Thursday, April 10, 2014

"He Is Concerned Mainly to Give His Readers the Indispensable Thrill"

Frank L. Packard (1877-1942) was, as this journalist puts it, a "born story-weaver and self-made writer, who never uses his middle name which happens to be 'Lucius'." Veteran detective fiction readers remember Packard for his Jimmie Dale stories, to which reference is made in the following excerpt:
Too often authors are either praised for qualities that they do not possess or are adversely criticized for wanting qualities to which they make no claim and that are by no means essential in their chosen field.
Now Frank Packard isn't a Joseph Hergensheimer, nor an Arnold Bennett, nor a Joseph Conrad, but he is a decidedly effective Frank Packard. He is not—nor does he make any pretense of being—a profound psychologist; he is a born story-teller with a born story-teller's instinct for vivid incident, vigorous action, and dramatic or even melodramatic climax. But he is not merely a weaver of plots.
In his detective stories, it is true, he is concerned mainly to give his readers the indispensable thrill, and works to that end. Accordingly in "The Wire Devils" we find his detective hero, as elusive and nearly as bullet-proof as a shadow, re-peatedly foiling the schemes of a gang of wiretappers and thugs in spite of all the efforts of the miscreants and the minions of the law, both of whom believe him to be a master-criminal.
In the "Jimmie Dale" stories we have essentially the same hero—this time a "millionaire clubman" of New York, known, in various disguises, to the baffled police and malevolent underworld as "the Gray Seal"—committing all sorts of innocuous and benevolent burglaries to the discomfiture and final annihila-tion of the most desperate bands of criminals. Of course, as in all tales of the character, it is borne upon the reflective reader that both police and criminals are wooden Indians to allow even a prodigy of ingenuity and invulnerability to repeat the same exploits with such frequency and impunity.
But detective stories are not built for reflection. They are our modern fairy tales for adults, intended to engross, divert, and thrill; and "The Adventures of Jimmie Dale" as well as the adventures of that mysterious detective "the Hawk" in "The Wire Devils," amply fulfil that laudable purpose. — Arthur Guiterman, "Frank L. Packard and His Miracle Men," THE BOOKMAN (June 1920)
Packard wasn't finished with the Gray Seal, however, taking the character from the teens into the mid-'30s:
"The Gray Seal" is the first story in Packard's The Adventures of Jimmie Dale (1914-1915). It sets up the background of his popular gentleman thief. It is a very entertaining piece that shows great ingenuity in its plotting. The respectable hero with his thief secret identity of the Gray Seal seems close to several later pulp magazine characters. These are the Rogue tales that seems closest to Erle Stanley Gardner's Lester Leith and Ed Jenkins, who like the Gray Seal, use their "criminal" activities to aid the innocent, and interfere in evil schemes. And the hero's adventures in his secret identity remind one of Frederick Davis' The Moon Man. In later stories, Dale will adopt other underworld identities, as well. These multiple secret identities anticipate Walter Gibson's The Shadow. Herman Landon's Gray Phantom seems to be a straightforward imitation of Packard's The Gray Seal. The Adventures of Jimmie Dale seem like a complete blueprint of the way in which secret identities will be used in later fiction. — Mike Grost, "Frank L. Packard," A GUIDE TO CLASSIC MYSTERY AND DETECTION
- "The Miracle Men" in the title above is an oblique reference to the 1919 film starring Lon Chaney that was adapted from Packard's 1914 novel. See THE BOOKMAN article for more.
- David L. Vineyard takes a synoptic look at Jimmie Dale HERE.
- The GAD Wiki has a Packard bibliography HERE.
- Project Gutenberg has two of the five Jimmie Dale titles online HERE and HERE.

Category: Detective fiction

No comments:

Post a Comment