Sunday, February 2, 2014

Who's the Better Detective, the Professional or the Amateur?

By Oswald Crawfurd (1834-1909).
Chapman and Hall [UK]; Dodd, Mead & Co. [US].
1906. 341 pages. 6s. [UK].
Collection: 4 stories.
Online HERE.

1. "Gentleman Coggins: Alias Towers"
2. "The Flying Man"
3. "The Murder at Jex Farm"
4. "The Kidnapped Children"

A book in which the author contradicts himself. Three contemporary reviews:
In selecting for his hero a member of the professional police force, Mr. Crawfurd gives promise of an originality which his book fails to fulfil. Hitherto the detectives of fiction have been dilettante amateurs who have unravelled complex crimes by a diligent study of footmarks and tobacco ash, to the utter confusion of the more prosaic professional, and have generally ended by condoning a felony from sentimental motives.
Mr. Crawfurd certainly deserves the gratitude of Scotland Yard, and he has grasped the essential paradox of crime, that the real difficulty is not to find the criminal, but to collect sufficient evidence to convince a jury.
A detective story, like any other form of the novel of adventure, may appeal to the reader either by the ingenuity of the plot or by the development of the characters of the actors. The connoisseur in crime will not find anything startlingly original in the crimes revealed by Inspector Morgan. "The Flying Man" is perhaps the most ingenious, but the idea is not new, and there is little in any of the stories to puzzle the experienced reader.
As regards characterisation, Mr. Crawfurd has failed to impart much vitality to the admirable Inspector, and the other actors are the merest puppets. The truth is that the professional detective is too much an official and too little a man to lend himself to romance, and Mr. Crawfurd's conscientious refusal to endow his hero with any of those little idiosyncrasies which gave vitality to the immortal Sherlock Holmes has only resulted in divesting him of all unreality without making him in any way real. — "Novel Notes," THE BOOKMAN [UK] (August 1906)
Mr. Crawfurd has reinstated the professional as opposed to the amateur detective, but it must be awned [?] that to the reader of detective stories, though the plots change, the effect remains the same. The crimes detected by Inspector Morgan are of the usual nature, and although the Inspector says that his methods are entirely different from those of the amateur detective of fiction, the reader will not find any great difference in the stories of his exploits. The first tale in the book is the best, though the idea of another "Springheel Jack" will prove attractive to readers with a taste for mechanical ingenuities. On the whole, we cannot say that these stories are better or worse than the flood of detective fiction which is just now poured so liberally on the reading publics. — THE SPECTATOR (30 June 1906)
As a matter of bald fact, the vast majority of criminals who are caught at all, are caught by the duly constituted officers of the law. Mr. Crawfurd is not the first author to realize that the private detective's inordinate proportion of successes in fiction makes our whole literature of "thrill" misleading.
In his preface, he has stated his thesis with uncommon directness:
This collection of stories is an attempt to establish the professional detective police of my own country in that position of superiority to the mere amateur and outsider from which he has been ousted in contemporary fiction.
The author's "own country" is England. He explains gracefully, in the present American edition of tales which have been popular in England, that what he has alleged of the British detective, he also alleges "on good authority of the American detective."
Though this is a book of 341 pages, there are but four stories. Yet Mr. Crawfurd was apparently unable even in this small number of stories to confine himself to those strictly official achievements which his book was avowedly written to celebrate.
In one tale, Inspector Morgan solves a mystery by means of clues which came into his hands at an earlier period when he was in the army. Another describes an adventure which occurred before he joined the force. Not only is the mystery here solved by Morgan, when a mere journalist, but the most brilliant deductions of that quest are made by an elderly archaeologist, a personage still farther removed from Scotland Yard influences. Thus in more than a third of this book, the hero himself appears as an "amateur" detective, like Dupin and Sherlock Holmes.
This, of course, is nothing against the quality of the tales as tales. Readers will find two of the four stories well up to recent standards of the kind; while one, "The Kidnapped Children," works out a motive which is as adequate and convincing as it is ingenious and unexpected, not a frequent combination of qualities in a field of fiction so thoroughly worked over. — "Current Fiction," THE NATION (December 5, 1907; scroll to page 519, middle)
- A Wikipedia article ("Oswald John Frederick Crawfurd").
- An article ("Oswald Crawfurd").
- A Wikisource entry from the 1912 Dictionary of National Biography.

Category: Detective fiction

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