Friday, January 15, 2016

Dr. Dannart Will See You Now (or, A Forgotten Detective Who Probably Deserved It)

WHO, YOU'RE ASKING YOURSELF, is "Dr. Dannart" (first name: Richard)? As far as we know (and "we" is comprised entirely of those amazing people at FictionMags with yours truly tagging along behind), this character—a Dr. Bell-style medic who narrated his own adventures, thus combining both Holmes and Watson in himself—appeared in only four stories published in The Popular Magazine in 1915-16:

   (1) "The Hidden Clew," February 23, 1915 [below]
   (2) "The Girl from Nowhere," July 23, 1915
   (3) "The Ordeal," September 7, 1915
   (4) "The Mystery of the Wheel Chair," January 7, 1916 [below].

For the moment, thanks to those other amazing people at Comic Book Plus, we can access the first and last stories in the short-lived series:

"The Hidden Clew."
By George Woodruff Johnston (?-?).
First appearance: The Popular Magazine, February 23, 1915.
Short story (11 pages).
Online at Comic Book Plus HERE (set the page selector to 209).
"The strange case of an unhappy girl killed without intent, by a person she had never seen, and for something she had never done. A brief account of a mystery that was cleared up so far as a few people were concerned, but the real facts of the case have never been made public till now."
Jessie Dudlow, a stenographer at Bessington's, was young, "superbly beautiful," and engaged to be married—only now she's a corpse with her head crushed in by a heavy candlestick and no readily apparent clews to indicate why.

Dr. Dannart is summoned to the crime scene by his rich friend Bessington, where he can't help but observe the young lady's elegant slippers and that wad of five thousand dollars in cash (unlikely items for an average working girl to possess) among the things scattered around the room. Belatedly Dannart discovers that there may have been a witness to the murder who, he determines, is absolutely incapable of speaking and writing.

Not long afterward Spangler, one of Jessie's co-workers and her troublesome fiance, shows up and promptly gets himself arrested by acting very suspiciously. The janitor deepens police doubts when he says he last saw Spangler engaged in a heated argument with the young lady, a quarrel that may have been provoked by jealousy—Spangler's jealousy of Bessington, their employer.

But Spangler isn't alone in being jealous; two other people shared his feelings and had the motive, the means, and the opportunity to kill Jessie Dudlow, and one of them did.

Comment: Dr. Dannart isn't much of a sleuth in this one, making no meaningful deductions and finding the killer purely by chance.

* * *

"The Mystery of the Wheel Chair."
By George Woodruff Johnston (?-?).
First appearance: The Popular Magazine, January 7, 1916.
Short story (12 pages).
Online at Comic Book Plus HERE (set the page selector to 164).
"The strange circumstances surrounding the death of a political boss at a seaside town whose bathing beach is the finest and whose municipal government is unquestionably the rottenest of any place on the coast."
Some very unsavory characters are mighty anxious to make murder look like a suicide, including offering a bribe, but Dr. Dannart isn't buying it:
". . . There are no powder marks on his body, and, while we do have soundless guns nowadays, there's no such thing as a vanishing bullet—yet. If the man killed himself in the chair, where's the ball that did it? It isn't in his body, for it made a wound of exit. It isn't in the chair, and that it didn't go through the chair you can see for yourself. Your theory is an interesting one but it presupposes that the boss shot himself to death elsewhere, and then strolled along the board walk, climbed into the chair, and calmly sat down by you while you slept. You can scarcely expect us to credit that, can you?"  . . .
In contrast with the previous story, Dannart gets a little more proactive:
. . . by the time the rising sun showed well above the horizon I had reconstructed the crime, and, to all intents and purposes, had solved the mystery surrounding it.  . . .
. . . but with a notable exception:
. . . True, I was still hazy as to the motive which had prompted the murder, and was wholly ignorant of the identity of the murderer. But these questions, which by most would be regarded as of the highest importance, I knew from experi-ence to be mere matters of detail that could be cleared up without difficulty when the proper time arrived.  . . .
When the proper time does arrive, though, clearing up those little details will nearly cost Dannart his life.

Comment: At least by this last story Dr. Dannart's sleuthing skills have improved, but not nearly enough to promote him to first class detective; in other words, Dr. Thorndyke he ain't.

The NIH's National Library of Medicine did a study entitled "Physicians as detectives in detective fiction of the 20th century," the abstract of which reads:

Surprisingly few detectives are physicians in 20th-century detective fiction.

Potential books with physician-detective characters were located by pursuing all mentions of characters referred to as "Doctor" in any of several reference materials pertaining to mystery and detective fiction.

As a result of the search, 53 authors whose detective characters are physicians were found. Examination of novels by these authors revealed that early in the 20th century, physicians applied their own specialized scientific knowledge to detection. Mid-century physicians worked by intuition. In the 1990s, science returned to detective fiction in the form of standard forensic procedure, and the level of violence dramatically increased.

The relation between science and violence at the end of the 20th century may not be accidental.

- The FictionMags listing for our author is HERE; the only George Woodruff Johnston that we can find was apparently a gynecologist born in 1858 and deceased we know not when.
- Recently we highlighted another sleuth with a short career HERE.

Category: Sleuths you never heard of and with good reason

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