Thursday, March 30, 2017

"The Focus Is on How Holmes’ Character Has Been Re-written and Transitioned into the 21st Century"

"Re-imagining Sherlock Holmes As the Hero in Detective Fiction."
By Olivia-Dumitrina Nechita.
Thesis, 44 pages, 2014.
Online (HERE) (PDF).
"The major character traits which Doyle gave to his hero are not erased and not entirely deconstructed but redefined."
This week's Thesis Thursday author attempts to explain how Conan Doyle's Great 
Detective endures in the public imagination because of persistent media attempts 
to adapt the character to more contemporary surroundings. In the paper you can 
see how Doyle's basic character is conserved in modern broadcast adaptations, 
specifically the BBC's Sherlock and CBS's Elementary, while his motivations are 
being altered—sometimes subtly, sometimes radically—in order to, in essence, 
"humanize" him more.

  "It will be argued that Sherlock Holmes is still popular today not only by virtue of his deductive skills but also due to his character, interests, passions, addictions and vulnerability despite his intelligence and rational thinking."

  "I was intrigued by the fact that along the years, Holmes was continuously brought back to public attention not only by the seventh art but also adapted to the small screen. I argue that Holmes’ persistent appeal to the public lays [sic] in the fact that he is being portrayed as more humane and flawed."

I. Precursors of detective fiction:
   ". . . all these precursors do not fit the image we currently have of a detective. Pre-Holmsian detectives did not possess the centrality Doyle’s character assumes."

II. The detective formula:
    ". . .  there must be other reasons, apart from the detective formula, which can explain our fascination for the man with a deerstalker hat and a smoking pipe."
III. The new police force and the rise of the detective:
     "In its early years, the police was more interested in preserving public order and less trained in capturing criminals. After the case of Jack the Ripper, who was never brought to justice, the public’s faith in the force was undermined and policemen were not esteemed. The figure of the practical and analytical detective came as a response to the figure of the policeman."
     The role of an industrialized society in crime-associated anxieties:
     "At the end of the nineteenth century, Victorians and later Edwardians came to see the city as a menacing jungle. Holmes’ stories became a reassurance that social order can ultimately be restored."

IV. The scientific P.I.:
    "Even though Conan Doyle was not a pioneer in creating the original fictional detective, he aimed at making Holmes the first 'scientific' detective.  . . . Thus, it was important for Doyle that his detective hero should have a scientific method. Doyle considered that other fictional detectives just stumbled upon the solution since they did not give enough clues for the reader to follow their thread of reasoning. Doyle wanted to make clear through Holmes, that science was a key element in solving the crime."

    Sherlock Holmes, a post-Darwinian detective:
    "In a post-Darwinian time, science is the key to everything, even criminal behaviour. Thus, the detective ceases to be an individual and becomes the embodiment of the capacities of science. Holmes is a tool of reason, always there to protect society."
V. Adapting Sherlock Holmes:
   "Nevertheless, in order to make him a more realistic detective, those who adapted Holmes for the small screen have made alterations both in his method and his personality."

   From superhuman to antihero:
   "The classical detective is perceived as a hero whose sharp mind is able to solve any puzzle. In contrast, postmodern Sherlocks drift away from this notion of hero and their personalities resemble more that of an antihero. Some critics seem to view this practice of reshaping the detective into a non-traditional hero as an act of betrayal of the clearly defined figure of Holmes."

VI. The classical versus the contemporary:

    6.1. The personality of the genius: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Holmes

     Becoming Sherlock Holmes:
     "It is suggested that we know so little about the detective because it is unlikely such a person existed. Holmes’ education and evolution into a superhuman detective remain a mystery because his abilities had to appear plausible."
     Being Sherlock Holmes:
     "He can go from ennui to dynamism in the blink of an eye when a case is presented to him. The fact that he can put his mind to work brings him to life . . ."
    6.2. Reinventing the classical: Sherlock’s take on Sherlock

     Knowledge and skills:
     In the Sherlock TV series: "Sherlock is still a brilliant logician; however, during the series we find out that he is not as infallible as Doyle’s Holmes."
     Habits and personality:
     "Contemporary Sherlock’s talent is not appreciated by some. What is more, a great number of people consider him a freak.  . . . The Victorian Holmes was considered an eminence in his field. His intellect was valued and praised by society but nowadays 
people sometimes cannot stand a know-it-all."
    6.3. One step closer to humanity: Elementary’s Sherlock Holmes
     Elementary, my dear Joan:
     "Joan Watson is not a chronicler like her male Victorian counterpart or a best friend like BBC’s Dr. Watson. She is Sherlock’s match, a consultant detective in her own right."
     Unstable and flawed: junkie Sherlock:
     "Contrary to BBC’s Sherlock, CBS’s version of the detective is far more humane from the point of view of caring for others. Of course he enjoys solving puzzles because it takes his mind off drugs. However, he does not see crimes as games. Sherlock is very much aware of what is at stake and would do anything to prevent the suffering of others. On the one hand, Victorian Sherlock only cares about the case while Sherlock’s consulting detective needs to keep being reminded not to smile at a crime scene. In Elementary, on the other hand, Sherlock is presented as compassionate."
     "Even if re-shaped, Holmes’ main function also pervades in his contemporary counter-parts. It may not have been Doyle’s intention but Holmes assumed the role of reassuring the Victorian society that social order can be restored through the intervention of science. Their crime generated anxieties were put at ease by their view that out there may be someone like Holmes to fight against crime. Nowadays, as a society we are not so far from Victorian anxieties ourselves. The fact that Holmes is becoming so popular may be due to the fact 
that we live in a post 9/11 world and we also need to be reassured that there is someone 
out there protecting society from the menace of terrorism."
     References (2 pages)
Typos: "a computer form which"; "ads to his humanity"; "be analysed later one"; "Watson is has surpassed"; "Moriarty looses interest"; "prove [add to] him that"; "in fraganti"; "the boast opiates"; "he had build"; "even further form the"; not to mention quite a few capitalization and punctuation errors.
- Previous Thesis Thursdays: (HERE) and (HERE).
Artwork by Gahan Wilson

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

"Peggy Found Herself Looking into the Level, Humorous Eyes of the Burglar"

"The Evasions of Mr. Kerrick."
By R. E. Vernède (1875-1917).
First appearance: The Strand Magazine (U.S.), September 1906.
Reprinted in The Strand Magazine, October 1906.
Short short story (7 pages, with 4 illos).
Online at (HERE).
"She was so pretty that he managed to forget that the policeman's last thump had been his loudest, and that he was probably raising his truncheon for a still louder one."
Why Mr. Kerrick, a respectable artist by profession, on a blustery evening finds himself hiding behind a Japanese screen in an unfamiliar house; how Miss Peggy Gordon deals 
with the sticky situation of a charming burglar who refuses to tell the whole truth; how 
Mr. Armstrong, Kerrick's severest critic, gets himself hogtied in an upstairs bedroom; and how Hadderly, an old and nearly forgotten acquaintance, without the slightest presenti-
ment sets Mr. Kerrick on the road to romance—all of these apparently incoherent elements will coalesce into a coherent narrative that just might make you smile.
- R. E. Vernède, a World War I casualty, is known primarily to posterity as a poet, but as "The Evasions of Mr. Kerrick" illustrates, he could do the occasional prose piece; more about him (HERE), (HERE), and (HERE).
- Another lost latch-key was also an important plot element in a story recently featured on ONTOS (HERE).

The bottom line: "A burglar who respects his art always takes his time before taking anything else."
O. Henry

Monday, March 27, 2017

Miscellaneous Monday—Number Four

"Christie's Narrative Games."
By Robert Merrill.
Chapter 8 of Theory and Practice of Classic Detective Fiction (1997). Edited by Jerome H. Delamater and Ruth Prigozy (TOC HERE) (PDF).
Article (15 pages, plus 5 pages of introductory material).
Online (HERE) (PDF).
(SPOILER ALERT! Plot giveaways, especially whodunit, are everywhere in the essay.)
"Robert Merrill's detailed, intriguing study of Christie's 'games' and 'plots' seeks to answer the basic question commonly raised about Christie: whether her work does warrant serious critical attention."
ISN'T IT SELF-EVIDENT that for almost a century Agatha has managed to get along without any "serious critical attention" from academia or, for that matter, anybody else? Anyhow, 
our author does a very good job of examining the indispensable element of Christie's writing, her elaborate and deliciously complex plotting, that most scholars have either ignored or downplayed in favor of sociological and biographical commentary, and in so doing dispelling some common myths about her fiction. (Final SPOILER warning: You might not have read all of the books or seen the film adaptations discussed here; consult the "Works discussed" list near the end of this posting first.)

(1) Introductory:

  Part I: Theoretical Approaches to the Genre:
     "In recent years the detective genre has been the site of every form of critical inquiry and theoretical postulation. Although there may still be those who disdain the mystery novel and its heirs, specialists in modern literature, film, and popular culture have clearly found the detective story a congenial object of study. Exploring the nature of the genre, its audience, and its relationship to other literary forms has become almost as much of a cottage industry as the writing of detective fiction itself."

  Part II: Agatha Christie and British Detective Fiction:
     "For the better part of the twentieth century, Agatha Christie has been perhaps the most popular, and certainly the best-selling, mystery writer in the world. Until the past ten years, little critical attention has been paid to what exactly constitutes her appeal, the nature of her art, and the relationship between the author, her readers, and her literary heirs.
     "In the essays that follow [in the full text], contemporary critics approach Christie from a variety of perspectives and shed new light on what now we may regard as a complex relationship between the author and her world. Further, this section seeks to explore the contemporary British detective fiction that shares the 'classic' structure Christie (and her progenitors) developed. It considers too other modern writers who employ techniques and venues similar to Christie's but depart radically from her emphasis on puzzles and solutions in order to explore the insoluble mysteries of the human psyche that earlier detective fiction only faintly implied."

(2) Chapter 8: "Christie's Narrative Games" by Robert Merrill:
   "Thus, we have what seems to me the central irony about Christie's reputation: Everyone knows that her distinction lies in her clever plots, but no one bothers to say much about them. To explain a Christie plot is apparently equivalent to explaining a joke—not so hard 
to do, perhaps, but somewhat in poor taste."

   ~ Representative Plots:
     "Critics as diverse as Dennis Porter, George Grella, and Dorothy Sayers agree that 'the Least Likely Person ploy,' as Maida and Spornick call it (Maida and Spornick 40), is the standard device in classic detective fiction (Porter 137; Grella 86; Sayers 82).
     "Indeed, Sayers refers to this ploy as already old hat in 1928, at least in the form in which the guilty party is simply ignored until the conclusion (Sayers 106). Christie herself has her fictional counterpart, Ariadne Oliver, exclaim, 'It's always the least likely person who did it' (Cards on the Table 145), and Christie's critics have tended to see her use of this tactic as 'notorious' (Bargainnier 123) and as nothing less than her 'trademark' (Maida and Spornick 40). In truth, however, Christie almost never employs this device . . . and the occasional novel in which Christie does settle for the marginal outsider whose motivation is obscure is the exception that proves the rule."

   ~ Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple:
     "A complete analysis of Christie's narrative games would proceed to place all her detective novels along the spectrum I have posited. I would like to pursue a more realistic goal, that of summarizing two broad narrative patterns typical of the thirty-three Poirot novels and the twelve Miss Marple novels, respectively. The games played in the two series are as different as the two detectives themselves, and even a brief review should point up the attractive diversity of Christie's narratives."
   ~ Christie As a Writer:
     "As someone who both chooses to play and enjoys Christie's game(s), I think it is useful to understand why we are taken with fictions like Christie's. Christie's claims on us are not those of a major novelist, but this does not alter the fact that she did what she did as well as anyone has ever done."

   References (2 pages)
Works discussed:
  Among the Christie books and film adaptations that Robert Merrill comments on in detail are:

   ~ Death on the Nile (book, 1937; films, 1978 and 2004) and Evil Under the Sun (book, 1941; films, 1982 and 2001):
     ". . . the two films share a plot structure extremely popular with television productions such as Murder, She Wrote, innumerable detective novelists throughout the century, and 
the Christie of such books as Evil Under the Sun. In this structure nearly every character introduced is a plausible suspect with an equally reasonable motive and opportunity to commit the crime."
   ~ Ten Little Indians (And Then There Were None) (book, 1939; films, 1945, 1965, and 2015):
     "Christie's victory, if I may call it that, comes in forcing us to entertain unlikely solutions we cannot dismiss even though we cannot believe in them. After all, we know by the rules of the game that someone must be guilty. Near the end of this novel, however, all ten suspects seem to be exonerated by nothing less than death itself."
   ~ Cards on the Table (book, 1936; film, 2005):
     "Only once, in Cards on the Table, does Christie play a version of her game in which all the suspects are equally plausible. . . .  all suspects get virtually equal treatment in what Christie notes in her introduction is a narrative experiment. Surely, it is no accident that the book has only four suspects (the lowest number in any Christie novel), for perfectly equal treatment for a dozen suspects would give Christie's novels an absolute symmetry and totally artificial character only someone like Poirot could appreciate."
   ~ The Hollow (story, 1946; film, 2004):
     "The Hollow and Ten Little Indians also illustrate Christie's use of techniques we usually identify with serious fiction. In each case, Christie again devises a detective plot in which she is required to do interesting things with character or (in Ten Little Indians) the image of human nature projected by the novel as a whole. As I remarked earlier, The Hollow is one of Christie's most interesting books from a psychological point of view, including as it does a number of character studies far more extensive and compelling than we usually find in classic detective fiction."
- Here's the publisher's summary of Theory and Practice of Classic Detective Fiction (1997):

   "Combining theoretical and practical approaches, this collection of essays explores classic detective fiction from a variety of contemporary viewpoints. Among the diverse perspectives are those which interrogate the way the genre reflects important social and cultural attitudes, contributes to a reader's ability to adapt to the challenges of daily life, and provides alterna-tive takes on the role of the detective as an investigator and arbiter of 'truth'.
   "Part 1 looks at the nature of and the audience for detective fiction, as well as the genre as a literary form. This section includes an inquiry into the role of the detective; an application of object-relations psychology to the genre; and analyses of recent literary criticism positing that traditional detective fiction contained the seeds of its own subversion.
   "Part 2 applies a variety of theoretical positions to Agatha Christie and her heirs in the British ratiocinative tradition. A concluding essay positions the genre within the middle-class traditions of the novel since its inception in the 18th century."

- Previous Miscellaneous Mondays: Number One (HERE), Number Two (HERE), and Number Three (HERE).

Saturday, March 25, 2017

"I Have Never Before Caught a Burglar, and the Experience, I Find, Has Taken It Out of Me a Little"

"Chance, the Juggler."
By William Caine (1873-1923).
First appearance: The Century Magazine, January 1918.
Short story (10 pages).
Online at (HERE).
(Note: Faded text; hit the "Zoom In" button several times.)
"His hands rose, with grotesque effect, above the door of the safe."
What are the odds? In doing the artwork for a poster advertising a new safe manufactured by the Maddison Domestic Thesaurus Corporation, Señor Mendoza, a commercial artist, acci-dentally depicts as the would-be safecracker a real man he has never seen, an individual renowned for his charity and upright character, a pillar of the community who isn't above suing the pants off anybody and everybody for this outrageous libel. Alarmed, Mendoza contacts his solicitor Wetherby and they both take it to Mr. Abbott, the head of the corpora-tion, who, however, sees the controversy as an opportunity for tons of free publicity:

   "Mr. Abbott was enchanted. Had the injunction been refused, he must have cut his throat. Instead, he got, in the company of two of his junior counsel, his own solicitor, Wetherby, and Mendoza slightly drunk."

And so it is that Señor Mendoza, upon returning home at "ten minutes to four of a dark, foggy morning" and discovering that he has forgotten his latch-key, must break and enter his own house, only to encounter a situation that will cause his eyes to grow large and force from his astonished lips an exclamation: "Caramba! Car-r-ramba!"
- What little information that we could find about William Caine comes from entries on the SFE (HERE) and the ISFDb (HERE).

The bottom line:
   For neither Man nor Angel can discern
   Hypocrisy, the only evil that walks
   Invisible, except to God alone,
   By his permissive will, through Heaven and Earth.
   — Milton

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

"Locomotives Were Urgent Creatures of the Night, Racing Along Full of Fire and Smoke and Noise"

"Mystery Trains: Crime Writers and the Railway."
By Ian Bell (born circa 1956).
First appearance: The Strand, Number 5 (2000).
Article (5 pages).
Reprinted at The Strand Online (HERE).
"In many ways, trains were magical devices. They emphasised speed and eliminated distance. They brought people together, but they also pulled them apart."
Ian Bell, our author, asks and then answers a very pertinent question about the romantic image which train travel has acquired over the years:

   "Of course we must remember that we are dealing here not with reality, but with representation. Despite the poetic and evocative depictions of opulence and travelling 
in style, most train journeys even then were in fact just long, expensive, and not very comfortable. (And this remains true in the U.K. today, alas.) So where did all those 
more glamorous images of rail travel, so firmly embedded in the common imagination, originate from? Why, from the cinema and the popular press—including crime fiction, Watson. Where else are such powerful fantasies established and disseminated?"

The answer can largely be attributed to those writers, Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie in particular, who used railways as not just convenient conveyances but also presented them in "a more sinister and threatening version": "Instead of being associated with the successful transportation of the detectives, the trains here are the source of the mystery itself."
Works the author references:
  Doyle: "The Boscombe Valley Mystery" and "The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans." "For Doyle, imagining a less complex Victorian world, the trains are a way of regularising energy and of making power predictable. Whether they are a force for good or evil depends on whether you stress their predictability or their potential subversiveness."
  Crofts: The Cask. — "Trains figure prominently throughout his work, although in a remark-ably unromantic and prosaic way."
  Christie: The Mystery of the Blue Train, Murder on the Orient Express, The ABC Murders, and 4.50 from Paddington (What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw). — ". . . we can see that the railway is much more imaginatively and romantically exploited by the Queen of Crime, Agatha Christie."

- We decided to see which ONTOS posts have a relationship, however tenuous, with crime and railways, and were surprised at how many there are. Here, as up-to-date as we can make it, is our . . .

   Oct. 23: "Few readers are likely to share the gaping mystification with which the other people in the story follow his unerring steps towards prevention and detection, or to be as profoundly impressed as is the author by those seizures of sphinx-like immobility in which Sprague did his best thinking." - (HERE).
   Nov. 8: "The murder mentioned in the title has all the trappings of a classic locked room mystery, but is investigated, and solved, in a manner that owes more to the hard-boiled school of detection than the cerebral style that one usually associates with the locked room dilemma." - (HERE) (Note: Offsite link DEAD).


   June 13: "Fen is very much the armchair detective in these stories, solving cases purely with his intellect and scarcely exerting himself: no fistfights, gunplay, or car chases for him (quite different from the Fen of, say, The Moving Toyshop)." - (HERE; first story only).

   Aug. 21: "Did he throw a raw egg at you?" - (HERE).

   Jan. 6: "It's only when the train has stopped that Step discovers he's been riding with a dead man." - (HERE).
   March 19: "The train has vanished, and the people on it. But the System is closed. Trains are conserved. It's somewhere on the System!" - (HERE).

   May 6: "It's simply because there is a mystery connected with my hobby—railways. That's what makes me a little extra sharp" - (HERE).
   May 10: "All he has to do is turn off eight illumination lamps after the last train has run; simple, yes, but simple doesn't always mean easy." - (HERE).
   June 2: "You will understand that I am going to work upon the theory that the boy has been kidnapped and that the original intention has been carried out, in spite of the accident of your presence in the train." - (HERE).

   June 12: "An ordinary train car becomes, for one of the passengers, a scene of horror and, for Scotland Yard, the site of an apparently unmotivated murder committed by a killer who has managed to disappear, leaving not a trace." - (HERE).

   July 28: "A challenge story in which readers were asked to supply five words that would cause the prosecution in a train-robbery trial to lose its case." - (HERE).

   Nov. 12: ". . . one of the most inexplicable crimes of the century—an incident which is, I believe, absolutely unprecedented in the criminal annals of any country." - (HERE).

   Nov. 16: "For another indivisible second of time Ughtred Carnegie's soul was the theatre of a terrible and appalling struggle. What on earth was he to do?" - (HERE).

   Dec. 26: "For Stanley, the Pullman conductor on the west-bound Mississippi Limited, tonight is going to be far from ordinary . . ." - (HERE).
   Feb. 17: "What Happened on the Night That Denver Joe Made a Haul in No. 47, the Hoodoo." - (HERE).

   Feb. 27: "Sherlock Holmes, Eugene Vidocq, or Arsene Lupin Couldn't Have Kept Track of Them." - (HERE).

  We'll try to update it now and then.

"Rows of Seductive Disks"

"A Million Dollars."
By B. M. Adler (?-?).
First appearance: The Railroad Man’s Magazine, October 1910.
Short short story (8 pages).
Online at (HERE).
(Note: Text is very faded; clicking on the "Zoom In" function 3 or 4 times should make it easier to read.)
"What This Great Sum Really Earned When It Was Placed on Public Exhibition."
Down on his luck and with a severely depleted bank account, Samuel Doniford is determined to make a comeback in the business world; he'd like to get a position with Joseph Carwell, an old college chum, but he won't take charity. Doniford evolves a scheme whereby he can earn enough to secure a place at the brokerage firm of Biddle, Carwell & Johns, a plan involving Carwell and a substantial sum. They say it takes money to make money; in Doniford's case, to earn the thirty thousand dollars he needs will take a cool million . . .
Comment: This story feels incomplete. It's a shame the author's imagination failed him (or her) when he tacked on an irrelevant subplot at the end instead of finishing out the main story line. Otherwise his prose is just fine, as shown by this nifty piece of descriptive writing:

   "A savage and shrieking gust seemed to blow into the lobby a weazened figure that weakly tried to resist the rude play of the wind. Then the blast died as suddenly as it had come, leaving its shivering plaything stranded in the expanse of onyx and marble.
   "He was very old, and a much-shrunken man, with a short, thick, snow-white beard. What little flesh was left on his deeply lined face was livid, scarlet, and purple with cold. His eyes, that had retreated far back in their sockets, were of an intense blue, but watery and uncertain. A suit of shabby black, shoes cracked and holed, but much polished where there was any leather to polish, a frayed but clean collar, the remnants of a white tie, a single glove, and no overcoat, constituted the attire of the forlorn creature."

- Honest, folks, we couldn't find anything about B. M. Adler, with FictionMags listing "A Million Dollars" as his (or her) sole credit.
- Our author's thinking may have been influenced by the recent Panic of 1907; see Wikipedia (HERE).
- In 1910 America was adhering to the gold standard (Wikipedia: HERE), but in 1971 President Nixon and a compliant Congress abandoned it.
- Even though this story appeared in a railroading magazine, trains aren't even mentioned. If you're a ferroequinologist, or just have tendencies toward it, you needn't worry. We're by no means finished with how crime and railroads intersect; in the future look for more, such as, e.g., the next post just above this one.

The bottom line: ". . . for gold conjures up a mist about a man, more destructive of all his old senses and lulling to his feelings than the fumes of charcoal . . ."

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Top 5 in February

A collection of true crime accounts tops this past February's most viewed list, with one piece of crime fiction and three science fiction stories following close on its heels. We've also included the top ONTOS posts in the month of February for the three years prior.

~ February 2017 ~ 
(1) "Of All the Perfect Crimes Ever Planned This One, Discussed Within Full Hearing of the Police, Was the Strangest" -  (HERE)
(2) "Sometimes It Makes Me Sore That I Did It, Gave Them the Twist" -  (HERE)
(3) "Nothing Is So Innocent As a Piece of White Paper" -  (HERE)
(4) "I Believe in Scientific Methods in Crime Detection, Of Course, but I Do Not Believe They Have Yet Reached the Stage Where They Can Begin to Supplant the Tried and Tested Methods of Scotland Yard" -  (HERE)
(5) "Extra-Sensory Detection" -  (HERE)

~ February 2014 ~
(1) "A Book Remarkable for Completeness, Accuracy, and Infallible Soundness of Judgment" - (HERE)
(2) "It Is a Better Novel Than THE MURDER OF ROGER ACKROYD" - (HERE)
(3) "A Chastened and Far More Palatable Character" - (HERE)
(4) Not Quite So Idiosyncratic - (HERE)
(5) A Defense of the "Puzzle Novel" - (HERE)

~ February 2015 ~
(1) "Life Can Never Be Staid or Humdrum In a Community Where a Detective May Turn Out to Be a Murderer Or a Corpse Or, Stranger Still, a Detective" - (HERE)
(2) "S. S. Van Dine Was Born of a Nervous Breakdown" - (HERE)
(3) "A Few of the Recent Changes in the Police Novel, Which Do Roughly Correspond to Changes in the Social History of Our Time" - (HERE)
(4) "Never in the Long History of Fiction Has There Been a Figure Comparable to Sherlock Holmes" - (HERE)
(5) "He Was Solely an Expression of the Analytical Capacity of the Intellect—A Ratiocinative Device" - (HERE)

~ February 2016 ~
(1) Before There Was Raffles There Was Simon Carne - (HERE)
(2) Four Dr. Feather Mysteries - (HERE)
(3) The Tie That Binds - (HERE)
(4) "The Trunk Had a Nice Corpse in It" - (HERE)
(5) "Herbert Felt Completely Safe" - (HERE)

Monday, March 20, 2017

"In Christie’s Novels Food Is Frequently Viewed or Directly Used As a Threat"

"The Flavour of Murder: Food and Crime in the Novels of Agatha Christie."
By Silvia Baučeková.
First appearance: Prague Journal of English Studies, 2014.
Expanded to book length as Dining Room Detectives: Analysing Food in the Novels of Agatha Christie (2015) (for sale HERE).
Article (12 pages).
Online (HERE) (PDF).
"Through the motif of poisoning Christie was once again able to make use of the technique of distancing and turning the homely and familiar into the uncanny and dangerous."
Freud tried to weld sex and death into two sides of the same coin, as a unified psychological condition that, if you let yourself think too much about it, takes all the fun out of dating. Over the course of her writing career, as you'll see momentarily, Agatha Christie spent a great deal of it poisoning her characters with everyday foods, thereby unifying in our mind afternoon tea on the veranda with the morgue downtown and inadvertently taking all the fun out of scones.

As a follow-up to the previous post, here's an article that focuses narrowly on Agatha Christie's use of food as a plot driver, as a device to foreshadow coming events, and as a means of gauging character—but (SPOILER WARNING!) you'd better know your Christie, because the author doesn't hesitate to reveal whodunit.


   "Food and drink are basic, ordinary, commonplace, and as such they might easily be taken for granted. This paper attempted to demonstrate the paradoxical nature of food and its symbolic potential within the framework of the classic detective novel. Food and detective fiction share a number of characteristics: they both rely to a great extent on ritualization, both are produced following a formula, and both are based on the inevitable interconnection of life and death. Moreover, food can become an especially useful tool in constructing classic detective stories, as are those by Agatha Christie, since they are frequently centred on a 'cosy mystery', i.e., a murder in an ordinary, domestic environment of which food is an indispensable part."

   ". . . as Alexander Walker observes, in addition to functioning as a literary device, food as a symbol can also gain a more sinister undertone in crime stories. Food, crime authors remind the reader, can be dangerous: it can conceal the criminal, distract the victim, or it can even be transformed into a murder weapon."

   "Christie, although on one hand exploiting the traditional cultural symbolism of food as representing safety, peace, and the home also made use of this more problematic aspect of eating. Firstly, she depicted the dining ritual as something governed by strict laws that cannot be bent in the slightest, otherwise disaster ensues. The broken food ritual can be a bad omen. When a member of the dinner party is late or does not show up, it often signals that she/he is in grave danger (By the Pricking of My Thumbs 189) or has already been murdered (Endless Night 216)."

   "Christie often made her criminals hedonists who enjoy life and always welcome the opportunity to eat well . . ., using the traditional notions of food and eating as safe, and of the personality of the well-fed jolly gourmand as inherently good to mask the criminal and misdirect the reader’s suspicion. Thus a criminal’s connection to food can enable her/him to commit the crime unsuspected. Such deflecting of suspicion is so successful that 'it seems that the victim often gratefully received the fatal dose in some delicious little dish served up by an attentive murderer' (Jakeman)."
- Here's the Books-a-Million overview of Silvia Baučeková's book:

   "In the structuralist understanding as proposed by John G. Cawelti, a classical detective novel is defined as a formula which contains prescribed elements and develops in a predefined, ritualistic manner. When described in this way, the crime fiction formula very closely resembles a recipe: when one cooks, they also add prescribed ingredients in a predefined way in order to produce the final dish. This surprising parallel serves as the starting point for this book's analysis of classical detective novels by Agatha Christie. Here, 
a structuralist approach to Golden Age crime fiction is complemented by methodology developed in the field of food studies in order to demonstrate the twofold role that food plays in Christie's novels: namely, its function as an element of the formula – a literary device – but also as a cultural sign. Christie employed food on various different levels of her stories in order to portray characters, construct plots, and depict settings. What is more, incorporating domesticity and food in her novels helped her fundamentally alter the rigid conventions of the crime fiction genre as it developed in the nineteenth century, and enabled her to success-fully introduce the character of the female detective and to feminise the detective novel as such." — (HERE)

- The book's first 42 pages, including the Introduction, are online at the Google Books preview (HERE) and also (HERE).
- If you're REALLY interested in pursuing this subject and find Victorian Gothic fiction 
more to your taste, there's a book-length thesis (which, due to time limitations, we won't 
be covering):

  "The Subtle Art: Poison in Victorian Literature."
   By Cheryl Blake Price.
   Thesis, 187 pages (163 as text), 2012.
   Online (HERE) (PDF).

    Works Cited (17 pages)
    Biographical Sketch

  Other publications by this author are (HERE) and (HERE).

Miscellaneous Monday—Number Three

SINCE EATING IS such an everyday occurrence, readers of crime fiction seldom realize how important food is to the story—not just as the cause of death, but much, much more, as our antipodean authors demonstrate:

"Murder They Cooked: The Role of Food in Crime Fiction."
By Richard Franks, Donna Lee Brien, and Marta Usiekniewicz.
Article, 11 pages, 2013.
Online (HERE) (PDF).
"This paper examines poison’s complex and symbiotic relationship with the culinary, and some of the different ways poisons – and especially poisoned foods – have been utilised by crime fiction writers."

  Classic poisons for crime writers
  Poison and the Golden Age
  Murder, She Wrote
  Food and beverage (and poison) in Murder, She Wrote
  References (2 pages)
  Contributor details and suggested citation

A few excerpts:

   "Poison is a popular choice as a weapon within crime fiction, yet murdering someone by inducing alcoholic or food poisoning is, however, rarely utilised by crime writers. Orches-trating deaths based upon the application of bacteria or alcohol are, unlike other drug over-doses, difficult to execute and such narratives may test the patience of an experienced crime fiction reader. The adding of well-known poisons to food by crime writers is much more common and, traditionally, much more effective."

   "Poison requires both premeditation and access to a poisonous substance, thus the poison of choice changes with developments in technology."
   ". . . [food] helps to establish time of death and provides clues to the crime; while scenes involving cookery or the consumption of meals can add to the suspense of a story, facilitate characters meeting each other or provide the setting for a major plot point. Indeed, crime fiction is a genre with a long history of focusing on food; from the theft of food in the novels of the nineteenth century to the utilisation of many different types of food to administer poison – this trend was firmly established during the genre’s Golden Age (the period that coincided with the years between World Wars I and II) when many writers turned to poison 
to produce foul play."

   "Moreover, poison can also offer a puzzle within a puzzle – expanding upon the traditional idea of ‘whodunit?’ by also asking 'what was it dun with?' Due to these reasons, poison has maintained its strong position within the crime fiction genre – as evidenced in the many poisonings that occurred in the more modern Murder, She Wrote television episodes and accompanying books."
Typos: "food (poisoned or nor)"; "the strong stomach needed [add to] shoot or to stab"

- Here, in no particular order, is a by-no-means complete list of online articles relating to "Murder, They Cooked":

~ Crime fiction and food in general:
    (1) "So if you’re writing a crime novel, and are looking for a different slant, forget about stabbing and shooting, and ask yourself, ‘What’s your poison?’" - (HERE).
    (2) "Anyone today thinking of using Christie as inspiration when plotting a murder, however, should know that they will find it considerably more difficult to obtain poisons." - (HERE).
    (3) "But none of these writers, I think, did more justice to that most famous of homicidal poisons, arsenic, than did Sayers in Strong Poison. The title comes from the lyrics of a 17th century ballad, 'The Poisoned Man': 'O that was strong poison, my handsome young man/O yes, I am poisoned mother; make my bed soon/For I’m sick to the heart, and I fain wad lie down.' But the chemistry is absolutely up-to-date for 1930, the year the book was published." - (HERE).
    (4) "'I began considering what kind of a detective story I could write,' she said. 'Since I was surrounded by poison, perhaps it was natural that death by poisoning should be the method I selected.'" - (HERE).
    (5) "In early-nineteenth-century England, a good way to get rid of your husband was arsenic." - (HERE).
    (6) ". . . poison arguably has a much greater influence on the plot of the story. For instance when someone is stabbed to death or shot, there is not much doubt that it wasn’t natural death. Of course shooting can be made to look like suicides, but I think with poisons, the subsequent detective investigation has to grapple with a number of questions. Was poison used? And if so which one? And then how and when was the poison used? Only then can be the question of who administered the poison be answered." - (HERE).
    (7) "Often the most benign substances can turn deadly in the hands of a knowledgeable poisoner who is acquainted with simple biochemistry or botany or the horrors of anaphylactic shock." - (HERE).
    (8) "Like all crime authors, I’m writing mysteries whose plots lead to whodunit. But in company with many other writers, I see no reason not to offer a few delicious delicacies along the way. In my book, good food and a good mystery will always be a winning combination." - (HERE).
    (9) "But I always end up admitting that – and, yes, this will make me sound a little twisted – I’ve been thinking about poison murders since I was in high school." - (HERE).
    (10) "And you have to admit that it’s a wonderfully geeky solution to a murder mystery." - (HERE).
    (11) "An education in pharmacy not only helped British crime novelist Agatha Christie attend to patients during the First World War, but also aided her creative pursuits in literature." - (HERE).

~ Crime fiction, food, and Murder, She Wrote in particular:
    (12) "The series aired for 12 seasons with 264 episodes from 1984 to 1996 on the CBS network. It was followed by four TV films and an unsuccessful spin-off series, which was produced in 1987, The Law & Harry McGraw. It is one of the most successful and longest-running television shows in history, averaging close to 26 million viewers per week in its prime, and was a staple of the CBS Sunday night lineup for a decade." - (HERE) and (HERE).
    (13) "Professional writer and amateur sleuth Jessica Fletcher uses her intellect, charm, and persistence to get to the bottom of every crime she encounters." - (HERE).
    (14) "For me Jessica represented all that was good about middle America and its traditional values. She was very much a part of Cabot Cove where she and Frank had laid down roots, where they had friends, where she had a sense of community. To throw this 
over to become a 'big city' woman [by moving to New York City] violated everything I believed about her. But that's the writer talking, not the network. Obviously the move 
didn't hurt the show's ratings and in television, ratings are all that really matter. Or so 
they tell me." - (HERE).

The bottom line: "I'm at the age where food has taken the place of sex in my life. In fact, 
I've just had a mirror put over my kitchen table."
— Rodney Dangerfield

Saturday, March 18, 2017

"I Don't Know How It Was Done, I'm Not a Detective—But It Was Done Somehow"

TO HIS CREDIT, we think, Brander Matthews was one of those academic types who didn't share the insensate disdain for detective fiction that his fellow colleagues seemed to revel 
in; his professional career spanned the eras from the late Victorian period to the Roaring Twenties, and on at least one occasion (there may have been others) he tried his hand at 
a detective story:

"The Twinkling of an Eye."
By Professor Brander Matthews (1852-1929).
First appearance: Chapman's Magazine, September 1895.
Reprinted in The Long Arm, and Other Detective Stories (1895).
Novelette (28 pages).
Online at Hathi Trust (HERE) and (HERE).
Note the title on the spine.
"In the realm of the blind the one-eyed man is king."
Someone at Whittier, Wheatcroft & Co., an iron and steel works, is leaking inside information to the company's competitors and, in consequence, threatening to push it into bankruptcy. Young Paul Whittier, son of the company's senior partner, is determined to see that doesn't happen, which means, like it or not, he'll have to do some amateur sleuthing if he hopes to ferret out the mole:

   "He had come and gone and left no trail. But he must have visited the office at least three times in the past few weeks, since the firm had lost three important contracts. Probably he had been there oftener than three times. Certainly he would come again. Sooner or later he would come once too often. All that needed to be done was to set a trap for him."

After some thinking, Paul decides the best way to catch this rat is to bait the trap with something people tend to overlook, something commonplace, something horological . . .
"An old eight-day clock it was . . ."
- Concerning short fiction, Brander Matthews wrote in the "Appendix" (HERE) to The Short-Story (1907):

  "THE SHORT-STORY differs essentially from all the longer forms of fiction because its brevity forces the writer to confine himself to a single one of the three elements which the author of a novel may combine at his pleasure. These three elements are the plot, the characters, and the setting. The novelist may pay equal attention to what happens, to the persons to whom these things happen, and to the places where they happen. But the limitations of space forbid this variety to the short-story writer; he has to make his choice among the three. If he centers his efforts on his plot, he has no time to elaborate either character or background; this is what Poe has done in the 'Murders in the Rue Morgue.' If he focuses the interest on a character, his plotting must be summary, and his setting can only be sketched in; this is what George W. Cable has preferred to do in 'Posson Jone.' If he concentrates the reader’s attention on the environment, on the place where the event happens, on the atmosphere, so to speak, he must use character and incident only to intensify the impression of the place and the time; this is what we find in Hamlin Garland’s 'Return of the Private.' When once the writer has decided which of the three elements he intends to employ, he must abide by his decision."

- A commemorative article about Brander Matthews by Clayton Hamilton is online at UNZ (HERE; scroll down to page 82). More about Matthews is at (HERE).
- Matthews's article, "Poe and the Detective Story" (1907) (online HERE and HERE), is still being cited today; also see (HERE) and (HERE).
- There seems to have been a fad in the last century for authors to stuff a story with as much eye dialect (Wikipedia: HERE) as they could get away with, and our author was no exception.
- This story involves industrial espionage, a nefarious practice that can be dated as far back as 1712; see Wikipedia (HERE) and (HERE) for more.
- About The Long Arm, and Other Detective Stories (1895), LeRoy Lad Panek writes: "This is the book that Ellery Queen identified as the first anthology of detective stories." — Google Books (HERE)