Saturday, January 30, 2016

"Surely There Is No Blackmail in a Straightforward Business Proposition of This Character"

"Mr. Clackworthy Goes to Jail."
By Christopher B. Booth (1889-1950).
First appearance: Detective Story Magazine, August 27, 1921.
Short story (10 pages).
Online at Comic Book Plus HERE (set page selector to 26).
The old saying about needing a thief to catch a thief still applies when Mr. Amos Clack-worthy, a "master confidence man," and his cohort in crime known as The Early Bird set about catching a worm from The Bird's past, a swindler who once called himself Chicago Charlie, but who under another alias is now quite well situated in a small Midwestern town which he all but owns outright thanks to his dubious talent at corrupting people, especially public officials.

But bringing down this fatcat will prove far more difficult than Clackworthy anticipates when he and The Early Bird wind up in a place where, in all his years as a master conman, Clack-worthy has never been: jail.

Comment: Mr. Clackworthy and his sidekick are very much in the Raffles gentleman thief/rogue tradition; you can read a fine summary of this subgenre of detective fiction by Mike Grost HERE:
The Rogue school, such writers as Guy N. Boothby, Max Pemberton, Maurice Leblanc, and E. W. Hornung, wrote tales about clever thieves and swindlers, that were at one time immensely popular with Late Victorian readers. The stories were comic and cheery in tone, and treated the crook protagonist as a hero. This thief only stole from the very rich, and never committed murder, rarely used violence, and never did anything to harm anyone except the very wealthy. He often outwitted policemen who were trying to catch him. Many of their works involve impersonation, one of the key elements of the Rogue writers. The rogue would often impersonate well to do members of the upper classes. Oftentimes the crook is dressed as a very rich man.
Many of these rogue stories are not really mysteries. That is, there are no mysterious events to be solved. Basically, they are adventure stories, often with elements of suspense and comedy. There are often surprise twists in the plots of all these writers, and a great deal of emphasis on the protagonists ingenious-ly outwitting their opponents through clever plot schemes. Although there are often plot surprises, there is not typically much emphasis on puzzle plots in any of these authors.  . . . — "Rogue Fiction," A Guide to Classic Mystery and Detection
. . . which describes this particular story very well.
- According to FictionMags (HERE), Christopher B. Booth produced (if our count is right) no fewer than 63 stories featuring Mr. Clackworthy, with this one being the 25th in the series; a fuller bibliography of Booth's short fiction is HERE.
- Eight more Mr. Clackworthy stories are now available as a Kindle Megapack (see HERE), with an introduction by Mystery*File's very own Steve Lewis.

The bottom line: "Every decent con man knows that the simplest truth is more powerful than even the most elaborate lie."
Ally Carter

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