Sunday, July 13, 2014

"As a Detective Story This One Is Almost Clever Enough To Be Called Brilliant"

For some readers, Melvin Severy's detective stories are a delight, for others they're a pain, and for a few they're both, with Severy's plotting, characterization, and even his grammar drawing fire on occasion; some of our critics, however, advise patience as the reader travels down Severy's bumpy road to a potentially rewarding destination.

By Melvin L[inwood] Severy (1863-1951).
Dodd, Mead & Co.
1904. 341 pages. $1.50
Online HERE, HERE, and HERE.

"A scientific medical mystery, consisting of five episodes":
(1) "The Episode of the Darkened Room"
(2) "The Episode of the Sealed Document"
(3) "The Episode of Rama Ragobah"
(4) "The Episode of the Parallel Readers"
(5) "The Episode of the Telltale Thumb"
[Parts of a review] . . . The Darrow Enigma, despite a number of evident crudities, is an exceptional story, exceptionally well done.  . . . In the course of these Episodes the author brings in not only most of the good old stock contrivances of detective fiction, but a number that are, so far as the present viewer knows, entirely new.  . . . he tantalises you into distrusting nearly every one of the characters in turn, and draws the net around one of them until there seems not a loophole of doubt, only to rend it asunder at the end of Act III. A dozen pages before "Finis" you are still groping about vaguely in search of the guilty person, although this person appeared on the scene in the first episode and has been the subject of continual allusion ever since. There are reasons, and they are good reasons, why The Darrow Enigma, despite its flaws—and it has flaws—is an unusual story.  . . . Mr. Severy is certainly not a workman of the first order. But that is not reason enough to justify any one refusing to give him credit for having written a story of considerable merit and of unusual interest. This he has done, and it is something, nowadays. — Arthur Bartlett Maurice, "Nine Books of the Day," THE BOOKMAN (May 1904)
[Full review] The most perplexing enigma this story offers—why it was ever written—the author fails to solve. He does, however, with the aid of an amateur Sherlock Holmes (American edition, but with nothing of the original's phenomenal acumen omitted), clear up a part of the mystery surrounding the death of one John Darrow.
But it takes over three hundred pages to get this imperfect and unconvincing solution—and still the reader is left in the dark as to the why and wherefore of certain of the "episodes" into which the story is divided, and certain of the characters which are conspicuously introduced and thereafter as conspicuously ignored. Hence the opinion expressed above. — "Books of the Week," THE OUTLOOK (April 23, 1904; go to page 996, left middle)
[Review excerpts] . . . There are red herrings and side trips and everything seems to fit together very well until the final confrontation in the court room when the entire case is turned upside down.
Thus The Darrow Enigma is a bit of a mixture, though unlike the proverbial curate’s egg, on balance I would give it a nod rather than a frown since, despite the weakness mentioned, I found this novel enjoyable enough and the weapon utilised so outrageous and yet simple that points must be awarded on that alone! . . . — Mary Reed, MYSTERY*FILE (22 July 2008)
[Excerpts] . . . I thought it was howlingly funny, although inadvertently so, for a lot of reasons, not the least being its overwrought prose style (Bill Pronzini would love it) . . . Don't expect fair play; it was written before that became a vogue.  . . . Expect, too, essential information withheld from you, the reader, which would clear up part of the puzzle in the first quarter of the book. Expect to correctly guess at the murderer's identity within the first three or four chapters and become increasingly certain of it—for no good reason!—the further you get into the story.  . . . — Barry Ergang, GAD Wiki ("The Darrow Enigma")
[Full review] The story is told by a young physician who finds himself famous, having made some quite unexpected cure. Professionally he met George Maitland, who had some wonderful theories about atoms and was in love with Gwen Darrow.
The father of Gwen is stabbed during a kind of metaphysical seance in darkened rooms and the tale is given up to finding the guilty one. Chemistry and occultism are rife in the story. — LITERARY NEWS (June 1904)
By Melvin L[inwood] Severy (1863-1951).
Dodd, Mead & Co.
1905. 568 pages. $1.50
Online HERE, HERE, and HERE.
[Full review] A tissue of preposterous absurdities, and, moreover, an exceedingly badly written book. Even a story of criminal mystery and detection should have some semblance of common sense. — THE OUTLOOK (November 18, 1905; go to page 683, left bottom)
[Excerpt] . . . I found this novel difficult to get into because of the lengthy opening sequence in a Maori village describing events that set the plot in motion. It might, I venture to suggest, have worked better if shortened and presented as a prologue, but don’t skip it! The story may unfold too slowly for some readers, but patience is advised as once into the thick of the plot, it rattles along like all get out.  . . . — Mary Reed, MYSTERY*FILE (4 October 2013)
[Full review] The public never tires of good detective stories, and the welcome which was given a year or so ago to "The Darrow Enigma" will doubtless be repeated in the case of "The Mystery of June 13th," by the same author. The latter book leaves much to be desired from the literary point of view; but who reads a detective story expecting to find literature? And as a detective story this one is almost clever enough to be called brilliant.
Its scenes shift between the little-known and fascinating land of the Maori savages in Africa [sic] and the better-known but no less fascinating province of New York high finance. Here is enacted a most skilfully woven plot, centering around a puzzling murder, the solution of which perplexes everybody, outside the book and in it, excepting one man. The denouement is the last thing that might be expected.
Of course, one must not be too exacting in a book of this kind; as to the characterization of the actors in the drama—they are seldom more than obedient puppets in the author's hands; but probably a more life-like set of people would not accommodate themselves so readily to the exigencies of a tangled plot. The author's grammatical construction is far from faultless, and betrays careless proof-reading on its publisher's part. — E. D. Conover, THE BOOK NEWS MONTHLY (December 1905)
By Melvin L[inwood] Severy (1863-1951).
The Ball Publishing Co.
1912. 356 pages.

Apart from what you see above, we know nothing about this book.

Category: Detective fiction

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