Monday, March 31, 2014

"An Exuberant Fancy"

By George Griffith (1857-1906).
John Long.
1904. 318 pages. 6s. Currently for sale at $250.00.
No available e-versions.

It's not often a writer gets to experience "a master stroke of invention":
The sensational novel nowadays stands no chance unless, in the common phrase, it is "fitted with all modern improvements." The six shilling shocker must embody the latest criminal trial or the newest marvel of science. We hasten therefore to congratulate Mr. Griffith on being the first novelist to realise the possibilities of radium in fiction. To combine radium with wireless telegraphy was a master stroke of invention.
Mr. Griffith has an exuberant fancy, and his idea of an underground—or rather under-sea—kingdom, where coining could be carried out on a colossal scale, is presented with such solemnity that we almost believed in it. "A Criminal Croesus" is as ingenious and plausible as anything Mr. Griffith ever wrote. — "Novel Notes," THE BOOKMAN [U.K.] (April 1904)
About our author:
George Griffith (1857–1906), full name George Chetwyn Griffith-Jones, was a prolific British science fiction writer and noted explorer who wrote during the late Victorian and Edwardian age. Many of his visionary tales appeared in magazines such as Pearson's Magazine and Pearson's Weekly before being published as novels. Griffith was extremely popular in the United Kingdom, though he failed to find similar acclaim in the United States, in part due to his revolutionary and socialist views. A journalist, rather than scientist, by background, what his stories lack in scientific rigour and literary grace they make up for in sheer exuberance of execution.
 . . . Although overshadowed by H. G. Wells in the United States, Griffith's epic fantasies of romantic utopians in a future world of war, dominated by airship battle fleets, and grandiose engineering provided a template for steampunk novels a century before the term was coined. Michael Moorcock claims that the works of George Griffith had a dramatic impact on his own writing. The concept of revolutionaries imposing "a pax aeronautica over the earth," at the center of Angel of the Revolution, was taken up by Wells many years later, in The Shape of Things to Come. Wells himself once wrote that Griffith's Outlaws of the Air was an "aeronautical masterpiece." — Wikipedia ("George Griffith")
- Roy Glashan's Library has a huge collection of George Griffith's works HERE.
- The SFE listing for Griffith is HERE; more about him is HERE.
- Other works by Griffith are HERE and HERE.

Category: Science fiction

"An Interesting Story in the Jules Verne Manner"

By John Mastin, R.B.A., F.L.S., F.C.S., F.R.A.S., F.S.A.Scot., F.R.M.S. (1865-1932).
Philip Wellby.
1906. 282 pages. 6s. Currently at Amazon it's going for $987.25.
No e-texts seem to be available.
"Five hundred miles an hour". . . for 1906, that's impressive:
At school Fraser Burnley displayed scientific attainments resembling those of Tom Browne's friend MartinHe lost no opportunity of trying to blow himself and his friends up. A few years later he made a surprising discovery which enabled him to control the force of gravity and to utilise it for the propulsion of his marvellous air-ship, the "Regina," which could speed through space at the rate of five hundred miles an hour. It is this voyage which is described in The Stolen Planet, by John Mastin, an interesting story in the Jules Verne manner, which quite realises its ambition "of giving to our youth technical instruction, combined with excitement of a healthy kind, every incident related being based on scientific facts." — "Notes on New Books," THE BOOKMAN [U.K.] (August 1906)
Some idea of the sort of 'market' he [Mastin] aimed to break into is suggested by The Boy's Playbook of Science, but he was not exclusively concerned to attract juvenile readers: his novels are for the most part scientific romances, and their thematic content has some affinity with the genre associated with such writers as Jules Verne and H. G. Wells. In The Stolen Planet (1905), for example, two young friends from 'Derwent' (Sheffield)—'Jervis Meredith' (John Mastin?) and 'Fraser Burnley' (?)—manage somehow to conquer the force of gravity and visit the outer atmosphere in their spaceship. Incredibly, they manage to conquer the force of gravity so successfully that they are able to harness a satellite and bring it back to earth (!) The effect of this is devastating since the coastal waters all around Britain recede—with appalling results for all those who go down to the sea in ships. — MASTIN FAMILY TREE
Mastin also wrote THROUGH THE SUN IN AN AIRSHIP (1909).

- Listings for John Mastin are in the THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF SCIENCE FICTION HERE and the ISFDb HERE.
- More biographical information about Mastin is HERE.

Category: Science fiction

Saturday, March 29, 2014

"A Story of Exceptional Merit"

By Ronald A. Knox.
Methuen and Simon & Schuster.
1927. 272 pages. 7s. 6d.
Available on Kindle.
Online HERE.
Critics of all eras agree THE THREE TAPS is worthwhile:
When we had finished Father Knox's ingenious and well written detective story, we could not help feeling that the best part of the book consists in the false clues which most readers will follow, at any rate for a chapter or two.
The solution is extraordinarily ingenious; but it assumes a kind of roguish slyness in one of the characters which we find it rather difficult to believe. Mottram seems too direct a person to design the curious plan with which Father Knox credits him, and in the execution of which he meets his death. Apart from this, however, no connoisseur of detective stories will find anything to complain of in "The Three Taps."
The scene in the village inn; the characters of the old schoolmaster, Pulteney; of Brinkman, the secretary; of Bredon, the detective from the insurance company, and of the police inspector are handled with real humour, and a quiet sense of human weakness and cleverness.
With Mrs. Bredon Father Knox is not quite so successful. She is a little too continuously bright, and is one of those maddening women whom all women readers will recognise at once as a bachelor's idea of what a good wife ought to be.
Still "The Three Taps" is a story of exceptional merit; and shows a distinct advance on Father Knox's previous detective story. — "Novel Notes," THE BOOKMAN [U.K.] (March 1927)
Ronald Knox was a noted wit so it’s not surprising that this novel is as strong on humour as it is on detection. For Knox the detective story was both a stimulating intellectual exercise and a great deal of fun. This novel combines the ingenious and intricate plotting of the golden age detective story with humour, and does so very successfully. — dfordoom, VINTAGE POP FICTIONS (November 28, 2013)
It’s a complicated matter, and a beautifully constructed one, with lots of clues mixed in with the red herrings, double bluffs, hidden motives and of course no one tells (all) the truth. The denouement is even more complicated, so far as to be unreal, but truth (and fate) certainly does fall in strange and unexpected ways, and so who am I to argue?
Besides the Euthanasia policy to confound the present-day reader, the matter also depends greatly (and quite naturally) on the gas taps in the dead man’s room: which of the three were on, and which were off, and when and why. For all except the last, or “why,” it would take a mathematician to follow the logic, but I plead guilty and admit that I fell asleep at the switch. — Steve Lewis, MYSTERY*FILE (8 February 2009)
Concerning Miles Bredon:
The Three Taps is the first of the books to feature Miles Bredon. He is sent by his employer, the appropriately-named Incredible Insurance Company, to investigate the strange death of a Mr. Mottram who has taken out one of their so-called Euthanasia policies. Did he gas himself or was he gassed? It all hinges on the three gas pipes in his bedroom in the country inn where he was staying. Miles Bredon wants it to be suicide as then his employers would not have to pay out. His old wartime colleague, now Police Inspector Leyland feels it must be murder. The two of them, helped by Miles' wife Angela, happily puzzle out the problem together, unhampered, it seems, by any other police presence. They even have a private bet on the outcome. And the eventual conclusion is both ingenious and unexpected.
Bredon does a lot of questioning and observing: "He was fond, when he visited the scene of some crime or problem, of poking his way round the furniture, trying to pick up hints, from the books and the knick-knacks, about the character of the people he was dealing with." Then, during a long game of patience, inspiration suddenly struck and he was able to see "the whole thing in a new mental perspective." As he told his wife Angela, "I'm in the sort of stage where the great detective says, 'Good God, what a blind bat I have been!' As a matter of fact, I don't think I've been a blind bat at all; on the contrary, I think it'd dashed clever of me to have got hold of the thing now." And so it is.
Miles may affect a "happy vein of rather foolish good-fellowship," and wear a tweed suit that makes him "look like a good-natured sort of ass" (his wife's words) but it all seems to get results. He likes to think he's a strong, silent man, although, as Angela says, "A detective ought to be talking all the time. The ones in the books always are. Only what they say is entirely incomprehensible, both to the other people in the book and to the reader."
It is all rather dated ("By Gad, it's Leyland," he cried) but the chapters are encouragingly short and, even if the treatment of the police is less than convincing, the story still offers the intellectual challenges its author intended. — Philip Grosset, CLERICAL DETECTIVES ("Miles Bredon")

Category: Detective fiction

"A Couple of Hours of Exciting and Absorbing Reading"

By Robert Halifax.
Digby, Long and Co.
1911. 325 pages. 6s.
No e-texts available.

A VERY obscure Edwardian writer about whom we know nothing; apparently he dabbled in producing thrillers:
The House of Horror lives up to its title, and introduces the reader to a maze of plots, counter-plots, Anarchist rumours, and marvellous motor-cars. And even if the hero does sometimes seem rather a nervous young man, who falls in love with the mysterious and beautiful unknown more precipitately than is in keeping with his temperament, we are grateful to Mr. Robert Halifax for having given us a couple of hours of exciting and absorbing reading. — "Notes on New Books," THE BOOKMAN [U.K.] (February 1911)
An illustration accompanying the review shows two apprehensive people, one of them saying: "Hark! What was that? There is some one behind the door—watching!"

Another title attributed to Robert Halifax is THE JEWELS OF DEATH (1913), about which we also know nothing.

Category: Detective fiction

"On the Tiptoe of Expectancy"

By Florence Warden (Florence Alice Price, 1857-1929).
Ward Lock.
1911. 303 pages.
There was also a soft-cover edition of 124 pages with double-column print.
No e-versions available.
If this critic's representations are true (and not mere hyperbole), then we could have a book that deserves to be reprinted:
"The Disappearance of Nigel Blair," as the title intimates, is a mystery-story; and it is as absorbing and thrilling as the heart of the most mystery-loving reader could desire.
One may be sure that if Miss Florence Warden sets out to tell a tale she will tell it well; the way in which she keeps the reader on the tiptoe of expectancy and the interest keenly alive from start to finish in her latest novel is a triumph of narrative skill. She overcomes with ease the difficulties to be encountered when a plot necessitates keeping the reader in the dark, yet not too much in the dark, till the close of the tale comes within sight.
The mystery here gathers round the Blair family—Mrs. Blair, her son Nigel, and a daughter. Nigel is in the habit of disappearing mysteriously and suddenly at intervals, and no one save his mother knows where he goes at these times.
One day a strange elderly gentleman arrives in the village where the Blairs live, makes inquiries about them, and by-and-by wends his way to their house.
Mrs. Blair and Nigel are overwhelmed with despair on seeing him, and we are plunged into deeper uncertainties than ever, till the truth is revealed.
There is a strong love interest, and our sympathy is won for the four young people who are for so long encircled by a cloud and find the course of true love anything but smooth. — "Novel Notes," THE BOOKMAN [U.K.] (February 1911)

Category: Detective fiction

Thursday, March 27, 2014

"From Thrilling Scene to More Thrilling Scene, We Hurry"

By B. Fletcher Robinson (1870-1907) & J. Malcolm Fraser (1878-1949).
Ward, Lock and Co.
1904. 3s. 6d.
No e-texts seem to be available.
Online HERE.

Alas, another reviewer who can't keep his mouth shut:
There is much to be said for the method by which [SPOILER DELETED] silenced adverse criticism. It was at least effectual—he [SPOILER DELETED]. [SPOILER DELETED] is the main figure in The Trail of the Dead, an interesting example of frankly sensational writing, from the pens of Mr. B. Fletcher Robinson and Mr. J. Malcolm Fraser. The story begins with the murder of a notable scientist in Heidelberg after he had written a hostile review of [SPOILER DELETED]. The murder is promptly detected by an English scientist, and then the real work begins. From country to country, from thrilling scene to more thrilling scene, we hurry; and the entire narrative is a successful attempt to make wild improbabilities not only likely, but vividly entertaining. — Unsigned, "Notes on New Books," THE BOOKMAN [U.K.] (March 1904; go to page 266, top left if you don't mind spoilers)
The Strange Experience of Dr. Robert Harland (with John Malcolm Fraser): The Windsor MagazineDecember 1902–May 1903, illustrated by Adolf Thiede, edited by Arthur Hutchinson and published by Ward, Lock & Co. (London). This standard-sized British monthly was a rival to The Strand Magazine within which many of the Sherlock Holmes tales were first published (including The Hound of the Baskervilles). This serialization of six tales features an insane professor who leaves a trail of murdered critics strewn across Europe. Each episode is based about a location that Bertram Fletcher Robinson had visited whilst researching a non-fictional six-part serialization entitled Capitals at Play for Cassell’s Magazine (1897). All six episodes were republished in a book entitled The Trail of the Dead in both Britain and Canada (February 1904) and also as a serialization in two American newspapers, The Sumner Gazette (Sumner, Iowa; May-August 1906) and Daily Herald (Chicago, Illinois; May-August 1906). Fraser (1878-1949) worked with Fletcher Robinson as ‘Day Editor’ of the Daily Express between 1902 and 1904. Later, Fraser was knighted (1919), created a baronet (1921) and awarded the Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire (1922). — Paul R. Spiring, BFRonline
. . . Robinson is perhaps best remembered for his literary collaborations with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Sir P. G. Wodehouse. — Wikipedia ("Bertram Fletcher Robinson")
Also by Robinson, his own version of Sherlock Holmes:

By B. Fletcher Robinson.
C. A. Pearson.
Collection: 8 stories.
Online HERE.
I.  "The Story of Amaroff the Pole"
II.  "The Terror in the Snow"
III.  "Mr. Taubery’s Diamond"
IV.  "The Mystery of the Causeway"
V.  "The Tragedy of Thomas Hearne"
VI.  "The Vanished Millionaire" [also online HERE]
VII.  "Mr. Coran’s Election"
VIII.  "The Mystery of the Jade Spear" [also online HERE]
This collection is very much in the Sherlock Holmes mould, with ingenious and very complicated crimes, the sorts of crimes that require imagination as well as thoroughness in a detective. — dfordoom, VINTAGE POP FICTIONS (June 13, 2013)
Between August 1904 and January 1905, Bertram Fletcher Robinson (hereafter BFR) had six detective short-stories collectively entitled The Chronicles of Addington Peace, published in The Lady’s Home Magazine. Each tale is a separate story and was illustrated by Thomas Heath Robinson (the eldest brother of the more-famous William Heath Robinson). Detective Inspector Peace is employed by Scotland Yard’s Criminal Investigation Department and is partnered by a young neighbour and artist called James Phillips. Phillips describes Addington Peace as follows:
. . . a tiny slip of a fellow, of about five and thirty years of age. A stubble of brown hair, a hard, clean-shaven mouth, and a confident chin are my first impression.
During 1905, BFR had eight Peace short stories published in a book that was also entitled The Chronicles of Addington Peace (London: Harper & Brother). In 1951, this book was included in an influential listing of detective-crime short stories entitled Queen's Quorum: A History of the Detective-Crime Short Story as Revealed by the 106 Most Important Books Published in this Field Since 1845. This list was compiled primarily by Frederic Dannay, one half of the famous ‘Ellery Queen’ twosome. The book version features two additional stories that were not published in the earlier six-part magazine serialisation. — Paul R. Spiring, BFRonline
- We have met Mr. Robinson before on ONTOS; go HERE.
- Both THE TRAIL OF THE DEAD and THE CHRONICLES OF ADDINGTON PEACE are for sale under the same cover HERE.

Category: Detective fiction

"Puzzle Plots Are Nearly Completely Absent"

By J. S. Fletcher (1863-1935).
Digby, Long & Co.
1904. 6s. Reissued in 1929.
No e-versions seem to be available.
An Edwardian thriller writer impresses an Edwardian reviewer:
Six murders and a diamond necklace provide plenty of excitement in Mr. J. S. Fletcher's little story, The Diamonds, and when to this material is added an accidental fall into a glowing furnace of molten glass, a strong-minded milliner who horse-whips a mock clergyman, and a distinguished-looking K.C.B. who decides that the milliner is a fine woman for her age, anyone may guess that, welded together by Mr. Fletcher, it forms a chronicle the most exacting lover of thrills must be satisfied with. We seldom ask for "literature" in this style, we seldom get it; but we get real entertainment. — "Notes on New Books," THE BOOKMAN [U.K.] (March 1904; go to page 266, bottom left)
Some hack writers make it to the Big Time:
. . . Fletcher's work seems to have nothing in common with the Golden Age puzzle plots of his contemporaries. There is no attempt to build up Great Detectives in Fletcher. Detection itself, in any strict sense of the term, involving the uncovering of hidden truth, as opposed to mere pursuit of criminals, seems to be minimal. Fletcher's characters do not take part in a shared, cozy, upper class world, but instead seem to be enmeshed in some dangerous, thriller type situation. And puzzle plots are nearly completely absent. Fletcher was not an especially good writer, at least much of the time: he certainly created mountains of hackwork. His deviations from the paradigms of the Golden Age are often ascribed to him simply being a Bad Mystery Writer. He is often genuinely "bad", but his difference in approach from his contemporaries at least partly seems to reflect Fletcher's emergence from a different tradition. — Mike Grost, GAD Wiki

Category: Detective fiction

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Random Thoughts about the Classic Detective Story

The one unbreakable rule is this: a detective story is a story about an investigation. At the end, things are revealed that were hidden; things in shadow are brought out into the light. And for this reason a detective story is often also a puzzle: the reader is given some or all of the same facts as the detective and can try to equal or even beat the detective’s record in solving the case. — Jon Jermey
Following the links below will lead you to fuller discussions.

Jon Jermey believes it is better to define the classic detective story by what it is NOT:
- It is not a thriller.
- It is not about crime.
- It is not about a criminal.
- It is not about the detective as a character.
- It is not about violence.
- It is not about death.
- It is not about romance.
- It is not about "hunches," intuitions, clairvoyance, or telepathy.
  ~ "Introduction to a Course on GAD"

Wyatt James adds:
The classic mystery novel has been criticized for years (e.g., by Raymond Chandler) for being unrealistic. Nobody who wrote them would ever say they were intended to be.
A good mystery is an escapist reading experience, not involving abdication of intelligence or critical viewpoint as with a Harlequin romance or a shoot-em-up of either the sadistic Mickey Spillane or comic-book superhero Doc Savage type, but a suspension of disbelief is required. "What Is the Golden Age of Detection"
R. Austin Freeman tells us what makes classic detective fiction special:
The distinctive quality of a detective story, in which it differs from all other types of fiction, is that the satisfaction that it offers to the reader is primarily an intellectual satisfaction. This is not to say that it need be deficient in the other qualities appertaining to good fiction: in grace of diction, in humour, in interesting characterization, in picturesqueness of setting or in emotional presentation. On the contrary, it should possess all these qualities. It should be an interesting story, well and vivaciously told. But whereas in other fiction these are the primary, paramount qualities, in detective fiction they are secondary and subordinate to the intellectual interest, to which they must be, if necessary, sacrificed. The entertainment that the connoisseur looks for is an exhibition of mental gymnastics in which he is invited to take part; and the excellence of the entertainment must be judged by the completeness with which it satisfies the expectations of the type of reader to whom it is addressed. ~ "The Art of the Detective Story"
Among his two dozen notes about detective fiction, Raymond Chandler points out:
It [the story] must baffle a reasonably intelligent reader. This opens up a very difficult question. Some of the best detective stories ever written (those of Austin Freeman, for example) seldom baffle an intelligent reader to the end. But the reader does not guess the complete solution and could not himself have made a logical demonstration of it. Since readers are of many minds, some will guess a cleverly hidden murder and some will be fooled by the most transparent plot. (Could "The Red Headed League" ever really fool a modern reader?) It is not necessary or even possible to fool to the hilt the real aficionado of mystery fiction. A mystery story that consistently did that and was honest would be unintelligible to the average fan; he simply would not know what the story was all about. But there must be some important elements of the story that elude the most penetrating reader.
The hero of the mystery story is the detective. Everything hangs on his personality. If he hasn't one, you have very little. And you have very few really good mystery stories. Naturally. ~ "Notes on the Detective Story"
Category: Detective fiction

The Wild Blue Yonder

ABC-TV/Tomorrow Entertainment.
1973. 81 minutes.
IMDb listing.
The first and only time I saw Birds of Prey forty-one years ago, it blew me away. As action films go, I still think it's superior to many; and the fact that it was made for television on a minimal budget makes it even more remarkable.

David Janssen plays an ex-World War Two Flying Tigers fighter pilot whose aviation career is winding down; he's now relegated to being a traffic reporter flying over Salt Lake City and quietly going nuts from boredom.

One day he happens to observe a bank robbery in progress, which he duly reports to his good pal from the war (Ralph Meeker), who is now a police captain with the Salt Lake City PD. But Meeker doesn't believe him at first, thinking it's another one of Janssen's middle-aged pranks.

That's all it takes: Janssen sees it as a challenge—and the chase is on. From this point forward, the film is indeed one giant chase sequence. The bad guys transfer themselves, their loot, and a hostage to a helicopter only to be relentlessly harried by Janssen every step of the way. The pacing is terrific.
In addition to two good performances from Janssen (settling into his world-weary Harry O character) and Meeker, the helicopters also star here. This was long before CGI (computer-generated visual effects); when the choppers swoop under freeway overpasses with a foot or less separating the rotor blades from the concrete abutments, it's the real thing. Another amazing sequence happens INSIDE an aircraft hanger, when Janssen corners the bad guys' copter; this needs to be seen to be believed. The margin for error, with both copters swaying uncertainly in a Mexican standoff, has to be two or three inches at most.

Kudos to the late James W. Gavin for these sequences. Whenever Hollywood needed a master pilot who could also deliver lines in an acceptable fashion, Gavin was their go-to guy. He did lots of screen work in films and TV series, such as Adam 12.

If you really get into the characters in this film—as I did—then the final line will be especially poignant: "Damn you, Walker! I didn't ask you to do that!"

Tech note: If I remember correctly, Janssen's chopper was a Hughes 500D while the criminals had an Aerospatiale Alouette.
Birds of Prey is available on video, but some customers complain that the Second World War-era Big Band music featured in the film's network broadcast—music that is integral and meaningful to the two lead characters—has been replaced with something different, so be aware that you're not getting the original film.

NOTE: A slightly different version of this article appeared on Steve Lewis's MYSTERY*FILE weblog HERE.

Category: Detective fiction

Monday, March 24, 2014

Crimes and Hallucinations

By Eden Phillpotts (1862-1960).
1926. [?] pages. $2.50
Collection: 15 stories.

1. "Peacock House"
2. "The King of Kanga"
3. "Count Rollo"
4. "Red Dragon"
5. "Crazywell"
6. "The Iron Pineapple" [online HERE]
7. "Grey Lady Drive"
8. "Three Dead Men"
9. "Madonna of the Fireflies"
10. "My First Murder"
11. "The Astral Lady"
12. "Yellow Peril"
13. "The Cairn"
14. "Stepan Trofimitch"
15. "The Mother of the Violets"
Mr. Phillpotts is hampered yet humanised by his desire to let his characters work out their own destiny; their personalities frequently escape from the plot which enmeshes them. — L. P. Hartley
Excerpts from several contemporary reviews:
Mr. Phillpotts's main concern is Mystery. He taps almost every source of the mysterious, going for his effects as far afield as studies in neurosis and psycho-analysis.
. . . How protean is Mr. Phillpotts! . . . Though he gets a thrill into his tales of horror, none of them is, judged by the standard of his achievement in other fields, quite first-rate; his quality shows better in the piece than in the pattern. He lacks the concentration and finesse of the best short-story writers, and that medium only partially reveals his chief strength—his point of view. No contemporary writer, expecting so little of human beings, seems to get so much out of them, or to render with so much sureness of touch the long, slow cadences of life. — L. P. Hartley, "A Quartet," THE BOOKMAN [U.K.] (October 1926; Jump To page 52)
Fifteen shortish bafflers of superior grade containing mental quirks, crimes galore, and—an iron pineapple. — "The Bookman's Guide to Fiction," THE BOOKMAN (June 1927; scroll to page 464, top left)
Tales of horror and mystery may be so hauntingly inexplicable as to leave the reader speculating and shuddering long after the book has been laid aside. Or, like the common detective story, they may be builded with mathematical neatness to reveal in a surprising conclusion the simple explanation for all the unsolved enigmas that have gone before. The short stories in "Peacock House" belong, with one or two exceptions, to the second category. . . . For the most part, the people involved are too dull to stimulate much interest in their crimes or hallucinations, and somehow even the most fiendish of their murders seems more inky than bloody. — "The New Books," THE SATURDAY REVIEW (June 25, 1927)
- The GAD Wiki file for Eden Phillpotts is HERE.

Category: Detective fiction

Doyle and Oppenheim React to Critics

Back in the mid-'20s, The Bookman [U.K.] asked different authors what value, if any, professional criticism might have for them, among whom were Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930) and E. Phillips Oppenheim (1866-1946).

Neither author mentions mystery fiction per se, and ACD seems more annoyed by what critics had to say about his interest in spiritualism ("the greatest of all subjects," in his words), which he regarded as scientifically confirmed, than anything else. Because his reputation as a fictioneer was clearly secured for all time thanks to his wildly successful Holmes stories, Doyle could afford to write:
In dealing with fiction I have always found the critics fair and reasonable, but I cannot say that I have ever had anything of value from their criticism. That may have been my own fault, but the fact remains. . . . I am offended by the way in which editors choose their critics for particular books, picking out in many cases those men who are least likely to give an unbiased opinion. . . . On the whole, however, as I look back upon my long literary life I do not feel that I have much to complain of, and I have a recollection of much that is kind. — "The Value of Criticism," THE BOOKMAN [U.K.] (October 1926)
As successful as he was, Oppenheim could also sympathize with Doyle and his fellow fiction authors:
. . . I should say that the practical value of criticism to an author is scarcely so great to-day as some fifteen or twenty years ago. The reading public nowadays have formed their own ideas as to what they like and what they don't like, and in these times of universal novel-reading are not so easily influenced.
. . . A favourable and appreciative notice of his work is often an inspiration to the writer, whereas those few sarcastic lines, which a short time ago were rather the fashion amongst a certain type of reviewer, although they may do him little harm with the public, are often unduly depressing to their sensitive victim. — "The Value of Criticism," op cit.
- The GAD Wiki offers gateways to the works of Conan Doyle HERE and of Oppenheim HERE.

Category: Detective fiction

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Sherlock from Many Angles

Many thanks to ALWAYS 1895 for finding these public domain items in the Hathi Trust Digital Library; we hope all of these works are accessible to our readers.

A Doctor Enjoys Sherlock Holmes (1959), Edward J. Van Liere [New York: Vantage Press].
. . . Dr. Van Liere (1895-1979) delivers just what the title suggests: a collection of short essays (many previously published in the BSJ, Harvard Medical Alumni Journal, The West Virginia Medical Journal, etc.) discussing minutiae of the [Sherlock Holmes] canon from a doctor’s perspective. Topics include dogs, 'brain fever,' various medical topics in relation to the cases of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson qua medical man.
- Also see Batgrl's goodreads summary HERE.

Sherlock Holmes in Portrait and Profile (1963), Walter Klinefelter [New York: Syracuse University Press].

A short, 97-page profile of Sherlock Holmes with an introduction by the venerable Vincent Starrett focuses on various visual portrayals of Sherlock Holmes in the many magazines that ran ACD’s stories. Mr. Klinefelter’s interesting little publication is a “story-by-story or book-by-book account of what the detective’s various portrayers made of him as the piecemeal records of his cases were inconsecutively released.”
William Gillette As Sherlock Holmes: As Produced at the Garrick Theatre, New York (1900). Published with the Authorization of Mr. Charles Frohman [New York: R. H. Russell].
A very short pamphlet made-up of vintage William Gillette photographs in the role of Sherlock Holmes. A window into the time before Brett, Rathbone, Cushing or Wilmer had yet donned the persona of the great detective and Gillette was the face of Sherlock Holmes.
- A previous ONTOS article about Holmes's first appearance on stage is HERE.

Category: Detective fiction

Two Victorian Thrillers

By Robert Machray (1857-1946).
Chatto and Windus.
1903. 343 pages. 6s.
Reprinted in 2013.
Available on Kindle.
Online HERE and HERE.
A contemporary review, from which we have had to excise the SPOILERS because the critic promises not to give the plot away yet goes right ahead and does it anyway:
Mr. Robert Machray is not a man who believes in half measures; he means a mystery to be a mystery right up to the last chapter, and has evidently written The Mystery of Lincoln's Inn on this admirable principle.
It is a most ingenious story, but it would be a shame to give Mr. Machray away by unfolding the details of his intricate plot.
Suffice it to say that this is a tale of . . . [SPOILERS DELETED] . . . long enough to restore the stolen property. — "Notes on New Books," THE BOOKMAN [U.K.] (October 1903)
By Robert Machray.
John Long.
1904. 315 pages. 6s.
No e-version seems to be available.

The same goes for this review:
A story that opens with a daring and mysterious midnight robbery of jewels from the bedroom of a great London hotel, and in whose second chapter a British Ambassador, who has suddenly arrived in England, dies mysteriously, and is found to have been poisoned, promises something uncommonly strong in the way of sensational fiction, and in "The Ambassador's Glove" the promise is amply fulfilled. . . . [SPOILERS DELETED] . . . It is, every way, a capital story of its kind, and carries the reader on with unflagging interest through every page to the last. — "Novel Notes," THE BOOKMAN [U.K.] (December 1904)
Category: Detective fiction

Friday, March 21, 2014

"The Author's Ingenuity Is Great, but . . ."

By Jacques Futrelle.
Dodd, Mead & Co.
1907. 342 pages. $1.50
Collection: 7 stories.
1. "The Problem of Cell 13"
2. "The Scarlet Thread"
3. "The Man Who Was Lost"
4. "The Great Auto Mystery"
5. "The Flaming Phantom"
6. "The Ralston Bank Burglary"
7. "The Mystery of a Studio"
Professor Augustus S. F. X. Van Dusen, Ph.D., LL.D., F.R.S., M.D., M.D.S. is a fictional character in a series of detective short stories and two novels by Jacques Futrelle. Some of the short stories were originally published in The Saturday Evening Post and the Boston American. Wikipedia
Michael Grost, one of our contemporaries, has written:
Jacques Futrelle's tales of the Thinking Machine are some of the best detective stories even written. The Thinking Machine, a professor who received his nickname from the press for his intellectual acuity, appeared in a series of around 50 stories, from 1905 to Futrelle's death on the Titanic in 1912. Even the less successful Thinking Machine tales have features which make them enjoyable and worth reading. — GAD Wiki
But how did Futrelle's contemporaries feel about the Thinking Machine? One critic from a century ago agrees with Grost (as do we). Excerpts from his review:
"The Thinking Machine" is a name given to a certain Professor van Dusen, who is the incarnation of unemotional science. His logic is without a flaw; his mental processes are infallible. Sherlock Holmes was partly a man of action; but Professor van Dusen is wholly a man of thought. In this respect he resembles Mycroft Holmes, but without the amiable eccentricities of that cogitator. The problems that are given him to solve are often, on the face of them, so impossible as to make the reader absolutely certain that they cannot in any way be mastered.
. . . This story ["The Problem of Cell 13"] is perhaps the most absorbingly interesting and puzzling in the book; but the others are all extremely clever. If, after the reading is over, one still ranks them below the adventures of Sherlock Holmes, it is because the latter have greater realism and accord more closely with the conditions of actual life. Holmes sometimes makes mistakes, and this fact renders him more real as a human being. The incidents which befall him are also far more usual, and for that very reason are the more convincing. But The Thinking Machine is a book that will be read with avidity for its great cleverness; and other stories by the same author are certain to receive an appreciative welcome. — Rafford Pyke, "Ten Books of the Month," THE BOOKMAN (June 1907)
Another critic of the time, however, wasn't so enthusiastic:
Somewhat similar in character [to Martin Hewitt, Investigator] but much cruder is The Thinking Machine, by Jaques [sic] Futrelle. The author's ingenuity is great, but the element of probability is not always maintained. — "Comment on Current Books: Among the Novels," THE OUTLOOK (April 6, 1907; page 813 top left)
- "The Mystery of a Studio" is online HERE, "The Phantom Motor" is HERE, and "The Problem of Cell 13" is HERE.

Category: Detective fiction

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Quod Non Nostra Culpa

To all of you regular ONTOS readers, our apologies for the lack of recent updates. Mr. Computer fell ill last Friday night, but we THINK—we HOPE—we PRAY we've got the problem solved. Thank you for your kind patience while we've been dealing with it. Things should be back to abnormal very soon.

Friday, March 14, 2014

"Nothing Higher or Nobler Than the Typical Dime Novel"

By Tom Gallon (1866-1914).
Ward Lock & Company Limited.
1907. 315 pages.
Online HERE and HERE.
Tom Gallon's ambition must have been to be the next Charles Dickens:
Whenever a novel appears which does not deal too exclusively with the aristocracy, its admirers hasten to assure the public that Dickens has again come among us, improved and brought up to date! Many people professed to find this flavor in Mr. De Morgan's delightful "Joseph Vance"! The unbiased criticism on the cover of "Tinman" claims that "In plot, style, and treatment, it compares favorably with Dickens"! It is well that this has been pointed out, since unaided no sane person would have discovered it. "The House on the Marsh" at a stretch—but Dickens!
Tom Gallon is gifted with the lurid manner. The clouds hanging over "The House of Usher" are as a dawn in June compared to the blackness permanently settled about Hammerstone Market. Even at twenty a young man might have experience enough to call in the police when his guardian went on so that "in all my life I never remember to have seen a man so suddenly become a wild beast as Jerry Fanshawe did then."
Jerry ran about banging doors and blaspheming, "pulling at his lips with his long fingers. . . ." But he was not having things all his own way, since ". . . I had never seen on any face such a look of mingled fear and hopelessness and longing and misery as I saw in his face then." Although Jerry "clinched and unclinched his hands and moistened his lips and strove to speak," and also had that habit of examining his nails which is the primary impulse of every villain, Charlie had no suspicion of him (otherwise Jerry would have been immediately consigned to Bedlam or Reading Gaol, ending the story promptly at page forty-nine).
As it is, notwithstanding an important manner, "Tinman" has only been strung out to store size by the ingenious device of repeating the heroine's adventures in the person of her daughter, merely giving a happier outcome to the fortunes of Barbara number two. — THE NATION (August 15, 1907)
Tom Gallon's book is of less virile calibre, although the theme possesses greater novelty. Here we have a man of weak will and "Tinman" chivalrous instincts, upon whose credulity the villain of the story works, until he convinces him that the honour of the woman he loves is at the mercy of a third man, whom it is his duty as a sort of modern knight-errant to kill. He commits the murder, is of course discovered, refuses to reveal his real motive, which might have won him a recommendation for mercy, and is sentenced to be hanged; but the sentence is afterward commuted, and eventually he is released after serving twenty odd years at hard labour.
The first portion of the book, though somewhat lurid in method, would have made a strong and unusual short story; but the further development of events, after the murderer's release, and the way in which history is forced to repeat itself, so that a second murder may add a cumulative thrill to an already overburdened plot, conveys an unmistakable flavour of nothing higher or nobler than the typical dime novel. — Frederic Taber Cooper, "The Factor of Style and Some Recent Novels," THE BOOKMAN (October 1907; scroll to page 165)

Category: Detective fiction

A Fox-Davies Quintet

Long before Perry Mason, detective-lawyers were solving cases on their own, sometimes saving the taxpayers millions in court costs. One such was Mr. Ashley Tempest with his "Paul Drake", Yardley, the creations of A. C. Fox-Davies.

Our author was, according to Wikipedia, proficient in several fields:
Arthur Charles Fox-Davies (28 February 1871–19 May 1928) was a British author on heraldry. By profession, he was a barrister but he also worked as a journalist and novelist. . . . In addition to his writings on heraldry, he published a number of works of fiction, including detective stories such as The Dangerville Inheritance (1907), The Mauleverer Murders (1907) and The Duplicate Death (1910).
A mild disagreement with Conan Doyle led to his interest in detective fiction, at least according to this source:
The English writer, Mr. A. C. Fox-Davies, came to write fiction in a rather curious fashion. He was an authority on heraldry, the editor of Fairbirn's Book of Crests, of Dod's Peerage, and of a number of books relating to genealogies and armorial bearings.
One day he stumbled on Conan Doyle's "Sherlock Holmes" stories and became greatly interested. As a barrister, however, he did not always agree with Doyle's conclusions, and he wrote a sequel to one of the stories putting the criminal in it on trial and getting him acquitted on Sherlock Holmes's own facts.
He sent this to Conan Doyle, who complimented him on it and suggested that he should write a series of his own. He wrote instead The Mauleverer Murders and then The Dangerfield Inheritance. — "Chronicle and Comment: The Conclusions of Sherlock," THE BOOKMAN (March 1911)
Here are what appear to be most, but perhaps not all, of Fox-Davies's detective novels:

By A. C. Fox-Davies (1871-1928).
J. Lane Company.
1907. 311 pages.
Online HERE and HERE.
Note: SPOILERS ahead:
A Dangerville Inheritance, by A. C. Fox-Davies, is such a preposterous tale that one feels no scruple in disregarding the accepted ethics in reviewing detective stories, and bluntly revealing the secret on which the whole plot hinges. Indeed, it is no very serious betrayal, because the perspicuous reader can hardly fail to guess the truth from the opening chapter.
The heir presumptive to the Dangerville estates has for years been impatiently awaiting the decease of the old Earl of Dangerville, when news comes from Paris that the latter has taken a young wife, and that a son and heir has been born. The only inaccuracy about the news is in regard to the sex of the child, who happens to be a girl instead of a boy. But the secret is carefully guarded by the Earl, who takes a grim pleasure in keeping the relative he hates out of the inheritance.
The supposed heir eventually comes into the title and the property, enters Parliament, wins renown for brilliant statesmanship, and crowns the fraud by finding another woman who is willing to go through the mockery of a ceremony and masquerade before the world as the Earl of Dangerville's wife.
This other woman is already secretly married; and the fact that the real husband becomes implicated in a baffling murder case drags so many peculiar and questionable happenings into daylight, that the only way to check the growing scandal is to make a full confession. As already intimated, the whole story is too preposterous to be taken seriously. — Frederic Taber Cooper, "Heroines in Fiction and Some Recent Novels," THE BOOKMAN (June 1907; go to page 393, top left)
By A. C. Fox-Davies.
J. Lane Company.
1907. 349 pages. $1.50
Online HERE and HERE.
One critic considered this one "very sensational"; another was less than impressed:
This is an instance of an introductory novel being written later than its sequel; but those who have not read "The Dangerville Inheritance" will find the present work absolutely complete in itself.
As a detective story the book suffers a little from the same thread of interest not being sustained all through. For the first third, roughly speaking, of the volume the whole problem is the detection of the person who committed the Mauleverer murders.
But from the moment of the arrest of the heroine the interest is transferred to the possibility of proving her innocence. It must be owned that the Duchess of Merioneth, alias Miss Vivian Vane, is not a very attractive person, and the reader finds his attention flag when the main question appears to be not to discover the guilty person, but to free the masquerading Duchess.
The end of the story is brutally horrible, and we are not convinced by the author's production of the real criminal. The book is very sensational, but the reader cannot complain that the title does not give him full warning of this fact. — THE SPECTATOR (31 August 1907)
Mr. Fox-Davies has constructed his story on the principle laid down by the eminent literary light Mr. Archibald Clavering Gunter—that is, something must happen every five hundred words. Beginning with the title, the author furnishes us with a thrill if not in every line, certainly on every page. The plot does not unfold: it rolls up and accumulates like a snowball, and, having opened with five impromptu funerals in the first six chapters, closes with one more, and one in perspective ten or twelve chapters later.
The heroine is introduced thus: "Who's that, Alan? When one is out of England so much, one loses touch with the new beauties."
"Well, if you want to know, she's a mystery"—in these few spirited words Mr. Fox-Davies puts the experienced novel reader "on" at once, and it would be a pity to diddle that worthy out of a series of agreeable shocks by revealing too much of the plot.
The heroine leads a double life, and is suspected of leading a triple or quadruple one. Sums like £150,000 are juggled with airily as feathers; the properties include—bicycles, revolvers, knotted cords, strychnine (wholesale), perfumed handkerchiefs, half-destroyed letters, watches stopped at dreadfully significant hours, and the southeast European kingdom of Moritania—royal line extinct. There is a detective who is not likely to displace Sergeant Cuff or Mr. Sherlock Holmes in our affections, and the mystery is so deep by the one hundred and forty-first page that the author himself is compelled to remark:
"Accustomed as he was to startling assertions and unexpected developments, even he could not, at a few moments' notice, readjust his ideas to an entirely new conception of the whole case."
The reader feels much the same way. — THE NEW YORK TIMES (September 7, 1907)
By A. C. Fox-Davies.
George Routledge & Sons.
1907. 303 pages. 2s. 6d.
No e-book seems to be available.

This critic considered Fox-Davies to be "a natural master of story-telling":
THERE is an undoubted talent for the Gaboriau style of detective story—a baffling plot pursued through a number of chapters, and unravelled by an investigator who is not above making mistakes at the outset—about Mr. Fox-Davies.
This is a murder mystery of considerable ingenuity, coloured in something of the old Adelphi style, and without much attempt at literary value.
The author has introduced us to his detective before, and it is a relief to find that the cold infallibility of the more modern "criminal agent" of fiction has not destroyed our taste for the more commonplace and convincing cleverness of Mr. Yardley.
Mr. Fox-Davies's imagination, in fact, though forcible enough, never moves outside the conventional rut of a Londoner's life.
There is a good deal of well-managed legal business in the book, and Mr. Ashley Tempest's cross-examining is a triumph of professional cunning.
On the whole, Mr. Fox-Davies may be welcomed as a natural master of story-telling pure and simple. He serves his narrative raw, but it is real narrative. THE OUTLOOK (August 17, 1907)
By A. C. Fox-Davies.
The Macaualy Co.
1910. 318 pages.
By A. C. Fox-Davies.
John Long.
1911. 6s.
No e-book available.

A contemporary feels he can "strongly recommend" this one, while another critic finds it "long and tiresome": 
In his latest novel Mr. Fox-Davies once again introduces his remarkable barrister, Ashley Tempest, and that gentleman's ingenious assistant, the private detective Yardley. They again have a problem to work upon which is fully worthy of their powers; indeed, this time it may fairly be said to have been somewhat beyond them.
The book centres around the mystery of a murder, for which no fewer than three different men are tried. The trouble is that there is an excellent case against each one of them, but Mr. Fox-Davies has set out to show the unreliability of purely circumstantial evidence, and show it he does, even at the expense of his hero. 
"The Testament of John Hastings" presents a problem which is not entirely unsolvable, and the book is none the worse for that, but we are quite sure that not one reader in ten will arrive at the correct solution before the author sees fit to supply it.
We can strongly recommend Mr. Fox-Davies's remarkable mystery story. It is a wonderful book in its way. — "Novel Notes," THE BOOKMAN (February 1911)
This is the story of a murder as to which, after hanging the supposed criminal, the authorities have qualms, imagining that they have executed the wrong man. Accordingly they proceed to accuse two others. There are, therefore, no fewer than three trials of persons accused of committing the murder. This is bound to prove not a little tedious.
A real cross-examination is not always interesting reading, and the imitation article is apt to be long and tiresome. The account of the riots in South Wales, instigated by German spies, and the defeat of these latter by the Secret Service agents, is exciting; but, there is no one person in the story in whom it is possible to take any real interest. — THE SPECTATOR (25 March 1911)

Category: Detective fiction

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

"A Pleasant Surprise Awaits the Reader"

By Edward Clary Root.
Frederick A. Stokes Co.
1907. 339 pages.
Online HERE.
As far as the Internet is concerned, this book barely exists:
Detective stories involving murder mysteries do not seem likely to offer anything agreeably new. But in this respect a pleasant surprise awaits the reader of The Unseen Jury, by Edward Clary Root.
An old man, highly honoured and deeply beloved in his native town, is found dead one morning in a stream near his home, apparently having been thrown into the water from a rustic bridge just above. Suspicion naturally centres upon a dissipated young fellow who has long sought the dead man's daughter in marriage, and has been heard to utter violent threats against him on account of his persistent opposition.
Circumstantial evidence accumulates until there is not a doubt in the mind of any one in town, save that of the dead man's daughter, that the prisoner is guilty. There is not even a single voice raised to protect his interests, until suddenly, swayed by curiously complex motives, the dead man's foster son, who is a metropolitan lawyer of note, decides to champion him. He, too, has leaped to the conclusion that the prisoner is guilty, and all the more willingly, because they both of them love the same girl and have long regarded each other as rivals.
But now, suddenly, when he sees the other friendless, helpless, menaced with such an imminent danger, a fine sense of honour impels him to give his rival the benefit of the doubt, to force himself to believe in his innocence, to give his days and nights to the task of saving him, even though acquittal might mean the loss to himself of the girl he loves.
So he toils on in the face of the indignant opposition of all his former friends; and every day fresh courage and energy come to him, because every day the conviction grows that he is doing right—that his client is not the guilty man he at first believed him.
And all the while, had he only known it, there is in existence convincing documentary evidence, the reading of which would have spared the jury even a minute's deliberation. But fate willed it that this evidence should not come to light until the last day of the trial, and that even then it should seem best not to use it. But this is precisely the point upon which the main interest of the story turns. — Frederic Taber Cooper, "The Fetich of Form and Some Recent Novels," THE BOOKMAN (May 1907; scroll to page 286, right)
. . . the story of a suspicious death, of an accusation of murder founded on circumstantial evidence carefully provided, and of a great criminal trial in which the hero appears as counsel for his dearest enemy and rival in love, and the author drives a coach and four through the rules of evidence. It is a novel in one dimension. It has length but neither breadth nor depth. — J. B. Kerfoot, "The Latest Books," LIFE (1907)

Category: Detective fiction