London in 1888, and journalists immediately picked up on the link between the suspect, Jack the Ripper, and the character in the play. As a result, the image of Jekyll and Hyde 'is still regularly deployed to describe the serial killer' (Warwick 557). In fact, Stevenson’s character has arguably inspired the serial killer and other dual characters in crime fiction and popular culture."
   "Attempts to compare Jekyll and Hyde to detective fiction can therefore be seen, as Nabokov suggested, as the defamation of a story that is in fact a great work of literature. Close analysis shows that Stevenson’s story does not even fit the criteria of the classic detective story. This does not prevent it from being compared to other works of crime 
fiction, however. As the crime fiction genre has gained the attention of scholars, it has 
been acknowledged that the present canon of crime fiction has drawn inspiration from key elements of the gothic, supernatural and sensational. These elements can all be found in Jekyll and Hyde. Rather than excluding it from the genre of crime fiction, there is clear evidence that the novella marked the beginning of the crime novel, a genre that continues to flourish today, well after the rise and fall of its cousin, the detective story.
   "When Jekyll and Hyde is viewed as a crime story, its most prominent feature, the 
character of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, can be appreciated as an early portrayal of a very modern criminal. Stevenson captured his readers’ attention with a gothic monster, but 
his psychological exploration of the criminal’s mind was unique and far ahead of his 
time. His dual character has since inspired countless others that embody this conflict: 
the interior battle between good and evil."
Comment: In passing we learn that "Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" isn't quite 
a pure detective story, being either two-thirds (Cawelti & Hirsch) or one-fourth (Symons) 
of one.
Typo: "a popular topic in a the new field of psychology"
- The University of Adelaide has a nicely-illustrated version of the text with artwork by 
Charles Raymond Macauley (HERE) (91 pages as a PDF).
- Since Wikipedia's article (HERE) about Stevenson's story is SPOILER-FILLED, you're 
better off reading the novella first.
- Like just about all good stories, this one has not been improved much when adapted; Wikipedia (HERE) tells us:

  "The work is known for its vivid portrayal of a split personality, and since the 1880s dozens of stage and film adaptations have been produced, although there have been no major adaptations to date that remain faithful to the narrative structure of Stevenson's original. Most omit the figure of Utterson, telling the story from Jekyll's and Hyde's viewpoint and often having them played by the same actor, thus eliminating entirely the mystery aspect of the true identity of Hyde, which was the original's twist ending and not the basic premise it is today. In addition, many adaptations introduce a romantic element which does not exist in the original story. While Hyde is portrayed in the novella as an evil-looking man of diminutive height, many adaptations have taken liberties with the character's physical appearance, sometimes depicting him with bestial or downright monstrous features. There are over 123 film versions, not including stage and radio, as well as a number of parodies and imitations."

- If, unlike us, terms like "proairetic code," "circle of solidarities," "hermeneutic sequence," and "semiotics" don't make you uncomfortable, then there's also a chapter (HERE) in Gothic Reflections: Narrative Force in Nineteenth-century Fiction by Peter K. Garrett (2003) that discusses Jekyll and Hyde; but please note that one page (115) has been purposely omitted from the Google Books preview.

The bottom line: "Street after street, and all the folks asleep—street after street, all lighted up as if for a procession and all as empty as a church—till at last I got into that state of mind when a man listens and listens and begins to long for the sight of a policeman."
— Enfield

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Notions from Ought-Seven

"Poe's Idea of the Detective Story" and "The Construction of the Detective Story."
From The Writer, October 1907.
Two back-to-back articles (2 pages).
Online (HERE) or as images below.
"The main point, where these ephemeral novels of mystery are concerned, is that they should be amusing."
Brief comments about Brander Matthews's then-new article about Poe, and the rules of the game, if there are any, when it comes to detective fiction.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Miscellaneous Monday—Number Two

"Revising Nabokov Revising the Detective Novel: Vladimir, Agatha, and the Terms of Engagement."
By Catharine Theimer Nepomnyashchy (1951-2015). Introduction by Ronald Meyer.
Article, 8 pages (with illos), 2015.
Online (HERE) (PDF).
(Note: Some SPOILERS for Christie's works.)
Credit: Painting by Ellen van Boggelen-Heutink (
"There are some varieties of fiction that I never touch—mystery stories, for instance, which I abhor . . ." — Nabokov (1973)
Vladimir Nabokov (1899-1977)—the famous author of Lolita (novel, 1955; film, 1962)—and detective fiction at first don't seem to have much in common; as it turns out, what common-ality there is, as you can see from the quote, is one of intense hatred on Nabokov's part for detective stories. But, as our author shows, while he might have publicly detested mysteries, he wasn't above stealing an idea or two from the Queen of Crime and sneaking them into his own works.

Several excerpts:

   "In Nabokov’s first novel composed directly in English, The Real Life of Sebastian Knight, Nabokov not only toys with the basic mechanisms of the detective novel, but again appears to invoke a specific Christie text (or even texts)."

   "This leads me inevitably to the third work I wish to adduce here, the Nabokov novel that most obviously and centrally plays on the convention of the detective novel in general and, I believe, on a well-known Agatha Christie novel in particular—Despair."

   "While Nabokov might not have shared [Edmund] Wilson’s explanation of the reasons for the genre’s popularity, he certainly recognized that the immense success of the detective novel made it a force to reckon with—especially as he was making his transition to writing 
in English, a language in which the detective novel particularly flourished."
- See the Nabokov entry on Wikipedia (HERE).
- Miscellaneous Monday—Number One is (HERE).

Saturday, March 11, 2017

"He Dropped a Fundamental Law of Physics and Smashed It into Atoms"

"I Get Off Here."
By Ford Smith (Oscar J. Friend, 1893-1963).
First appearance: Thrilling Wonder Stories, Winter 1945.
Short short story (9 pages).
Online at SFFAudio (HERE) (PDF).
"Dr. Devore Ragon, Head of the Solar Observance System Detective Agency, Solves the Teleportation Kidnaping of Lovely Vedalia Crown!"
In the Twenty-second Century, criminals have been keeping up with the latest scientific advances—the ones they can steal, anyway. When Vedalia, the daughter of J. Harvard Crown, head of the Crown Interplanetary Newscaster Service, is kidnapped, bed, gossamer-thin nightgown, and all, Crown calls for Devore ("Dee") Ragon, superscientific detective and Vedalia's bashful boyfriend, to find her. Catching this abductor (who boastingly calls him-
self Mr. Hermes) would be quite a challenge (he can appear and disappear at will), if it 
weren't for a little trick that Vedalia has up her diaphanous sleeve.

Comment: Clearly this story was meant to launch a series, but for some reason the author never went any further with it.
Typos: "out of of a room"; "My give name is Devore."

- The usual Internet sources have information about our Friend, Oscar: Wikipedia (HERE), the SFE (HERE), the Fancyclopedia (HERE), and the ISFDb (HERE).

The bottom line: "When I was kidnapped, my parents snapped into action. They rented out my room."

Friday, March 10, 2017

Time on His Hands

APROPOS OF THE impending time change, we recall to your remembrance this passage from Van Dine's The Kidnap Murder Case (1936):

   "As she [Mrs. Kenting] silently shook her head in reply he [Philo Vance] continued: 'Tell me, when did you first learn of your husband's absence?'
   "The woman took a deep breath, and after a barely perceptible hesitation answered in a slightly rasping, low-pitched voice which contrasted strangely with her colorless, semi-anemic appearance.
   "'Early this morning—about six o'clock, I should say. The sun had just risen.'"
At which point we get this footnote:

   "The official time of sunrise on that day was 4:45, local mean time, or 4:41, Eastern standard time; but daylight saving time was then in effect, and Mrs. Kenting's reference 
to sunrise in New York at approximately six o'clock was correct."

You're probably thinking, "Oh, please!"; however, in a Golden Age murder investigation, nothing, not even the sun's location, should be overlooked. See what Abraham Lincoln, 
as a lawyer, did with the moon (HERE).
- Go (HERE) for more about the punctilious author of The Kidnap Murder Case.

"There Would Never Be a Napoleon of Furniture-Removers, but There Had Been Several Napoleons of Crime"

"The Hypnotized Burglar."
By Herbert Jenkins (1875-1923).
First appearance: Unknown, 1913.
Reprinted in McBride's Magazine, April 1916.
Collected as a chapter in Bindle (1916), online (HERE).
Short story (10 pages).
Online at Hathi Trust (HERE).
"In Which Joseph Bindle, Furniture-Remover, and Professor Conti, the Great Mesmerist, Each Puts His Respective Accomplishments to a New Use. Aesop Would Have Drawn a Moral from the Tale; Can You?"
Of all the burglars at large in London on that caliginous evening, it's Professor Conti's 
great fortune—you could almost say it's Providential—when he surprises, rummaging through his drawers, the only yegg who could ensure the Great Mesmerist's everlasting 
fame, even eclipsing that of his closest rival. Imagine, then, the Professor's own surprise when, in court, he sees the wrong man standing in the dock . . .

- Professor Conti makes his living performing stage hypnosis; see the Wikipedia article about it (HERE).
- There's also info about Herbert Jenkins at Wikipedia (HERE), the GAD Wiki (HERE), and Mike Grost's Guide (HERE).
- Jenkins is best known to mystery fans for his character of Malcolm Sage; Mystery*File has an ancient review (2007) of his exploits (HERE), the book under examination being online (HERE).
- Herbert Jenkins used the comic character of Joseph Bindle in a series of stories, most of them being seemingly non-criminous (data from FictionMags):

   "The Hypnotized Burglar," McBride’s Magazine, April 1916 (above)
   "The Flitting of Mr. Maurice Crane," Hutchinson’s Story Magazine, September 1919
   "Mrs. Bindle’s Summer-Camp," Hutchinson’s Story Magazine, November 1919
   "Mrs. Bindle’s Discovery," Hutchinson’s Story Magazine, January 1920
   "Mrs. Bindle’s Washing Day," Pearson’s Magazine, July 1921
   "The Coming of Joseph the Second," Pearson’s Magazine, August 1921
   "Mrs. Bindle Entertains," Pearson’s Magazine, September 1921
   "The Bindles at the Zoo," Pearson’s Magazine, March 1922
   "Mrs. Bindle Fetches a Policeman," Pearson’s Magazine, May 1922
   "Mrs. Bindle Meets Her Match," Pearson’s Magazine, August 1922
   "Bindle Goes to Chapel"
   "Bindle Tries a Change of Work"; from Bindle (collection), 1916.
   "The Great Hypnotic Fiasco"
- See the Online Books Page (HERE) for other works by Herbert Jenkins.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

"His Hand Had Found the Small Blaster and the Night Was Heavy with the Scent of Burnt Flesh"

"Who Murders, Who Dreams."
By Jeffrey Goddin (?-?).
First appearance: Galaxy, June 1977.
Short story (14 pages).
Online at (HERE).
(Note: Faded text; click the "Zoom In" function 3 or 4 times for greater clarity.)
"Now and in the future, murderers are hunted by their dreams!"
The Environment, always pleasant, always present, knows Phil Lehman even better 
than he does himself; so when Phil starts down a dismal road in pursuit of ill-gotten 
gain, path from which there's no turning back, including an occasional detour into 
murder, the Environment knows . . . and waits . . . and plans for that moment, the 
perfect moment . . .

Editor's note about this story: "Murder, theft and betrayal in Metropolis A. Combining 
the genres of Science Fiction and Mystery is notoriously difficult. Mr. Goddin makes 
it look as easy as—dreaming!"
- There's not much about our author on the Wild World Web, except for this (HERE).
- The basic setup in this story is very reminiscent of Robert Sheckley's "Seventh Victim," which we highlighted last summer (HERE).

The bottom line: "Actions are sometimes performed in a masterly and most cunning way, while the direction of the actions is deranged and dependent on various morbid impressions — it's like a dream."

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

"Doesn't Anybody Know a Lady When He Sees Her?"

"The Intruders."
By Caroline (King) Duer (1865-1956).
First appearance: Pearson's Magazine (U.S.), August 1906.
Reprinted in Pearson's Magazine (U.S.), May 1915 and The Underworld, March 1928.
Short short short story (4 pages).
Online at Google Books (HERE).
"The longer I watched, the more convinced I became that this protection had in some way proved insufficient, and that something of a nefarious nature, some-thing, at least, that required looking into, was taking place within a compara-tively few feet of me."
Once upon a muggy midnight dreary there's skulduggery afoot, or so our unnamed 
narrator thinks. Thank goodness he has his roommate Thompkins to help clear things 
up—Thompkins the sagacious, Thompkins the imperturbable, Thompkins the blithering 
idiot . . .

- To judge from the FictionMags list, Caroline Duer seldom wrote crime fiction—usually romantic stuff. For more background, see Wikipedia (HERE), the Social Archive (HERE), 
and the IMDb (HERE), which has her sole film credit; we also encountered one of her 
stories, "The Unconscious Detective" (1902), a couple of years ago (HERE).

The bottom line: "If you can keep your head when all about are losing theirs, it's just possible that you haven't grasped the situation."
Jean Kerr

Monday, March 6, 2017

Miscellaneous Monday—Number One

WE BELIEVE THAT if committed ideologues continue to insist on interposing their politics between themselves and the world they see around them, they're not likely to get a clear conception of a grocery list, never mind reality itself. Despite such self-imposed limitations, however, we must concede that, like the proverbial stopped clock, even ideologues can be right now and then. Read the following book excerpt awash in Marxist-Freudian jargon and decide for yourself if the author scores as highly as that stopped clock:

"Baker Street and Surroundings: The Criminal and the Detective."
By Franco Moretti (born 1950).
From "Clues."
Book chapter from The Soul and the Harpy, 7 pages, 1983.
Online (HERE).
"Detective fiction must quell the fear that the criminal may remain unknown and therefore continue to circulate in society."
A few excerpts:

   "Detective fiction is rooted in a sacrificial rite."

   "Murderer and victim meet in the locked room because fundamentally they are similar. In at least a third of Conan Doyle's stories, the criminal has been the victim of a preceding offence and vice versa. The victim, that is, has asked for it: because of his shady past and because he wanted to keep secrets, thus fending off society's 'assistance'; and finally because, exactly like the criminal, he is still devoted to the idea of individual property. Detective fiction origi-nates at the same time as the trusts, the big banks, and monopolies: mechanisms that make wealth impersonal and separate capital and capitalist. The victim, on the other hand, is still attached to his small capital, like the criminal who covets it. They are betrayed by economic independence. Detective fiction enacts the antithesis between life and property and between life and individuality: to have one, it is necessary to give up the other."

   "Detective fiction owes its success to the fact that it teaches nothing."

   "Reading Conan Doyle, however, one discovers that the criminals are never members of the bourgeoisie. Detective fiction separates individuality and bourgeoisie. The bourgeoisie is no longer the champion of risk, novelty and imbalance, but of prudence, conservation and stasis. The economic ideology of detective fiction rests entirely upon the idea that supply and demand tend quite naturally towards a perfect balance."
". . . criminals are never members of the bourgeoisie."
   ". . . there is no room for love in detective fiction. . . . It is no wonder that true passion always ends by playing into the hands of the criminal."

  ". . . the poor stepfather is a bit like the well-known 'uncle' evoked by early psychoanalysis: a mask for the father. Needless to say, Conan Doyle, unlike Freud, was not trying to make a sticky subject 'acceptable': had he suspected this, his pen would have frozen in his hand. . ."

   ". . . Holmes is not a policeman, but a decadent intellectual (as is blatantly obvious from his escapes into music and cocaine). He is the intellectual who is no longer a person but a product . . . in him, detection is disengaged from the purposes of the law. His is a purely cultural aim. It is preferable for a criminal to escape (as, in fact, happens) and the detection to be complete - rather than for him to be captured and the logical reconstruction be pre-empted."
". . . a decadent intellectual . . ."
   "In finding one solution that is valid for all [i.e., the 'sole cause' of the crime is a particular criminal] - detective fiction does not permit alternative readings - society posits its unity, and, again, declares itself innocent." [In other words: "It weren't my fault, gov'nor; it's society what made me do it."]

Typo: "return to the beginnmg"

- A Wikipedia entry about the author is (HERE) and a New Yorker article about him is (HERE).