Monday, February 13, 2017

"What Would Sherlock Holmes Do?"

"Peters, Detective."
By Eden Phillpotts (1862-1960).
First appearance: The Windsor Magazine, June 1907.
Reprinted in Smith’s Magazine, September 1907; Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, April 1954; and Ellery Queen’s Anthology #18, 1970.
Collected in The Human Boy Again (1908, pages 3-30).
Online at Google Books (HERE) and Project Gutenberg (HERE).
"He could hardly speak for excitement, and forgot to put his hands like Holmes, or to try and arrange a 'far-away' look on his face, or anything."
Vincent Peters, the new kid at Merivale Public School, doesn't share the usual ambitions of the other boys:

   "What are you going to be?" Gideon asked; and then came out the startling fact that Peters hoped to be a detective of crime.
   "If you go detecting anything here you'll get your head punched," said Shortland.
   "I may or I may not," answered Peters. "But it's rather useful sometimes to have a chap in a school who has made a study of detecting things."

For Peters, Sherlock Holmes is nonpareil:

   "He is founded on fact—in fact, founded on thousands of solemn facts," said Peters. "The things he does are all founded on real crimes, and if anybody is going to be a detective, he can't do better than try to be like Sherlock Holmes in every possible way."

And that's exactly what Peters does, model himself on Holmes, which in itself is a harmless enough exercise ("A few small detections he made with great ease"), but then suddenly two mysteries crop up.

Young Peters, this would-be Sherlock, gets involved in what could be called The Great Guinea-Pig Case and The Mystery of the Missing Pencil-Sharpener, even though he's 
running the risk of getting himself expelled from school:

   . . . the two great mysteries were cleared up simultaneously, which Peters says is 
a common thing. You couldn't say that one cleared up the other, but still, it did so 
happen that both came out in the same minute.
- While Eden Phillpotts did produce crime fiction, he was better known in his day for his mainstream work (HERE) and science fiction-fantasy (SFF) output (HERE); in fact, the only association he had with Alfred Hitchcock didn't involve his suspense writing but one of his mainstream romances (HERE). Indeed, among knowledgeable detective fiction fans, our author is recognized for being friends with someone else:
"I suspect most mystery fans know Phillpotts, if they know him, for his having encouraged a young Torquay neighbor, Agatha Christie, with her writing career. When a hugely successful writer herself, Agatha Christie retained fondness for the older author who had given her youthful writing promising words of praise. When Phillpotts died in 1960, at the advanced age of 98, Christie penned an affectionate obituary of him . . ." — Curt Evans, "Rather a Shocker," The Passing Tramp (October 25, 2014) (HERE).

The bottom line: "If I simply said he was a detective, and let it go at that, I should be obtaining the reader's interest under false pretences. He was really only a sort of 
detective, a species of sleuth. At Stafford's International Investigation Bureau, in the 
Strand, where he was employed, they did not require him to solve mysteries which 
had baffled the police. He had never measured a footprint in his life, and what he 
did not know about bloodstains would have filled a library."
"Bill the Bloodhound"

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