Thursday, March 6, 2014

What Would Edwardian Detectives Do If Someone Didn't Steal a Jewel or Two?

By Marcin Barber.
Moffat, Yard & Co.
1910. 394 pages. $1.50
Online HERE and HERE.
This must have been Britz's only known adventure. Three full contemporary reviews:
It may not be fair to expect much knowledge of the Orient from a maker of detective stories, although he centres his plot about the oft-used theft of a great Oriental diamond. But even a writer who seems to have watched the world from the windows opposite the old headquarters on Mulberry Street should not set a band of Brahmins on the recovery of a stone which had once been in a Buddhist temple.
Mr. Barber does not make Fifth Avenue society much more real than his Brahmin-Buddhists; but his Britz is a good detective of the old school, with yet a tinge of originality in his make-up, and the plot which Britz unravels is sufficiently devious and doubtful to satisfy the taste of an exacting connoisseur of this branch of fiction. — "Current Fiction," THE NATION (June 9, 1910; scroll to page 587)
It was to be expected that the crop of summer novels should include a few dealing with the time-honoured theme of stolen jewels; and of these, two volumes [the other is Viola Burhans's The Cave-Woman] seem to be of sufficiently sincere workmanship to warrant a brief mention.
Britz of Headquarters, by Marcin Barber, is best defined as The Moonstone brought up to date. The machinery of the two tales is identical: a priceless gem stolen from a Hindoo temple; a dauntless band of high-caste Brahmins pledged to its recovery; the present owner mysteriously robbed of this gem, of whose earlier history she is ignorant; and a dozen men and women of various callings and social grades brought successively under suspicion.
Britz of Headquarters is good in so far as it attains that breathlessness of suspense which is the very warp and woof of detective novels. But in one respect it is not quite honest, for it disregards an established law of its class; namely, that the real culprit shall be introduced to the reader early in the story, if not in the opening chapter. In Britz of Headquarters we have no reason even to guess the existence of the person who is the actual thief until very near the close of the volume. — Frederic Taber Cooper, "The Question of Earnestness and Some Recent Books," THE BOOKMAN (August 1910; scroll to page 643)
If you love a good detective story, get "Britz of Headquarters" and sit up all night to finish it—though that last need not be said, for nothing but force can take the book out of your hand once it is begun.
Britz, the hero who names the story, is a member of the central office force of New York City. He is of the "deducing" variety of detectives and, like the great Sherlock Holmes, solves most of his difficult problems at his desk.
The Missioner Diamond case is most mysterious. Mrs. Missioner, a very rich widow, is occupying her box at the opera one night and has three guests, two men and a young girl.
During the performance the clasp of her diamond necklace parts and it falls to the floor broken. All join in the search and all the stones are found but one, the treasure of her entire collection, called the Maharanee Diamond.
At the last moment one of the men guests, moving back quickly, steps on something and crushes it beneath his heel. It proves to be the diamond, or at least a paste imitation of it. Mrs. Missioner sends for an expert when she reaches her home and is informed that the whole necklace is paste. When was the substitution made and by whom?
Britz is brought into the case directly, and his moves are most interesting. The persons involved have a pretty difficult time and there is excitement aplenty to suit everybody. Romance is here, too, but not much, for all the attention is given to Britz, and he has no time for anything like that.
Not a hint can be given as to the solution of the mystery and the crimes, but it all comes right in the end. The Orientals who figure in the tale are the weakest spots in the picture, but Britz is the main thing, and he could not be improved upon. — THE SAN FRANCISCO CALL (July 10, 1910)

Category: Detective fiction

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