Thursday, February 20, 2014

"As a Detective Tale the Story Has Obvious Weaknesses"

By W. A. Mackenzie.
Chatto and Windus.
1905. 6s.
No e-book available.

We're assured it "bristles with excitement":
It is hard to say whence comes that strange delusion which makes almost every man fancy himself a born detective. Possibly it is only a symptom of that even more universal fallacy which leads the man in the street to imagine that anyone can direct a Government department except the permanent officials.
Anyhow, so long as this inscrutable instinct survives, detective stories, complicated concatenations of impossible crimes, will continue to find an enthusiastic public, and many a mute inglorious Sherlock Holmes will swell with pride as he unravels incredible complications with machine-like accuracy.
In stories of this type it is emphatically true that "the plot's the thing." Characterisation is unnecessary. The world may be divided into criminals, detectives, and the people who are the victims of both.
In the select circle of "crime-novelists" (an ambiguous term used in a wholly Pickwickian sense) Mr. Mackenzie takes a high place. He combines ingenuity with audacity, and never allows his plot to get out of hand for a moment. The problem of constructing a detective story is even more difficult than it appears, because the materials are so limited. Criminals are sadly monotonous, and the success of the heaven-born detective is scarcely less so.
Still Mr. Mackenzie contrives to make a very dexterous use of well worn material, and the idea of a burglar at Scotland Yard is certainly novelty itself. "The Drexel Dream" bristles with excitement, and ought to tickle the palate of the most jaded reader. — "Novel Notes," THE BOOKMAN [U.K.] (April 1905; scroll to page 31)
But another critic isn't too impressed:
'The Drexel Dream' is a wonderful ornament of jewels, the theft of which is the chief motif of Mr. Mackenzie's narrative.
Interwoven is a sensational history of two brothers involving the introduction of French politics; there is also a display of hypnotism, and a marvellous surgical operation.
In a word, Mr. Mackenzie has effected a combination of unusual and startling incidents which give point and raciness, if not reality, to his production.
As a detective tale the story has obvious weaknesses. The villain stands in the Green Park, his murdered brother at his feet. He wipes the blood from his poignard, regards the Chief of Scotland Yard with a Mephistophelian smile, and informs him that since the report of firearms would be heard in Piccadilly he will regretfully leave the life whole in him. Thereupon the cold-blooded wretch shows the infuriated Chief the glorious jewel he has stolen, trips him up, and escapes in the confusion.
The reader is tempted to inquire why the unwary Chief was not killed after the manner of former victims; but of course the story could not have continued in that case, for the Chief is the narrator. — THE PUBLISHER'S CIRCULAR (December 31, 1904)
Category: Detective fiction

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