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)

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