Friday, January 31, 2014


"As a story of mystery and horror, The Hound of the Baskervilles is a success; for Sherlock Holmes, the Master of the Science of Deduction, whose creator has proclaimed him the peer of Dupin and of Lecoq, it is a debacle." — Arthur Bartlett Maurice
“The more outré and grotesque an incident is the more carefully it deserves to be examined.” — Sherlock Holmes
While the serialization of THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES was being published in The Strandspeculation ran riot about how the story would play out. As with one of Dickens's serials, both literati and the man on the street were sometimes moved to the most outrageous conjectures—outrageous, that is, to those who now know the story's conclusion.

Here are some brief excerpted speculations from a time when, for some avid readers, ignorance was an agony of suspense. Follow the links to get the full effect.

The first one concerns Sir Henry's stolen shoes:
Very few people, we think, who have been reading the new Sherlock Holmes story have as yet been able even to guess at what will be contained in the closing chapters. Five instalments have now appeared; it is three months since Holmes has played any part in the narrative; and as a result everything seems to be in a chaotic state. Any guess as to the outcome, in consequence, must be based on the events which were narrated in the first two instalments.
As a rule, almost every one with whom we have discussed the story has confessed himself or herself utterly at sea; yet we have heard one theory which, though it is hardly likely to prove the right one, has the merit of a certain weird ingenuity. Then, too, it can be made to fit all the circumstances, and in connection with this we must remember the adage of Holmes himself on a former occasion: "When you find a theory that fits all the circumstances, no matter how improbable that theory may seem, it is the right one." — "Chronicle and Comment: The Footprints of the Baskerville Hound," THE BOOKMAN (February 1902)
Regular readers managed to develop some rather intricate theories of their own:
By this time the whole story is known to those who have read it either in book or in serial form. Perhaps there are some who are more or less disappointed in the manner in which the tale was worked out, and indeed there are some explanations which strain the credulity.
Some months ago, when only two or three parts had appeared, a theory as to the solution was printed in THE BOOKMAN. This theory proved very far wrong; but the number of letters which came to this office, contradicting or affirming it, served to show how widespread was the interest in the serial. We should like to print them all, because even now they are entertaining, but it is very obvious that we could not. However, we are going to give two, which show to a certain extent the tone of all the rest. — "Chronicle and Comment: More Sherlock Holmes Theories," THE BOOKMAN (May 1902)
And here is a part of what is possibly the longest review extant of THE HOUND OF THE 
When the subject of this story was first discussed in literary and publishing circles in London there prevailed the idea that Mr. Fletcher Robinson had in hand a story to which Dr. Doyle was lending some assistance, his name, and the character of Sherlock Holmes.
A little later it was being said that Dr. Doyle and Mr. Robinson were in collaboration on this new Sherlock Holmes story.
Finally the first instalment of the tale itself appeared as being the work of Dr. Doyle alone. Allusion to Mr. Fletcher Robinson was made only in a foot-note, in which the reputed writer courteously, but rather vaguely, thanked Mr. Robinson for one or two hints and suggestions that had been of some value to him in the writing of the story.
Just what the meaning of all this was, just how much Mr. Robinson did contribute to the inception and the working out of The Hound of the Baskervilles, the reviewer is neither inclined nor prepared to say. Only there is in this book much that is materially different from the former work of Dr. Doyle in his detective stories, and the methods of Sherlock Holmes here are not entirely the methods of the astute, intellectual reasoner who ran Jefferson Hope to earth in The Study in Scarlet, and who by his systematic study of the records of Lloyds was able to connect the voyages of the Lone Star and the crimes of the Ku-Klux-Klan in The Five Orange Pips.
Although there is no intention here of telling the story of The Hound of the Baskervilles, it is necessary, in order to contrast the old methods of Sherlock Holmes with the new, to say something about those opening chapters in which the mystery is built up to arouse and baulk the curiosity of the reader. — Arthur Bartlett Maurice, "Seven Novels of Some Importance," THE BOOKMAN (May 1902)
- A previous related ONTOS article HERE.

Category: Detective fiction

Thursday, January 30, 2014

"Looking for the Third Man"

London Films.
1949. 93 or 104 minutes.
". . . the story of turning The Third Man into film stands as a classic case-history of what can happen when in the great arena of contemporary culture the armies of finance, art and politics clash by night."
THE THIRD MAN is a classic and justly praised film, and we won't belabor the point. How it came about is a fascinating story in itself, as this well-researched article shows:
WHEN YOU WRITE a mystery story whose villain is a faceless man involved in double-dealings and international crime in post-War Vienna, you should not be surprised if strange things happen to your text. Political pressures may exert a deforming influence; nameless interests may carve away at it for their own obscure purposes; you may find that the hero is not quite the man you thought him to be, or that someone is protecting the villain. "One never knows when the blow may fall."
All these things have in fact happened to Graham Greene's celebrated thriller, The Third Man, whose publishing and cinematic history has some of the elements of international intrigue that made the story and film so exciting. — Judy Adamson & Philip Stratford, "Looking for the Third Man: On the Trail in Texas, New York, Hollywood," ENCOUNTER (June 1978)
Graham Greene, the originator of the story (he did, in fact, prefer the term "thriller"), held a "somewhat ambiguous" attitude towards it:
. . . despite a long career in the cinema and the happy experience of working closely with Carol Reed [the director] on the film of The Third Man, Greene takes pains to describe his approach as primarily that of a novelist.
"To me," he says, "it is impossible to write a film play without first writing a story." Characterisation, mood and atmosphere "seem to be impossible to capture for the first time in the dull shorthand of a conventional treatment . . . one cannot make the first act of creation in treatment form."
And although he tells us that many of the subsequent changes from story to film not only met with his approval but were often his own suggestions, he insists, "The Third Man, therefore, though never intended for publication, had to start as a story rather than a treatment, before I began working on what seemed the interminable transformations from one screenplay to another." — Judy Adamson & Philip Stratford, op. cit.
Changes during a film's production are to be expected, but they aren't always welcome:
Typical of the transformations that so irritated Greene and made him long for his old job as novelist ("that one-man business where I alone bear full responsibility for failure") are the many changes in names, nationalities, and status of his characters. Scarcely one of them remained the same. — Judy Adamson & Philip Stratford, op. cit.
Originally, we learn, the film was to have a happier denouement:
The ending, Greene tells us, was the cause of "one of the few major disputes between Carol Reed and myself." Greene's Story had finished happily with Anna [the girl in the middle] and Martins [ostensibly the "hero"] walking arm in arm away from Lime's [the villain's] funeral. — Judy Adamson & Philip Stratford, op. cit.
But the matter of the cat and its affections could well exemplify the complexities and ambiguities built into the characters:
The altered ending does more, however, than just make the audience linger and let the final impact of the film sink in. It has a subtle side effect on characteri-sation as well.
The Anna who walks away leaving Holly behind her is a more valid character than the one in the story who capriciously slips her hand through his arm. She remains faithful to Harry Lime, and his figure, in consequence, becomes larger and more difficult for the audience to contend with.
Even such a seemingly innocuous change as the addition of Anna's cat, used to increase suspense in the sequence where Lime is first seen, has its secondary effect. The cat has no interest in Martins; like Anna, it only cares for Lime. When we see it sitting at Harry's feet, its loyalty, too, increases Harry's human quality for us.
If we look closely we see that many changes apparently made for cinematic reasons also stress the story's theme of divided loyalties, soften Harry's crimes and make him more human. — Judy Adamson & Philip Stratford, op. cit.
But more changes were to come. According to Adamson and Stratford, an American print version of Greene's story had at least 120 alterations:
At first sight it appears that the chief motive for the rewrite was political—that some editor had received instructions (from what third man?) to remove any parts of the story referring to tensions between East and West except those absolutely necessary to the plot; for not only were many of Greene's acid observations on American mores expurgated but, more surprisingly, most of his nasty references to the Russians were also eliminated. Rather strange politics to follow at the height of the Cold War and on the eve of the McCarthy era. And the rewrite not only emasculated the story politically but did some injury to it artistically as well. — Judy Adamson & Philip Stratford, op. cit.
As for the changes demanded by the film's American co-producer, David O. Selznick:
Selznick left them 40 pages of suggestions for changes. With Korda's [the British co-producer's] complete approval, says Greene, Reed put the document in a drawer and they never looked at it. — Judy Adamson & Philip Stratford, op. cit.
Read the full article HERE.

- The IMDb listing is HERE.
- The Wikipedia article about the film (with SPOILERS) is HERE, while information about Graham Greene is HERE.
- The book is available in print, audio, and Kindle versions HERE; the DVD is available HERE.
- An article by Greene, " 'The Third Man' As a Story and a Film" (The New York Times, March 19, 1950), is reproduced HERE.

Category: Detective fiction

"Singularly Aloof from Ordinary Sensational Literature"

By L. Dougall (1858-1923).
Funk & Wagnalls Co.
1905. 345 pages. $1.50
Online HERE.
This one sounds like P. D. James a century in advance; in other words, look for much social commentary with a minimum of detection:
This is a clever story in which a plot of purely melodramatic interest is treated with artistic restraint and sobriety. With each chapter the mystery round which the whole novel has been built up is driven deeper. The complication increases absolutely to the end. Until the actual moment of revelation, not a hint is given which could lead to a premature solution.
There has been a ghastly and extraordinary murder, but the mystery of the murderer intensifies with an accumulative interest. At the same time, the book is singularly aloof from ordinary sensational literature. Its manner is absolutely devoid of excitement. The development has no lurid or scenic climaxes. The style is noticeably finished and dignified, and its pre-occupations are as much with personality, with emotion, and the inexplicable and delicate contradictions of the human heart, as with the successful maintenance of its criminal drama.
Few novels are so free from the superfluous. Everything that has no bearing upon the progress of the story has been omitted. As a result each figure stands out with a singular sharpness of impression. One seems to see the two sisters, in their conventional orderly dwelling, and to feel the incongruity of the tragedy someone else's sin has fastened upon them.
Some inconsistencies there are of course. In real life discovery could scarcely have been delayed so long. Also the reader is a little hurt by the unloving nature of the end. The incurable human desire for romance feels chilled at this denial of all tender emotions. One at least of the charming sisters might have been provided with a husband.
Nevertheless—and one cannot have everything even in fiction—the writer is to be congratulated upon an extremely exciting plot, accompanied by some tranquil and attractive character studies and a very easy and natural manner. — THE BOOKMAN (October 1904)
The plot of this novel is managed with much skill, holding one's interest without disclosing the solution of the puzzle until the very end.
Two Northern ladies, while living apparently harmless and normal lives in the lonely mountain region of North Carolina, are the center of the mystery. Two gentlemen become involved, but the love motive is quite in abeyance.
It is a cleverly told tale, with many original points, written by an English author who makes the unusual choice of an American background. — THE OUTLOOK (February 25, 1905; scroll to page 504)
- A Wikipedia article about the author, Lily Dougall, is HERE.
- An entry in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography is HERE.

Category: Detective fiction

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Several Sherlockian Spoofs

With the recent return of Holmes from the dead, some of the living decided to have some fun with the Sage of Baker Street. Whether or not you find these funny depends entirely, exclusively, and inevitably on you. Here are excerpts:

~ "The Bound of the Astorbilts" (1902):
"Our visitor," I replied, desperately discarding the ingenuousness he always insisted upon, "was a tall, slender female of about forty-five, unmarried, and carrying a pug pup under her left arm. From the peculiar traces of reddish-brown mud on the rug, I deduce that she came here directly from East Ontario, Ohio. She wore a light-green bombasine ulster over a yellow-and-red percale waist and a lavender brocade skirt, a black patch over her left eye and a mouse-coloured wig. She remained in this room exactly seven minutes and thirty-nine seconds, three minutes of which period were occupied in smoking a Trichinopoly cigar and gazing fixedly at yonder painting of 'The Monster Hound'. "
Sherlock Holmes uttered an ejaculation of amazement.
~ "Dr. Watson's Wedding Present" (1903):
SCENE : The chambers in Baker Street. Holmes discovered lolling on divan and smoking a long pipe. Enter Watson.
Watson.—Good morning, Holmes! I have missed not seeing you, but I've been so busy for the last six weeks.
Holmes.—Glad to see you. Tell me what to give you for a wedding present. I don't approve of marriage on general principles, but Miss Morstan is a fine girl, and it was I who brought you together.
Watson.—Holmes, you astound me! Who told you that I was going to be married? How did you learn that? Why, I haven't told a soul yet!
Holmes.—Humph! Rising young doctor, too busy to see friend, but calls four times a week on a particular young lady. At last comes to see friend, wears brand-new clothes in the morning. Never known to do such a thing before—suspicious circumstance. Woman's long hair on his right shoulder, and a monarch-of-all-I-survey expression. What more do you want? The inference is obvious. I'd congratulate you, Watson, if it wasn't for the wedding present I've got to give you.
~ "A Sherlock Cartoon" (1903):
How do you do, sir. I observe that you are in the coal trust; also that you have just had a narrow escape; that you have no children; that you were in a great hurry this morning; that you have been writing, and that you shaved with your left hand this morning.
~ "The Resources of Mycroft Holmes" (1903):
He paused, evidently to gather his forces, a frown coming over his low forehead and continued, "Sherlock Holmes is—" in such a tone that I could not repress an involuntary, "Yes?" of expectancy and suspense.
"Sherlock Holmes is a vain coxcomb and an arrant charlatan," went on Mycroft explosively.

Category: Detective fiction


In this critic's opinion, the account of the spectral hound had very little to do with Conan Doyle:
Every one who read the opening chapters of the resuscitation of Sherlock Holmes in the September number of the Strand Magazine must have come to the conclusion that Dr. Doyle's share in the collaboration was a very small one.
The Hound of the Baskervilles opens very dramatically, and promises to be a rousing good tale. But the Sherlock Holmes to whom we are introduced is a totally different personage from the Sherlock Holmes of The Study in Scarlet, The Sign of the Four, The Adventures and The Memoirs.
Of course all the little superficial tricks and mannerisms have been worked in, but there it ends.
In a brief note Dr. Doyle, whose name alone is at the head of the story, acknowledges the collaboration of Mr. Fletcher Robinson. Of course the matter is one which concerns primarily only the two authors and their publishers; but we have very little hesitation in expressing our conviction that the story is almost entirely Mr. Robinson's, and that Dr. Doyle's only important contribution to the partnership is the permission to use the character of Sherlock Holmes. — "Chronicle and Comment: The New Sherlock Holmes Story," THE BOOKMAN (October 1901)
Here's Wikipedia's version:
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote this story shortly after returning to his home Undershaw from South Africa, where he had worked as a volunteer physician at the Langman Field Hospital in Bloemfontein at the time of the Second Boer War.
Conan Doyle had not written about Sherlock Holmes in eight years, having killed off the character in the 1893 story "The Final Problem." Although The Hound of the Baskervilles is set before the latter events, two years later Conan Doyle would bring Holmes back for good, explaining in "The Adventure of the Empty House" that Holmes had faked his own death.
He was assisted with the plot by a 30-year-old Daily Express journalist named Bertram Fletcher Robinson (1870–1907). His ideas came from the legend of Richard Cabell, which was the fundamental inspiration for the Baskerville tale of a hellish hound and a cursed country squire. Cabell's tomb can be seen in the Devon town of Buckfastleigh.
Squire Richard Cabell lived for hunting and was what in those days was described as a 'monstrously evil man'. He gained this reputation for, amongst other things, immorality and having sold his soul to the Devil. There was also a rumour that he had murdered his wife. On 5 July 1677, he died and was laid to rest in 'the sepulchre,' but that was only the beginning of the story. The night of his interment saw a phantom pack of hounds come baying across the moor to howl at his tomb. From that night onwards, he could be found leading the phantom pack across the moor, usually on the anniversary of his death. If the pack were not out hunting, they could be found ranging around his grave howling and shrieking. In an attempt to lay the soul to rest, the villagers built a large building around the tomb, and to be doubly sure a huge slab was placed. Moreover, Devon's folklore includes tales of a fearsome supernatural dog known as the Yeth hound that Conan Doyle may have heard. — "The Hound of the Baskervilles: Origins" (From HERE)
And also this from Wikipedia:
In July 1900, Robinson and the creator of Sherlock Holmes, (Sir) Arthur Conan Doyle, 'cemented' their friendship while aboard a passenger ship that was traveling to Southampton from Cape Town. The following year, Robinson told Doyle legends of ghostly hounds, recounted the supernatural tale of Squire Richard Cabell III and showed him around grimly atmospheric Dartmoor. The pair had previously agreed to co-author a Devon-based story but in the end, their collaboration led only to Doyle's celebrated novel, The Hound of the Baskervilles. Robinson also contributed an idea to the plot of a Sherlock Holmes short-story entitled "The Adventure of the Norwood Builder," which was first published in Collier's Weekly on 31 October 1903.
Doyle is sometimes seen as downplaying the importance of Robinson's contribution to The Hound of the Baskervilles. The literary scholar and critic, Professor William Wallace Robson, wrote that it is 'impossible to determine' the precise extent of Robinson's role, but in all probability he merely acted as a 'creative trigger'. He adds that once the element of Sherlock Holmes was added to the original idea, the novel evolved beyond the joint project that was originally posited. Robinson himself conceded that his part in the collaboration was restricted to that of an 'assistant plot producer'. — "Bertram Fletcher Robinson: Writing & Editorial Career" (From HERE)
- A previous ONTOS article, "The Reappearance of Sherlock Holmes," is HERE.

Category: Detective fiction

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

ACD on Sherlock and "Anglo-Saxonhood"

Excerpts from an interview:
. . . I asked him [Doyle] how on earth he had evolved, apparently out of his own inner consciousness, such an extraordinary person as his detective Sherlock Holmes, with which readers of the Strand, are so familiar. "Oh! but," he cried, with a hearty, ringing laugh—and his is a laugh it does one good to hear—"Oh! But, if you please, he is not evolved out of any one's inner consciousness. Sherlock Holmes is the literary embodiment, if I may so express it, of my memory of a professor of medicine at Edinburgh University, who would sit in the patients' waiting-room with a face like a Red Indian and diagnose the people as they came in, before even they had opened their mouths.
"He would tell them their symptoms, he would give them details of their lives, and he would hardly ever make a mistake. 'Gentlemen,' he would say to us students standing around, 'I am not quite sure whether this man is a cork-cutter or a slater. I observe a slight callus, or hardening, on one side of his forefinger, and a little thickening on the outside of his thumb, and that is a sure sign he is either one or the other.'
"His great faculty of deduction was at times highly dramatic. 'Ah!' he would say to another man, 'you are a soldier, a non-commissioned officer, and you have served in Bermuda. Now how did I know that, gentlemen? He came into the room without taking his hat off, as he would go into an orderly room. He was a soldier. A slight authoritative air, combined with his age, shows he was an N.C.O. A slight rash on the forehead tells me he was in Bermuda, and subject to a certain rash known only there.'
"So I got the idea for Sherlock Holmes. Sherlock is utterly inhuman, no heart, but with a beautifully logical intellect. I know nothing about detective work, but theoretically it has always had a great charm for me. The best detective in fiction is E. A. Poe's Mons. D.; then Mons. Le Cocq, Gaboriau's hero.
"The great defect in the detective of fiction is that he obtains results without any obvious reason. That is not fair, it is not art. I have written two little books about him. 'A Study in Scarlet,' the first thing I wrote, and 'Sign of Four.'
"I get many letters from all over the country about Sherlock Holmes. Sometimes from schoolboys, sometimes from commercial travellers who are great readers, sometimes from lawyers pointing out mistakes in my law. One letter actually contained a request for portraits of Sherlock at different periods of his life."
 . . . the conversation turned to America, about which the novelist is evidently very enthusiastic.
"I take the greatest possible interest in all things American," said he. "There is, or ought to be, so little difference between them and us. And we must remember this: they are the coming Power. The centre of gravity of the whole race has shifted to the West, and I believe in time that every Saxon will be united under one form of government.
"Home Rule, with a centre of authority, and the Anglo-Saxon will swing the sword of justice over the whole world. We will not permit then the horrors of Siberia or the like. America and England, joined in their common Anglo-Saxonhood, with their common blood, will rule the world. We shall be united. And the sooner that day comes the better." — Raymond Blathwayt, "A Talk with Dr. Conan Doyle," THE BOOKMAN [U.K.] (May 1892)
- The "professor of medicine at Edinburgh University" whom Doyle doesn't name was Dr. Joseph Bell; see the Wikipedia article about him HERE.

Category: Detective fiction

"To the Author It Was No Mystery"

"The Murders in the Rue Morgue."
By Edgar Allan Poe.
Short story.
First appeared in Graham's Magazine, April 1841.
Online HERE.

"The Purloined Letter."
By Edgar Allan Poe.
Short story.
First appeared in The Gift for 1845, December 1844.
Online HERE.

It's been only eleven years since Sherlock Holmes made his first appearance, and already we have a critic not only declaring that detective fiction needs an overhaul but also offering ideas on how to do it. He won't be the last:
I HAVE just finished reading a volume of French stories, avowedly of an impossible character, —contes incroyables. One or two of them are what we generally call detective stories. The author speaks of two well-known tales of Poe, "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" and "The Purloined Letter," as if they had been models to him.
In the introduction to the former of these stories, Poe has a great deal to say about analytic power, skill in solving a mystery from following up indications: and such is indeed the art or science of the actual "detective."
But in reading the whole mass of detective stories, it is amusing to reflect that they exhibit none of this analytic, this unfolding art at all. Their art, such as it is, is purely synthetic or constructive. The author has the solution of his own mystery all in his mind; he knows perfectly well who is the murderer; he then proceeds carefully to cover up his own tracks, and, having got them into the requisite state of concealment, elaborately to withdraw his own veils.
Much skill is often shown in the selection of circumstances which are to lead to the desired solution; but art in solving the mystery there is none, for to the author it was no mystery from the beginning.
The real way to write a detective story would be this: Let one writer of fiction conceive a criminal situation, and surround the corpus delicti with as many events and circumstances, slight or prominent, as he sees fit. 
In this work, as far as possible, he must keep his murder, his forgery, or his abduction a mystery to himself. Let another writer, not in cooperation with the first, work out a complete solution, accounting for every circumstance, and introducing no new ones at all inconsistent with the asserted facts.
The interest might be prolonged by calling on the original author to criticise the offered solution, with reference not to any theory in his own mind, but solely to the situation as he originally drew it. Of course he will have been bound originally by no restriction as to what this is to be, except that he must not create a purely physical impossibility; his personages must not be described as being in two places at once.
After author number one has written his critique, author number two will be invited to defend and develop his solution. If not, the fiction passes into the realm of unsolved mysteries, —common enough in real detective history.
A certain society at college once held a mock trial, — a classmate was tried for the murder of a tutor. The counsel for the prosecution were obliged to submit the incriminating circumstances, as devised by them, to the counsel for the prisoner, who were at liberty to present any testimony they liked in their case; six witnesses only being called on each side.
The prisoner's counsel met the prosecution at nearly every point; in fact, they confined themselves so rigidly to this task that they entirely forgot to make their evidence amusing, and the succession of laughs which greeted every step in the witty case of the prosecution almost wholly failed as we heard the sadly serious if close reply.
Yet at the last they left one circumstance unexplained, which, though slight, told heavily against the accused. But the detective, whether in fact or in fiction, must leave nothing unaccounted for which concerns his solution of the mystery.
It may be remarked that Poe, in "The Purloined Letter," makes C. Auguste Dupin (the prototype of Sherlock Holmes) see both the seal and the address of the letter at once, while it is stuffed in a cardboard rack several feet from where he is sitting, and when, as he himself says, to rise and take it in his hand would have been fatal. — "The Contributors' Club: Detective Stories," THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY (April 1898)

Category: Detective fiction

Holmes Skewered Again

By John Kendrick Bangs (1862-1922).
Harper & Bros.
1899. 171 pages. $1.25
Chapter IX: "Sherlock Holmes Again."
Online HERE and HERE.
This critic was clearly disenchanted by Bangs's humor; you might or might not agree with him once you've read Chapter IX:
There is a diversity of opinion as to what constitutes humour, and two persons do not always laugh at the same joke. John Kendrick Bangs proclaimed himself a humourist a few years ago, and in this light he is regarded by the average reader who does not question too closely into what humour really is.
To be quite candid, The Enchanted Type-Writer is neither funny nor humorous, although one feels conscious of the effort that Mr. Bangs has made to amuse. The type-writer is the medium through which we learn of the doings of various world-renowned characters in Hades.
Here is a specimen of the humour which pervades the book:
"I understand, Mr. Lohengrin," I said, "that you have a fine span of swans."
 "Yes," he said; and I was astonished to note that he, like my client, spoke in musical numbers. "Very. They're much finer than horses, in my opinion. More peaceful, quite as rapid, and amphibious. If I go out for a drive and come to a lake, they trot quite as well across its surface as on the highways."
"How interesting!" said I. "And so gentle the swan. Your wife, I presume—"
Hamlet kicked my shins under the table.
"I think it will rain to-morrow," he said . . .
"I think so, too," said Lohengrin, a lowering look on his face. "If it doesn't, it will either snow or hail or be clear."
But the fact remains that one person may be put to sleep by the very passage which another finds excruciatingly funny. And there are many readers who will encourage Mr. Bangs to retain his position as a humourist. — "Novel Notes," THE BOOKMAN (January 1900)
Other detectival spoofs by John Kendrick Bangs:
THE PURSUIT OF THE HOUSE-BOAT: BEING SOME FURTHER ACCOUNT OF THE DIVERS DOINGS OF THE ASSOCIATED SHADES, UNDER THE LEADERSHIP OF SHERLOCK HOLMES, ESQ. (1897), online HERE and HERE, reviewed HERE. (Per Wikipedia: "After the House-Boat was hijacked by Captain Kidd at the end of A House-Boat on the Styx, the various members of its club decided that in order to track it down, a detective would have to be called in. So they hired Sherlock Holmes, who, at the time of the book's publication, had indeed been declared dead by his creator.")

- A Wikipedia article ("John Kendrick Bangs").

Category: Detective fiction

Monday, January 27, 2014

The Gruesome Dr. Doyle

"The Adventure of the Speckled Band."
By A. Conan Doyle.
Short story.
First appeared in the Strand Magazine, February 1892.

Did Conan Doyle sometimes slyly substitute other genre elements to avoid the hard thinking that "the science of deduction" requires of the detective story writer? Maybe so:
While Dr. Doyle has written no horror story that seems to have a chance for long life, he has, nevertheless, given us a great number that have served admirably to amuse for the time being. At the very head of these we should place "The Adventure of the Speckled Band," which in its way is, nevertheless, about as poorly constructed a story as ever came from the pen of a practised writer. While it is one of the tales that have Sherlock Holmes as their central figure, there is very little of the great detective's personality, and very little of the science of deduction—the story holds the reader spellbound through sheer horror.
Very few of the Sherlock Holmes adventures are horror stories. The most of them appeal to the reader through his curiosity, his appreciation of the bizarre and the unconventional—they do not play upon his sense of the fearful.
Some of the most gruesome of Dr. Doyle's short stories are to be found included in the volume Round the Red Lamp [1894]. One of these tales, of which we cannot just now recall the title, Dr. Doyle, as was pointed out some time ago in an article in THE BOOKMAN, very curiously imitated in a later story. — "The Gruesome in Conan Doyle," THE BOOKMAN (December 1900)
- "The Adventure of the Speckled Band" is available HERE.

Category: Detective fiction

Looking for The Unforgettable Great Detective

Without intending to, this article confirms that the basic parameters of what is known as detective fiction had been established long before Queen Victoria's decease. As for the memorable character of The Great Detective, only three stand out for this critic. An excerpt:
There is no field of fiction that is so seldom properly cultivated as that of the detective story, and that despite of the fact that it offers to the writer wide reputation and financial success. It seems as if one must have a certain gift that is vouchsafed to but very few, and that no study of the contrivances and furniture will ever make up for the lack of this gift.
Think of the thousands of tales of detection which have been printed during the last fifty years, and then think of the few which have been really worth the while, which have meant anything when they appeared or have remained any length of time in the memory.
There are in fiction only three great detectives: Edgar Allan Poe's Dupin, Gaboriau's M. Lecocq and Sherlock Holmes. No other detectives stand out as strong individual types, and of these Dupin is a purely intellectual being, a mere cloak for certain ideas and ingenuities of his creator. All sorts and conditions of men and women who write have tried their hands at the making of detectives, and almost all of them have failed.
Take, for instance, Anna Katherine Green, who, in her line, has scored a considerable success by the writing of detective stories. In her earlier and better books she showed a decided cleverness, she builded them scientifically, which is to say that she began at the solution and then worked backward, supplying countless bypaths and hazards. She possessed a strong sense of the dramatic, and yet with all this she was utterly unable to give any considerable personality to her Mr. Gryce. — "The Genesis of Sherlock Holmes," THE BOOKMAN (February 1901; scroll to page 553)
- Two previous ONTOS articles about Anna Katharine Green HERE and HERE.

Category: Detective fiction

"The Reappearance of Sherlock Holmes"

By Arthur Conan Doyle.
George Newnes.
1902. 359 pages.
First serialized in The Strand, August 1901-April 1902.
You can't kill a legend; just ask Conan Doyle:
Some years ago when Dr. Conan Doyle, weary of the demands upon his time and inventions made by the popularity of Sherlock Holmes, sent his hero on a wild goose flight across the Continent, and finally tumbled him from a narrow ledge of an Alpine pass into a mysterious nothingness and obscurity below, it will be remembered that Dr. Doyle made a point of the fact that the body of neither Holmes nor Professor Moriarty was ever found. This detail made it possible for the author, if he so wished, to explain later that Holmes, after rolling off the ledge, was caught by a clump of trees twenty or thirty feet below, that fearing pursuit from some other members of the Moriarty gang, he allowed the report of his death to go unchallenged, hid himself for a few years under another name in some remote corner of the world, and finally went back to London to score greater triumphs in the interest of truth and justice and Dr. Arthur Conan Doyle.
This inference, however, was strenuously opposed by Dr. Doyle at the time. He was through with Sherlock Holmes, he said, utterly weary of the strain involved in finding new complications to be explained by the science of deduction; and the only way in which the admirers of the great detective could be curbed in their insatiable appetite was by bringing the character to an untimely end.
Dr. Doyle's most vehement assertions, however, could hardly be taken without a slight grain of suspicion. Had he produced the mangled corpse, eliminating all possibility of false identity, it would have been another matter. But so long as there existed a convenient loophole, the resuscitation of Sherlock Holmes was only a matter of time.
The time has come. Sherlock Holmes is to make his reappearance in the September number of the StrandIn conjunction with Mr. Fletcher Robinson, an English newspaper man, Dr. Doyle has been building up a new series of adventures for his detective. These adventures will be presented not in the form of short stories, but as a novel which we believe is to be about fifty thousand words in length. This, we should say, is somewhat longer than the Study in Scarlet, which first introduced Holmes and his historian, Dr. Watson, and perhaps about the same length as The Sign of the Four.
There is no reference whatever made to the detective's death, it being assumed simply that one of his earlier experiences is being described.
All through The Adventures and The Memoirs there are allusions to affairs of which the reader knows nothing, and if the author can clear away the mystery of all the titles, such as "The Adventure of the Tired Captain," "The Adventure of the Third Window," and "The Adventure of the Green Sapphire," he will have plenty to do for many months to come. — "The Reappearance of Sherlock Holmes," THE BOOKMAN (July 1901)
- "Resurrecting Holmes," a previous ONTOS article HERE.

Category: Detective fiction

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Sherlock's First Theatrical Outing

A play by William Gillette and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
Premiere: November 6, 1899, New York City.
A slightly snarky notice concerning a new play:
Dr. Conan Doyle's adaptation of Sherlock Holmes will present an entirely new story of this most discerning and admirable detective. Dr. Doyle very wisely saw that he could not knit the old stories together and form a dramatic play. He has therefore made Sherlock Holmes the centre of a new story, and has developed the character of that silent but exceedingly far-seeing person. No doubt Mr. Gillette was born to play Sherlock Holmes, at least that is his opinion, and it is principally for him, we understand, that the play has been written. It is a most interesting theatrical event to anticipate, and Mr. Gillette's numerous admirers in England as well as in America will await the arrival of the production with pleasurable expectation. — "Chronicle and Comment," THE BOOKMAN (April 1899; scroll to page 107, top left)
According to Wikipedia:
The play itself drew material from Conan Doyle's published stories "A Scandal in Bohemia," "The Final Problem," and A Study in Scarlet, while adding much that was new as well. As the plot was largely taken from Doyle's canon, with some dialogue directly lifted from his original stories, Doyle was credited as a co-author, even though Gillette wrote the play.
Gillette took great liberties with the character, such as giving Holmes a love interest. While Conan Doyle was initially uncomfortable with these additions, the success of the play softened his views; he said, "I was charmed both with the play, the acting, and the pecuniary result." Doyle later recounted how he had received a cable from Gillette inquiring, "May I marry Holmes?"; to which Conan Doyle replied, "You may marry him, murder him, or do anything you like to him." The love interest was modelled on Irene Adler's role in "A Scandal in Bohemia," with Gillette reinventing the character and renaming her "Alice Faulkner."
Conan Doyle had mentioned an unnamed pageboy in "A Case of Identity," and Gillette utilized the character and christened him "Billy." Conan Doyle himself would later reintroduce the character into some Holmes stories and continue using the name Billy.
 Gillette's play features Professor Moriarty as the villain, but Gillette names him "Robert Moriarty"; at this point no forename had been given for the Professor in Conan Doyle's stories. — Wikipedia, "Sherlock Holmes (play)"
- Gillette would go on to make a film version in 1916; see Wikipedia and the IMDb for details.
- Wikipedia has articles on William Gillette HERE, Gillette as Holmes HERE, and the play HERE.

Category: Detective fiction

Friday, January 24, 2014

"An Excellent Relaxative for the Tired Mind"

By Fergus Hume.
Cassell Publishing Co.
1894 [UK] 1895 [US]. 190 pages. 50 cents.
Reprinted in 2010.
No e-book available.
Two complete contemporary reviews, one complaining it's too hard:
The latest accession to the Unknown Library is from a well-known writer of "mystery" tales, which one and all show the same constructive hand at work, with a slight variation of detail in the evolution of plot and the analysis of crime.
Of all the mysterious stories that Mr. Hume has written, The Lone Inn approaches more nearly the ironic play of circumstantial evidence and the baffling pursuit of the criminal object sustained until the climax is reached at the end, which gave The Mystery of a Hansom Cab a notorious popularity.
To be sure, the whole interest and interplay of conflicting evidence rests on a well-worn and hackneyed stage property: Felix and Francis Briarfield are twins, and a pair of Dromios whose close resemblance and mistaken identity lead to the tragedy of errors which emanate from the murder of one of the twins—which, Felix or Francis? is a conundrum—at the Lone Inn.
The construction of the story is such as to beguile the ingenuous reader during the first half into a superior sense of sagacity at the apparent transparency of the plot, and he begins to give himself airs with his author. But at a single turn of the wheel, hey, presto! the reader is off the track, groping in the fog into which he has been unsuspectingly inveigled.
There are no loose threads in Mr. Hume's work; the shuttle of his loom works noiselessly and without a break. One may smile sometimes at the simple devices to which he palpably resorts in joining his threads together, but these inartistic flaws, while they would be serious defects in the fine-spun fabric of Sherlock Holmes' scientific brain, are of much less consequence in the coarse web of Mr. Hume's weaving.
The Lone Inn is masterly of its kind, and, better still, is an excellent relaxative for the tired mind pressed hard by the Zeit-geist. — "Novel Notes," THE BOOKMAN (March 1895)
"The Lone Inn," and another tale, "Professor Brankers Secret," which helps to make up the volume, are, we think, too much of the hard conundrum kind to be generally attractive. There should be no difficulty in following a story of this kind with full comprehension as one goes on. This condition is scarcely satisfied here. One criticism on the details of the first plot we may make. Surely the man who tells the story ought to have done, and indeed could have done, but one thing as soon as he found the dead body—give information to the police. — THE SPECTATOR (1 June 1895)
- A previous ONTOS article about Hume is HERE.

Category: Detective fiction

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Two Ragtime Era Mysteries by Women

By Carolyn Wells (1862-1942).
J. B. Lippincott Co.
1915. 300 pages.
Online HERE and HERE.

By Geraldine Bonner (1870-1930).
D. Appleton & Co.
1915. 315 pages.
Online HERE and HERE.
Two detective novels paired together in one review.

Miss Wells's latest romance again introduces Fleming Stone, the master detective, but only towards the end, and, it must be admitted, after the reader has received so many nods and winks as to have made up his mind pretty conclusively for himself concerning the identity of the murderer.
Thus Mr. Stone has really very little to do except to parade the nonchalance behind the veil of which his keen deductions are always formulated, and to explain the conclusion—wholly unjustified by any recorded premises—that led him to look for the species of marble called "White Alley."
When we really arrive at the mysterious disappearance of wealthy Justin Arnold, in his own burglar-alarumed house on Washington Heights, the tale is moderately diverting, though the faultiness of the deductive processes would infuriate Sherlock Holmes; but before we reach the point at which the mystery begins we are asked to wade through nearly a hundred pages devoted to the flirtations of a little minx who is alluded to with tiresome reiteration as "naughty" Dorothy. — "Current Fiction," THE NATION (July 15, 1915)
Miss Bonner's mystery and the heroine thereof are of an altogether different order. The story is told by a telephone girl in modified telephonese, a jargon which becomes at times a little trying; but the story itself is remarkably good of its kind, and uncommonly well worked out.
The mystery is concealed to the very end, unless the reader is a person of exceptional astuteness, for there is just one passage in the early pages of the book that points to the solution, while there are various false clues, cunningly contrived, that will start the earnest seeker running breathlessly in the wrong direction.
For the purposes of her story Miss Bonner has omitted to mobilize few of the latest resources of civilization, including an aeroplane, and at the end they are all found to fit into the general scheme with the nicety of a well-contrived puzzle.
There is a minx in this book, too, but here it is the minx who gets murdered, and hence the role that she plays is more engaging, because more silent, than that of Miss Wells's heroine. — THE NATION, op. cit.
- ONTOS has already paid visits to Carolyn Wells HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE.
- Bonner's THE BLACK EAGLE MYSTERY (1916) is available HERE; a short Wikipedia article about her is HERE. Her novel MISS MAITLAND, PRIVATE SECRETARY (1919; online HERE) was filmed in 1920 as THE GIRL IN THE WEB (IMDb).

Category: Detective fiction

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Resurrecting Holmes

. . . the FIRST time. Excerpt from an article from 1902:
A few last words upon Dr. Conan Doyle's most recent work, "The Hound of the Baskervilles," which is now being issued as a book, after having run as a serial in England and in America.
There has been a grave controversy in several papers as to the literary ethics of resuscitating a character who is dead. "It is not art," was the verdict. But, of course, these critics could not have read the story, for Holmes is not resuscitated. The whole action occurs years before his death. There is no reason why Watson should not have whole portfolios full of reminiscences of the deceased detective.
At the same time. Dr. Conan Doyle fully intended at the time that he wrote the last of the "Memoir" series that he would do no more such stories, and the lapse of six years with many very tempting literary offers failed to shake his resolution. He believed himself, rightly or wrongly, that his inferior was obscuring his better work, and that he should not permit himself to be tempted by money to write what his literary conscience disapproved. That was his ideal; but ideals are difficult things to preserve.
His falling away from it was brought about in this fashion. With his friend Mr. Fletcher Robinson he found himself at Cromer, where a long Sunday was spent together in friendly chat.
Robinson is a Devonshire man, and he mentioned in conversation some old county legend which set Doyle's imagination on fire. The two men began building up a chain of events, and in a very few hours the plot of a sensational story was conceived, and it was agreed that Doyle should write it. When he came to working out the details, he found, however, that some masterful central figure was needed, some strong man who would influence the whole course of events, and his natural reflection was: "Why should I invent such a character when I have him already in the form of Holmes?"
So Sherlock Holmes came back into the Strand Magazine, and the public has shown that during an absence of six years they have not entirely lost interest in him. — J. E. Hodder Williams, "Arthur Conan Doyle," THE BOOKMAN [U.K.] (April 1902)

Category: Detective fiction

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

One You Probably Won't Mind Missing

By Esther Miller.
A. D. Innes & Co.
1898. 376 pages. 6s.
No e-book available.

Two thumbs down from contemporary reviewers:
There was the making of a fine detective story in the first few chapters here. But the authoress gave a clue to the least shrewd of readers, and the detective interest died forthwith. From that point she turned her tale into a love-story, of a very ordinary kind.
As we know the heroine is not guilty of the murder, so do we know she will at last face her trial, be acquitted, and that the benevolent doctor will do the handsome thing by her.
There is not a surprise in the book, and there are no compensations in the way of good writing, or cleverly conceived character. It is a story such as one has the chance of reading by the hundred any year—sentimental, amiable, and entirely commonplace. — "Novel Notes," THE BOOKMAN [U.K.] (August 1898)
A Cornish story in which love runs to marriage through the rough experience of a murder trial. The heroine, thrown suddenly by the death of her father among rough-mannered relatives, is wooed and married almost forcibly by her cousin, Jim Hendra, who is murdered on the day he marries her.
By the way, we are not aware that a judge, when passing sentence on a murderer, says, "Till you be dead—dead—dead." He is usually satisfied that the criminal be dead once. — THE ACADEMY AND LITERATURE (May 14, 1898)
Category: Detective fiction

"There Are Plots within Plots"

By Fergus Hume (1859-1932).
Jarrold and Sons.
1894. 214 pages. 3s. 6d.
Online HERE and HERE.
Hume's fame was secured with THE MYSTERY OF A HANSOM CAB (1886), even though he earned very little from it. Here's a full contemporary review of his twenty-seventh book:
The Landy Court mystery baffed the skill of Drage, the great private detective. Indeed, it was complicated enough, but Mr. Hume puts the reader on the right scent early in the story, which is a pity. As there are plots within plots, you cannot, however, thread the maze completely till guidance is given, and so far it is a successful story of its kind. In workmanship it compares very favourably with the average tale of crime and mystery. — "Novel Notes," THE BOOKMAN [U.K.] (May 1894)
- A Wikipedia article ("Fergus Hume").
- More information about the author's other detective fiction by Mike Grost ("Fergus Hume").

Category: Detective fiction

The Case of the Missing Bridegroom

By Frank Froest (1858-1930).
Edward J. Clode.
1913. 387 pages.
Online HERE, HERE, and HERE.
The author was a decorated retired policeman, which may explain why the Yard "appears to good advantage" in this yarn. Full review:
When a man disappears on his wedding eve, when he later is found murdered, and when it is discovered that the corpse is not his after all, though it is reposing in his bedroom, one has the foundation for a very pretty tangle. All this, and more, happens in "The Grell Mystery."
The author has displayed much ingenuity in the workings of the plot, though some of his conclusions are a trifle far-fetched.
Scotland Yard, the source of more and better stories of mystery than have ever found their way into print, appears to good advantage. There is, as usual, a very wonderful inspector, who finally unsnarls the skein, and a young peeress who is described as the "most beautiful woman in three kingdoms," adds pleasantly to the excitement.
One of the chief difficulties in a tale of this kind is to strike the proper pitch of intensity and to hold it from start to finish. Mr. Froest has come nearer to doing this than most of those who deal in the same wares. — "Current Fiction," THE NATION (May 20, 1915; scroll to page 568, top left)
Another, more recent, review:
It is a very well written novel with a challenging mystery and a very smart detective! . . . If you like more character or issue driven stories this might not be for you. — Peggy Ann, PEGGY ANN'S POST (November 24, 2012)
- For brief accounts of the author's real-life adventures as a policeman, see Wikipedia ("Frank Froest").
- Froest wrote two other thrillers with George Dilnot, about whom see the GAD Wiki.

Category: Detective fiction

Monday, January 20, 2014

Oh, No, Not DROOD Again!

By Percy T. Carden and Charles Dickens.
C. Palmer.
1920. 125 pages.
Online HERE, HERE, and HERE.
Fifty years after Dickens's death and a solution at last! Yeah, sure. A brief excerpt:
It is probably now possible to say that everything emanating directly or indirectly from Dickens in connection with the story is known. Mr. Carden has, however, gone considerably further than this, in that with vivid imagination and not a little literary skill he has sketched out a solution of the story upon entirely novel and highly interesting lines. Starting from the hint given by Forster that the originality of the story was to have been a review of the murderer's career told by himself as if not he, but some other man, were the tempted, Mr. Carden has constructed, largely from Dickens's own materials, a series of episodes, in which he very skilfully propounds his own solution of some of the problems in which the fragment abounds. Whatever opinion may be entertained as to the success of his efforts, no doubt can be felt that he has stated his case forcibly and ingeniously, and the novelty of his method, combined with his considerable literary skill, render his book both interesting and exciting. — Unsigned, "A New Solution of 'Edwin Drood'," THE LIVING AGE (February 12, 1921)
- The New York Times review (January 30, 1921), reproduced at
- Previous DROOD-related ONTOS articles HERE and HERE.

Category: Detective fiction

Negative Sidelights on Doyle

"It is not easy to describe shortly the disability from which he suffers, but one might, perhaps, best express it by calling him a latitudinarian bigot. He is at once very broad and very prejudiced, very illiberally liberal; very dogmatically hostile to dogma."
The creator of Sherlock Holmes held controversial opinions about religious issues such as easy divorce that some found objectionable, but the last straw for this critic was Doyle's infatuation with spiritualism. Brief excerpts follow:
Take, for example, the business of divorce. Sir Arthur is for making divorce cheap and easy — how cheap and how easy I hesitate to say, for fear of misrepresentation. He may be right, or he may be wrong, on the main question. Can he possibly be right in dismissing as mere antiquated prejudice the objections of millions of earnest, intelligent, disinterested, and upright men?
Then there is his enthusiasm for spiritualism. Here, again, Sir Arthur is quite entitled to his opinion, and has a right to state it. But how can he blame the Wesleyans of Nottingham for not allowing him to lecture in their hall, so that he was forced to speak in a room half the size? No doubt there are, in the immortal words of the Grand Inquisitor, 'Wesleyan Methodists of the most persecuting and bigoted description.' But was this particular act bigoted?
Is it not rather bigoted to say, as he did quite lately, that spiritualism gives the afflicted 'a satisfaction which no creed-bound religion could supply'? How does Sir Arthur know? He cannot possibly speak with authority concerning the spiritual experiences of hundreds of millions of the quick and of the great host of the dead. It is quite open to him, as a free man, to believe that the dogmas of Christianity 'matter little,' and have added 'needlessly to the contentions of the world.'
The same English desire to have it all ways is apparent in Dr. Watson's maker. He wants to have the best of all possible and impossible worlds, to be at ease both in Zion and Valhalla, as well as in a scientific lecture room. — E. T. Raymond, "Sir Arthur Conan Doyle As Doctor Watson," THE LIVING AGE (March 22, 1919)
Harry Houdini, left, and Doyle.
In a later article this same critic returns to Doyle's championing of spiritualism and finds the contrast between the attributes of the commonsensical Holmes stories and Doyle's mystical avocation just a little too much. Short excerpts:
What can now be the feelings of those readers over the latest vagaries of their old favorite? One can imagine the devout Doylist wringing his hands over every fresh appearance of Sir Arthur in the character of an exponent of spiritualism. For Sir Arthur the spiritualist makes cruel war on the great legend of the perfect detective.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, in his new character, is the exact opposite of his creation. Instead of common sense penetrated with glamour [like his Sherlock Holmes stories], we have here the wildest mysticism tamed down and vulgarized by a dreadful ordinariness. — E. T. Raymond, "Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and His Spooks," THE LIVING AGE (January 3, 1920)
. . . how could Conan Doyle, a medical man steeped in empirical reasoning at Edinburgh University and the creator of a super-rational detective, have fallen for this mumbo jumbo? His support for spiritualism lent credence to some of the more outrageous frauds perpetrated on people desperately trying to get in touch with loved ones lost in the First World War. In his desire to prove the existence of spirits, he notoriously promoted two Yorkshire girls who, for a lark, claimed they had photographed the Cottingley Fairies.
On one level, his was the story of a lapsed Roman Catholic troubled by an alcoholic father and never quite able to cast off his sense of the supernatural. On another it was the intellectual journey of an inquisitive man, dissatisfied with Victorian materialism but intent on using its tools to examine alternative forms of consciousness. This was also a time when orthodox religion was giving way to Darwin and science. — Andrew Lycett, "The Odd Spiritualism of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle," MORE INTELLIGENT LIFE
- A webpage ("Arthur Conan Doyle, Spiritualism, and Fairies") is HERE.
- Part of a Wikpedia article about Doyle is HERE.
- A short PBS article with more about Doyle and Houdini is HERE.

Category: Detective fiction