Wednesday, July 30, 2014

"A New and Mildly Amusing Detective"

By Bennet Copplestone (Frederick Harcourt Kitchin, 1867-1932).
John Murray and E. P. Dutton & Co.
1917. 293 pages [UK], 286 pages [US]. $1.50
Part I: "William Dawson"
Part II: "Madame Gilbert"
Part III: "To See Is to Believe"
Part IV: "The Captain of Marines"

As Holmes and a few other detectives of the Golden Age learned, the supposedly security-minded personnel of the Navy department seemed to suffer inordinately from butterfingers when it came to holding on to top secret documents:
[Full review] As the title indicates, these short stories tell of the tracing of spies who infested the British naval service. In Dawson, the Scotland Yard spy-hunter, the author has invented a worthy successor to Sherlock Holmes. — "The New Books," THE OUTLOOK (March 6, 1918)
[Full review] The yarns in "The Lost Naval Papers" pretend to be nothing but yarns. They belong openly to the order of mechanical romance—the romance of mystery and detection.
The hero is none other than that favorite butt of Sherlock Holmes, a Scotland Yard inspector—or rather it is Scotland Yard itself, with the inspector as its instrument.
Officer William Dawson has a great conceit of himself, and appears to justify it by a series of marvellous feats in the way of rounding up German spies and strengthening the hands of the British Admiralty at moments of crucial strain. But his chronicler takes special pains to tell us that this is all an illusion. Scotland Yard, he says, is not showy, but its system is irresistible: "Though Dawson was not specially intelligent—in some respects almost stupid—he was dreadfully, terrifyingly efficient, because he was part of the slowly-grinding Scotland Yard machine."
We suppose that our old friend Dr. Watson, if he admitted this, would trace it to the reforms induced by the great Sherlock's exposures.
These tales are admirable contrivances in their kind. They have, of course, little more to do with the war or with any other reality than the fifteen puzzle or the game of pigs in clover. — H. W. Boynton, "Told and Made," THE NATION (April 4, 1918)
[Full review] A new and mildly amusing detective appears in the person of Inspector Dawson, with his combined human vanity and superhuman success. "The Lost Naval Papers" by Bennet Copplestone is the book in which the excellent Dawson has his being. — Brian Hooker, "Concerning Yarns," THE BOOKMAN (May 1919)
[Review excerpts] . . . The Lost Naval Papers is a story about a super-sleuth from Scotland Yard who enlists the help of our fictional author/narrator to foil the espionage attempts of foreign agents. Being an older work the language and styling is a bit stilted and the pacing is rapid-fire in places. I don’t know but it may have been written as a serial. That might explain the number of chapters and twists (new sub-plots/main plot changes).
The detective has several unique characteristics: he’s powerful (he has a decree that gives him power over many aspects of the normal legal system and its agents), he’s well-regarded by his superiors, and he’s addicted to secrecy.
He disguises himself even from his own underlings and cohorts; especially so from the writer that he dragoons into assisting him at the start of the novel. But the narrator has the last laugh. From sheer frustration at being jerked around, he trains himself to observe the smallest details and discovers a unique and undisguised element of the detective that, once he uncovers it, means he never misses penetrating the current disguise. For a control freak like the detective, this is too much to bear and he entreats the author to reveal the method. This is only done at the close of the novel.
Is it good? It certainly was inventive. The fact that the main characters have the sleuth-writer relationship makes it a kind of Holmes pastiche despite that fact that he is clearly of officialdom and obsessed with his given job. No need to cast about listlessly waiting for a client to knock at the door in this story!  . . . — Mike, GOODREADS (June 7, 2014)
- At least one of Copplestone's Chief Inspector Dawson stories was reprinted: "The Butler," Rex Stout Mystery Magazine, February 1946 [Source: The FictionMags Index].
- There was a sequel to THE LOST NAVAL PAPERS entitled MADAME GILBERT'S CANNIBAL (1920; online HERE and HERE), featuring Dawson's assistant from the earlier book.

Category: Spy fiction

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