Thursday, April 27, 2017

"If You Wasn't a Policeman I'd Arf Murder You"

"The Constable's Move."
By W. W. Jacobs (1863-1943).
First appearance: The Strand Magazine, October 1905.
Reprinted in Cosmopolitan, November 1905.
Collected in Captains All (1909).
Short short story (7 pages, with 5 illos).
Online at (HERE), Project Gutenberg (HERE3 illos), and American Literature (HERE; no illos).
"It's a disgrace to Mulberry Gardens to 'ave a copper come and live in it," said the indignant Grummit; "and to come and live next to me!—that's what I can't get over."
They say you can choose your friends but you can't pick your relatives. For Mr. Bob Grummit, something even worse than that has happened: P. C. Evans, a police constable, has moved in next door—a disaster of the first magnitude. Not that Bob Grummit is a criminal—he isn't (although he has had run-ins with the law in the past); he just doesn't like policemen, that's all. Hostilities escalate as Grummit schemes against his neighbor, but being provocative by vandalizing Evans's yard and turning to wife-beating proves to be of no avail; the final straw, when it snaps, will involve flowers—and an ironic outcome for both of them . . .
- Our author's lasting fame is secure thanks to what is probably the most anthologized 
short story ever written, "The Monkey's Paw" (1902); information about W. W. Jacobs 
is at Wikipedia (HERE), E-notes (HERE), and the ISFDb (HERE).
- "The Constable's Move" was filmed in 1923 (HERE), with obvious major plot alterations; quite a few of Jacobs's stories have been filmed for movies and TV (HERE).

The bottom line: "The Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and also to love our enemies; probably because generally they are the same people."

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

"I'd Rather Be Dead Than Insane"

"The Secret."
(a.k.a. "Unfinished Business").
By Steve Allen (1921-2000).
First appearance: Collier's, September 28, 1956.
Reprinted in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine (EQMM), May 1964.
Short short short story (1 page).
Online at UNZ (HERE).
"He couldn't tell anyone what had happened: they wouldn't believe it."
When you're dead, you're dead . . . right?

- For those of you of a certain age, our author is THE Steve Allen, the entertainer (HERE) whose multifarious career encompassed radio, movies, TV, songwriting, books (including 
a ghost-written mystery series), and magazine articles (HERE).

The bottom line: "Nothing is better than the unintended humor of reality."
— Steve Allen

Monday, April 24, 2017

Miscellaneous Monday—Number Eight

"Crime Fiction and Film Noir."
By William Marling (born 1951).
Final version published as Chapter 9 of A Companion to Film Noir (2013).
Article (22 pages, 62 notes).
Online (HERE) (PDF).
"Noir is by now so thoroughly ingrained in public consciousness that its possible reuses are far from exhausted."
ORDINARILY IT'S BEST to define terms before beginning a discussion, but with the term "noir" there doesn't seem to be any universally-applicable objective denotation (or at least one that everybody is willing to agree upon), although the term does seem to arouse plenty of subjective connotations (and some heat, as well). To get an idea of what we mean, go to "What Is Noir?" on Mystery*File (HERE), especially the "Comments" section; these other entries could also prove helpful: "Five Noir Novels of the 1940's and 1950's" (HERE) and "Twelve Anthologies of Hard-Boiled and Noir Stories" (HERE).

We must confess that we've never understood the fascination that noir (written or filmed) exercises over readers, viewers, and critics. Our view, deriving from a more sanguine out-look on life, is that the noir universe makes an interesting place to while away a few hours, but that spending too much time there can be hazardous to your health—your mental health. We're guessing it has to do with how the world has been treating you lately: if nothing ever seems to work right, if your love life is ebbing, if the Pepto Bismol failed to subdue that volcanic burrito you had for lunch, then you're definitely ready for a trip to Noirville.

Just how did noir get its start? You probably think it began with Chandler, Hammett, or Daly:

   "It is often noted that American film noir owes a debt to writers such as Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, who first appeared in the pulp magazine Black Mask. While they and that magazine were important (and are treated below), the real beginning of noir fiction lies in the prose of newspapermen such as Jack Lait, Ben Hecht, and William R. Burnett, who chron-icled the rise of Al Capone. These authors created a mass 'public' of newspaper readers for this subject. Back then 'the causes of crime were not elucidated,' Andrew Bergman notes, 'because there seemed little point to it. Crime was a life style, a way of existing in the world.' Elucidations would come later, as crime itself and the audiences for narrative about it changed."

Jack Lait
Ben Hecht
William R. Burnett
It was inevitable, thanks to these newshawks, that sooner or later real life crime would make its way to Hollywood's silver screens:

   ". . . these early authors of noir source material . . . developed their skills and sense of audience in New York, Chicago or other large Eastern cities, and then they went to Los Angeles . . . hailing from Chicago or New York, sources of the Capone legend, [they] wrote about criminals. They were newspapermen writing for a broad national ‘public,’ an audience that read papers and magazines, that saw newsreels and films, that was generally Christian and bourgeois, likely to be employed but concerned about the growing Depression, and formed by domestic family life and heterosexual polities. Their ability to address this public carried them to Hollywood, where they became highly-paid script-writers."

Meanwhile, back on the East Coast:

   "A second group of noir writers – Hammett, Chandler and others – wrote about detectives, for a smaller ‘counter-public’ that read pulp magazines. This ‘counter-public’ dissented from some of the assumptions in the discourses addressed to the broader ‘public.’ This industry centered on New York City, where a colony of low-paid writers grew up in the late 1910s and early 1920s to supply the boom in pulps.  . . . Some of the pulp writers, using a dozen names, wrote 1.5 million words a year. ‘A million words a year is so usual,’ wrote Frank Gruber, who credited this outpouring to the invention of the typewriter. This ‘counter-public’, still attracted to violence, sublimated its interest through the moralistic and anti-criminal behavior of the detective; in this respect it was both more idealistic and more masculinist than the newspaper ‘public.’ It harkened back to an era when command and domination were male prerogatives."

At some point, you know that the uberpulpster creator of Perry Mason will come into the picture:

  "After studios purchased his first novels, [Erle Stanley] Gardner moved to Hollywood, not to write scripts, but to learn how the industry worked and be close to the center of production. Over the next decade he became a narrative machine: he invented more series characters – Doug Selby, Lam and Cool, Pete Wennick – while keeping complete control over the filming of his material. Gardner is significant to film noir in several ways. As Leroy Lad Panek points out, Gardner de-emphasized ‘clues’ per se, instead blending them with the personae of his characters. The detective is more involved in reading character then, and characters seem ‘fated’ rather than caught."

As the first and second generations of noir authors have gradually died off, the next crop, less original than their precursors, have carried on as best they can:

   "The writers who continued to work in noir fiction after Thompson and Spillane tended to be professional novelists, often college-educated and middle-class, who understood how to re-cycle, or parody, the best of their predecessors."

- Our author, William Marling (background HERE and HERE), has also published books about Dashiell Hammett (1983) and Raymond Chandler (1986), as well as The American Roman Noir (1995; description HERE); he has a website,, (HERE).

The bottom line: "Play with murder enough and it gets you one of two ways. It makes you sick, or you get to like it."

Friday, April 21, 2017

Those Elusive Crown Jewels

IT ALMOST SEEMS to be a tradition in detective fiction that, whenever crown jewels go missing, you just know that nothing less than a criminal mastermind is at work, and that 
the only effective response to a criminal mastermind must be a supersleuth.

And what better supersleuth could be called on to deal with vanishing rocks than Sherlock Holmes? In 1893, Holmes ingeniously handled a case involving crown jewels (HERE); in 
1939 he had his hands full foiling an attempt at purloining the British Crown Jewels (HERE and HERE); and in 1987 Holmes was doing pretty much the same thing on home computer screens (HERE).
Our two stories today share the common theme of crown jewels snatching, one of them being set in the past and the other in what could be our future . . .

"The Dalmatian Crown Jewels."
By Gilbert Ashton (?-?).
First appearance: The Argosy, April 1900.
Novelette (54 pages).
Online at Google Books (HERE).
"A story of certain extraordinary circumstances that caused an honest and respectable young man to flee from pursuit as if he had transgressed the law, and brought him into close association with one who habitually defied it."
 Chapter I: "On the other hand, failure means probable death, or life imprisonment, which is worse. Don't forget that."
 Chapter II: "The Story of the Jewels":
   "Nothing that I can tell you will come amiss, for the brightest intellects in the world are on the track of this thing, and will stop at nothing to get it."
 Chapter III: "The Robbery of the Bank":
   "The door stood open, and I could see plainly into every pigeonhole; and the upper right hand compartment was empty!"
 Chapter IV: "Flight":
   "So quickly and simply had the thing turned out that I had no idea at the time how narrowly I had escaped capture."
 Chapter V: "Complications":
   "The cries had anything but an amicable sound, to say nothing of clenched fists that I could see shaken in my direction. My thoughts came back to earth with a thump that sent a jar down my spinal column."
 Chapter VI: "The Other Burglar":
   "A suspected bank robber, liable to arrest at any moment, had no right to speak of love to such as she. And not arrest only; I could not disguise from myself the chain that circum-stances had wound around me."
 Chapter VII: "How the Other Burglar Succeeded":
   "From the parlors, close by, came the strains of dance music. Only a thin curtain separated Madeleine and her fellow merrymakers from this cool bank robber . . ."
 Chapter VIII: "Under Arrest":
   "The veranda was dark, and I was human. Was I to be blamed if, even with the shadow of crime overhanging me, I took the hands—and more?"
 Chapter IX: "What Became of the Jewels":
   "By disappearing in the neat way you did, you confused the whole crowd, both criminals and detectives, and gave me a clear field and a fair start."

Down on his luck after his penurious father has died, young Bobby Lewis, our first person narrator, sets out hoping for gainful employment in New York City and, nearly at the end of his resources, finds it with Gaylord & Co., run by an old family friend. But more than just managing a Wall Street banking firm is on Elmer Gaylord's mind these days: In his care the government of Dalmatia has placed its priceless collection of crown jewels until such time 
as the country's revolution blows over; Gaylord needs a courier to carry the precious gems 
to Europe and seems satisfied he has found one in Bobby.

When Gaylord unveils his plan to sneak the jewels into Europe, a simple but dangerous scheme that could be fatal to the possessor of the treasure, like so many young men who imagine they're indestructible, Bobby is gung-ho all the way. So the stratagem is put into motion—and just like almost every best-laid plan mankind has ever devised, right away it begins not simply to unravel but to self-destruct, leaving Bobby, so to speak, holding the 
bag and providing just what this scheme needs—a perfect fall guy . . .

Comment: Our story bears a faint resemblance to Hitchcock's The Thirty-Nine Steps (1935)—or, if you prefer, its echoes, Saboteur (1942) and North by Northwest (1959).
Typo: "not to be used again any one"

- This is the only periodical publication by Gilbert Ashton listed by FictionMags.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
"The Martian Crown Jewels."
By Poul Anderson (1926-2001).
First appearance: Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, February 1958.
Reprinted many times (list HERE).
Short story (13 pages).
Online at (HERE).
(Note 1: A slow-loading site that might not load at all.)
(Note 2: In case it does load: For best reading, click on "Full View").
"Do you know, this is a fascinating variation of the old locked room problem. A robot ship in transit is a locked room in the most classic sense."
Inspector Gregg's reputation, not to mention his job, is on the line when an unmanned ship from Earth carrying the priceless Martian Crown Jewels, temporarily on loan to Terra, arrives at Phobos spaceport without a single precious stone in sight, an impossible situation given the circumstances; unless they're recovered, not just Gregg's job but also cordial interplane-tary relations will soon evaporate.
The Inspector's best hope lies in Syaloch, Mars's most famous investigator, a big-bowled pipe smoker known to torture a stringed instrument and a devotee of a certain English consulting detective, a brainy being who doesn't even breathe air. Gregg, admitting his fondness for this Martian Sherlock, describes his amazing (by Earth standards) friend:

   "To compare the species of different planets is merely to betray the limitations of language. Syaloch was a seven-foot biped of vaguely storklike appearance. But the lean, crested, red-beaked head at the end of the sinuous neck was too large, the yellow eyes too deep; the white feathers were more like a penguin's than a flying bird's, save at the blue-plumed tail; instead of wings there were skinny red arms ending in four-fingered hands. And the overall posture was too erect for a bird."
Regardless, being off-planet is no problem for this sleuth, and the gravity of the situation hasn't escaped him either:

   "A Martian in an Earthlike atmosphere is not much hampered, needing only an hour in a compression chamber and a filter on his beak to eliminate excess oxygen and moisture. Syaloch walked freely about the port clad in filter, pipe, and tirstokr cap, grumbling to him-self at the heat and humidity. He noticed that all the humans but Gregg were reserved, almost fearful, as they watched him—they were sitting on a secret which could unleash red murder."
Syaloch's solution to the problem of the missing jewels will come to rest upon the answers to a few simple questions:
   ~ "If you please, my good man, what is your hobby?"
   ~ "Ah, tell me, is this equipment standard for all stations? May I inspect it more closely?"
   ~ "Why must spaceships be painted?"
   . . . and . . .
   ~ "What is the half-life?"

Comment: Anderson's clear descriptive prose enables the reader to visualize how this complex crime was carried out.
- As usual, useful data about Poul Anderson can be found in Wikipedia (HERE), the SFE (HERE), and the ISFDb (HERE).
- The Martian moon Phobos and especially its physical characteristics are important factors in Syaloch's solution to the mystery; see the Wikipedia articles about Phobos in fact (HERE) and in fiction (HERE), as well as the Atomic Rockets page (HERE).
- Our latest visit to Mars was last September (HERE).

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Top 5 in March

The most popular posting last month was our very first Thesis Thursday, and right next to 
it was the brief post linking to several useful online crime fiction texts; those were closely followed by the first Miscellaneous Monday, then an amusing bit of Edwardian criminality, and finally a representative trip into '40s science fantasy.

We feel obliged to apologize for links that might have gone dead and images that have simply vaporized since they were posted; you no doubt understand that those are the 
actions of others over whom we have no control, but it is annoying, isn't it? As long 
as the Internet remains as frangible as it currently is, though, you can expect more 
of the same.

~ March 2017 ~ 
(1) "The Harmless Old Spinster Was Seen As the Perfect Solution" - (HERE)
(2) Several Criminous References - (HERE)
(3) Miscellaneous Monday—Number One - (HERE)
(4) "Doesn't Anybody Know a Lady When He Sees Her?" - (HERE)
(5) "He Dropped a Fundamental Law of Physics and Smashed It into Atoms" - (HERE)

~ March 2014 ~
(1) "The Author's Ingenuity Is Great, but . . ." - (HERE)
(2) "Puzzle Plots Are Nearly Completely Absent" - (HERE)
(3) "From Thrilling Scene to More Thrilling Scene, We Hurry" - (HERE)
(4) "An Interesting Story in the Jules Verne Manner" - (HERE)
(5) Two by Brebner - (HERE)

~ March 2015 ~
(1) "A Hardcore Mystery Fan Couldn't Ask for a More Literate and Witty Refresher in the Genuine Traditional Mystery" - (HERE)
(2) "Detective-story Addicts May Be Divided, As Roughly As You Feel Like Handling Them, Into Two Classes . . ." - (HERE)
(3) "When People Talk of the Perfect Murder . . ." - (HERE)
(4) "Its Literary Significance Is Equivalent Perhaps to That of the Crossword Puzzle" - (HERE)
(5) "Men Are Such Brutes" - (HERE)

~ March 2016 ~
(1) "Nobody Missed It at First" - (HERE)
(2) "Don't Ever Think Things Can't Get Tougher — They Always Do" - (HERE)
(3) "If a Thunderbolt Had Fallen It Could Hardly Have Caused Greater Consternation" - (HERE)
(4) "Let God Pardon Me, for I Wish Death, and Not an Easy One, for Those Who Peddle This Evil" - (HERE)
(5) "It Would Be So Nice to Live in the Twentieth Century with Its Crimes and Insanity" - (HERE)

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

"The Flash of the Gun Disclosed the Other's Startled Face; the Gunsound Was Like a Snarl of Rage"

"The Intruder."
By Oliver Saari (1918-2000).
First appearance: Startling Stories, April 1952.
Reprinted in Startling Stories (U.K.), August 1952.
Short story (11 pages).
Online at (HERE).
"To have an exact duplicate of yourself show up and take over your business, your wife? . . . brother, it's murder!"
If you're T. J. Baldwin, the head of Transstellar, you're used to getting what you want, and you brook no interference from anybody—but that's just the problem: There's another person identifying himself as T. J. Baldwin, and he won't brook any interference either, not even from the other T. J. Baldwin—and that, friends, is a recipe for homicide . . .
Typo: "trying to reach the stairs" [should be stars]

- You can find more about Oliver Saari at the Fancyclopedia (HERE) and the ISFDb (HERE).
- A star known as Proxima Centauri figures largely as a plot device in our story; see Wikipedia for more about Proxima in fact (HERE) and fiction (HERE).
- The central character in a popular TV series faced a similar dilemma; see Wikipedia (HERE) (Spoiler warning: Full plot description).
- Some people can't get along with themselves even when they inhabit the same body; see (HERE) for the classic example of that.

The bottom line: "I hope you have not been leading a double life, pretending to be wicked and being really good all the time. That would be hypocrisy."

Monday, April 17, 2017

Miscellaneous Monday—Number Seven

"Revisiting the Detective Figure in Late Victorian and Edwardian Fiction: A View from the Perspective of Police History."
By Haia Shpayer-Makov.
First appearance: Law, Crime and History, 2011 (homepage HERE).
Article (29 pages, 130 notes).
Online (HERE) (PDF).
". . . the fictional private detective — whether amateur or professional — commonly outmatches the police detective."
HERE'S AN ARTICLE that supplements last week's Thesis Thursday (HERE), which, as you may recall, dealt with how Victorian culture, with all of its brilliance and contradictions, produced the modern crime fiction genre.
In this article, Haia Shpayer-Makov shows how the depiction of the detective in fiction, both amateur and professional, shaped public opinion and in turn was shaped by it, gradually resulting in real life changes in methods of policing. Of course, it's a given that there's still no way to assess to any absolute degree precisely how much art imitates life and life imitates art; we can only say that they influence each other to a greater or lesser extent and must let it go at that.

Unlike so many researchers who tend to confine themselves to the Big Four—Dickens (HERE), Collins (HERE), Poe (HERE), and Doyle (HERE)—our author also includes in her survey the following lesser-known (now) but very popular (then) literary detective authors (with related links to destinations that we hope are still there):

  ~ Arthur Morrison (HERE) - Sleuth: Martin Hewitt
  ~ Arthur Griffiths (HERE) - Sleuths: Sir Richard Daunt and Lionel Macnaughten-Innes
  ~ Max Pemberton (HERE) - Sleuth: Bernard Sutton
  ~ Catherine Louisa Pirkis (HERE) - Sleuth: Loveday Brooke
  ~ George R. Sims (HERE) - Sleuths: Dorcas Dene and Inspector Chance
  ~ Baroness Emmuska Orczy (HERE) - Sleuths: The Old Man in the Corner and Lady Molly
  ~ Headon Hill (HERE) - Sleuths: A Pinkerton detective and Sebastian Zambra
  ~ R. Austin Freeman (HERE) - Sleuth: Dr. Thorndyke
  ~ Ernest Bramah (HERE) - Sleuths: Max Carrados and Louis Carlyle
  ~ B. Fletcher Robinson (HERE) - Sleuths: Addington Peace and Mr. Phillips



    "The mechanics of detection and figures with an investigatory function appeared in fictional texts in Britain before the mid-nineteenth century, but it was approximately from 
this period onwards that the detective in the modern sense gradually became a recognised 
figure and the genre was acknowledged as a literary form. By the end of the century, just a few years after the creation of Sherlock Holmes and the establishment of his subsequent enormous popularity, the repertoire of detective characters in fiction was of an unprecedent-ed diversity, feeding the public’s seemingly insatiable appetite for this fascinating figure. Despite such diversity, researchers have observed common themes related to the detective figure in British fiction. The recurrent nature of these themes has lent itself to varied ideological and contextual readings by scholars, mostly from a literary perspective. This article, by contrast, re-examines these and other themes and tropes in the context of police history."

  Introduction - A Curious Fictional Convention:

     "Even less realistic was the fictional motif of cooperation between police and professional private detectives, especially in narratives that depict the private detective as taking the leading role in an investigation, a theme rehearsed in many detective tales of the period.  . . . in fact joint ventures were few and far between. In any event, private detectives were not, in reality, accorded equal status with police officers, nor did the figure of the gentlemanly detective have actual equivalents.  . . . Yet although literary conventions about the superior acuity of the private detective bore little resemblance to reality, they dominated detective fiction of the late Victorian and Edwardian period. While works of fiction are not meant to replicate real life, the curious recurrence of these themes in numerous literary texts suggests that they reflected existing social sensibilities and mindsets."

     (1) Historical Context:
         "Significantly, when the Metropolitan Police of London – the first professional force in England — was created in 1829, it did not have a detective department. When necessary, officers would temporarily shed their uniform and conduct investigations. To a great extent this arrangement was the result of the police reformers' desire to mitigate widespread opposition in the country to the notion of highly organised policing before and during the formation of the Metropolitan Police and the other modern police forces in subsequent decades. Such opposition emanated from different sectors of the population, all of which were united by a rhetoric which linked systematic policing with despotic government, oppressive intrusion into political and private life, and the possible curtailment of the liberties of freeborn Englishmen."
     (2) The Superior Acuity of the Private Detective:
         "Whether the detective literature of these decades was significantly different in its attitude to police detectives than later literary works or not, as the nineteenth century drew to a close, the superiority of the private detective became increasingly pronounced as a theme in the corpus of fictional texts. Yet not all private detective characters conformed to the image of high professionalism, nor were they consistently brilliant or triumphant in hunting criminals. Some of these unofficial fictional crime fighters were shown to be tainted by dishonesty.  . . . Yet,  as far as can be judged from an eclectic survey of the fiction of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, fictional private detectives, be they amateur or professional, continued to outnumber the official variety and to show greater abilities and accomplishments. Misgivings about the quality of police detectives in the literature of this period were not usually focused on their moral standing or intentions, but instead on their rational faculties.  . . . What they often lacked, and emphatically so, was keen analytical abilities and a razor edge wit — essential ingredients in the making of a great fictional detective.  . . . However, the inferiority of the police detective was a familiar element well before Holmes's emergence.  . . . The convention in fiction that unofficial detectives were far more praiseworthy than their opposite numbers in the police, and that they were pivotal in enabling the police to capture criminals, reappeared, with certain variations, in a profusion of other texts during the 1890s.  . . . On the whole, both private and police detectives in fiction used all the deceitful methods abhorred by those who had, in reality, opposed the establish-ment of more interventionary policing in the first half of the nineteenth century: notably manipulation, trickery, disguise, probing, spying, and intimacy with criminal elements. Conceivably, this reflected the wide acceptance by the late nineteenth century of such 
means as intrinsic to actual detective work."
     (3) A Shift in Perception:
         ". . . [in the period between the world wars] the representation of police detectives in fiction gradually improved, even in works by Conan Doyle. In time they earned grudging respect from the master detective himself and were often essential to his work. Possibly the fact that police detectives in reality were getting a much improved press in the new century was a factor in delineating the official crime fighters in more complimentary terms.  . . . In summary, fictional police detective characters generally were no longer subject to ridicule. 
At the most, their depictions were subjected to a gentle mockery. It was, however, only in the course of the second half of the twentieth century that police detectives gained the profes-sional and social status in the media associated with them today.  . . . It may be said that the police detective of this period emerged in the press as a kind of a [sic] plebeian knight."

     (4) A Legacy of Self-Help:
         ". . .  although the newly created police forces gradually expanded their mandate to react to the commission of crime, in mid-nineteenth century — the early days of detective fiction — it was perhaps natural for writers of fiction to assume that all kinds of people unconnected with the police would be involved in chasing offenders. This was the reality in which they lived. The retention of this motif in late-nineteenth century fiction suggests that
many people still thought in terms of self-help when it came to solving crime. Indeed, many of the private arrangements traditionally designed to help victims redress their grievances were still in operation. In fact, the number and diversity of private bodies and agents who carried out detective tasks actually expanded as the century progressed. Sometimes the police informally allowed private detectives to undertake tasks they themselves did not want to do (and, alternatively, provided services to private companies or individuals for a fee). This practice may have also fostered an awareness that even if detective departments were formed in the urban police forces in growing numbers in the latter part of the century, police success in solving crimes still relied to a large extent on people who were not detectives by profession. The actual number of official detectives in the country remained small . . . The implication may have been that many authors conceived private service not only as more efficient but also as preferable to public crime fighters. Still, in surveying the cumulative message of a vast array of fictional detective narratives, it is evident that the tacit desire was not to dispense with official authority, but to mend it. Although some crimes are resolved outside the legal system, intertwined in the narrative of many other texts is not only the need for law and order but also for the detective police force. Its performance may be denigrated,
but not its legitimacy."
     (5) Abiding Class Preconceptions:
         "Evidence shows that the majority of real-life police detectives came from the working class, with a minority coming from the lower middle class. Conceivably, because people from these backgrounds were not associated in the public mind with glamour and important accomplishments, popular writers tended not to portray them as heroes, and certainly not as super-heroes, in the belief that the reading public, which was largely (though not exclusively)
middle class, would not easily identify with such heroes. As very little was known about real private detectives, authors were less bound by readers' expectations when it came to fleshing them out, and they could draw on their imagination more freely. The result was that fictional private detectives, particularly if they were the main investigators, were often depicted as having a middle- or upper-class identity, and so could be portrayed without reservation as highly talented or even as outstanding."

     (6) A Need for More Professional Policing?:
         "Unsurprisingly, most fictional detective texts were not concerned with crime in the streets and the petty crime suffered by the common people – which were the staple preoccupation of police detectives in real life, but which were not the material for mass appeal. Apart from mysteries and puzzles which did not involve violations of the law, fiction concentrated on murder, fraud, intricate theft, blackmail and bigamy. To deal with these, the authors seemed to prefer more sophisticated investigators.  . . . Another idea in advocating the recruitment of more educated individuals into the detective service was that the police would benefit by incorporating middle class values and norms into their work. The success-ful fictional private detectives embodied autonomous thinking. Their activity was most often described as stemming from innate strength, freedom of action and resourcefulness rather than from external pressures emanating from bureaucratic regulations or from team work as in the 'police procedural'. In fact, even in depicting successful police detectives the emphasis of the narrative is on personal experience and achievement. They ordinarily did not appear as typical bureaucrats filling in forms and submitting reports to their senior officers, as in real life . . ."
         "Essentially, what detective fiction offered was a kind of equilibrium between reliance on the individual and reliance on the state. It grappled with the interlocking and shifting relations between self-interest and social responsibility by negotiating a reconciliation between personal freedom and bureaucratic centralisation."

Typo: "The Case of the Lost Foreign"
- It would appear that Prof. Shpayer-Makov has expanded the ideas outlined in this article into a 429-page book: The Ascent of the Detective: Police Sleuths in Victorian and Edwardian England (2011), which is for sale (HERE) and reviewed (HERE) and (HERE).

Thursday, April 13, 2017

"Mystery and Detective Fiction Sprang from the Startling Changes That Occurred During a Vibrant, Tumultuous and Exciting Era of History—the Victorian Period"

"Why Mystery and Detective Fiction Was a Natural Outgrowth of the Victorian Period."
By Sharon J. Kobritz.
Thesis, 49 pages (38 text pages), 2002.
Online (HERE) (PDF).
(Note: No spoilers that we can find.)
"It will be argued in this thesis that detective and mystery fiction is a natural outgrowth of the Victorian period. To a great extent the Victorians were a self-satisfied lot, happy with their world and their place in it. Their mythos was that England was the best place to live and that they were living in the best possible time."
IT'S BEEN SAID that more than one inhabitant of the British Isles has entertained the notion that God is an Englishman; something akin to that idea, but not quite as grandiose, must have motivated Cecil Rhodes when he (reputedly) declared: "Remember that you are an Englishman, and have consequently won first prize in the lottery of life." No doubt Rhodes would have rewarded British detective fiction authors first prize for bringing their literary genre as close to perfection as they did, one that even at this late date attracts universal interest. Our Thesis Thursday author, however, wouldn't single out any particular group for praise; instead she feels that, given the culture which the Victorians evolved, mystery and detective fiction as we've come to know them were inevitable . . .

     "This project will argue that mystery and detective fiction flourished because of the changes in popular culture; that the sweeping changes in education, medicine, literature, religion and business solidified the popularity of this genre. Along with this genre of fiction came a new way of publishing and reading. One mystery and detective fiction writer will be examined: Wilkie Collins, credited with writing one of the first mystery and detective novels and known as one of the fathers of the modern detective novel."
  Chapter 1: Victorian Culture:
     ". . . Such was the cultural environment of the Victorian period, an environment that helped shape the literary world. This environment was particularly nineteenth century and could not have emerged prior to that time. There was a natural evolution resulting from the assumption of the throne by Queen Victoria and her tastes and ethics defining the period. The British people were haunted by fear of a revolution similar to what had taken place in France; had to face a loss of faith, had to experience the great waves of rural people flooding the cities, had to develop new technology, had to slowly come to the realization that class and working conditions had to change, had to realize that education in all areas was the path to the future, and had to be brave enough to confront uncertainties and be willing to take courageous steps to embrace the future."
  Chapter 2: Victorian Literature:
     "An important characteristic of English Victorian detective fiction was its place between popular and high culture. Many were dismissive of detective fiction because it appealed to popular tastes. Critics thought it did not encourage intellectual stimulation, but, rather, encouraged a lurid interest in the sensational. While part of its popularity rested on just that theory, it can be argued that detective fiction was intellectually stimulating to the Victorians and wildly popular. Victorians took mystery and detective fiction very seriously and spent a great deal of time analyzing and critiquing the stories. This is an example of intellectual stimulation combined with leisure time, which gave the Victorians a sense of satisfaction because it was an efficient use of time. The fact that Victorians spent a great deal of time following criminal trials and solving the crimes along with the police exhibited a wholesome, intellectual avocation that was a major element of their leisure time. It was harmless. It could involve the entire family. It was, regardless of what the critics said, intellectually stimulating. And being a devotee of detective fiction meant that people were reading, one of the major outcomes of the social reformation of the Victorian period."
  Chapter 3: Mystery and Detective Fiction As a Natural Outgrowth of the Victorian Period:
     "He [Wilkie Collins] was a prolific writer in an era when printing presses and inexpensive paper and ink revolutionized the publishing industry. He wrote for the penny dreadfuls, establishing himself as a writer of lurid imagination with a highly creative pen. He graduated to writing sensation novels when they were the Victorian rage. From there, it was a simple step up to mystery and detective novels, novels that paved the way for others. The Woman in White and The Moonstone were long, complex novels incorporating many of the Victorian cultural standards previously discussed."
  Works Cited (2 pages)
  Works Consulted (4 pages)
  Biography of the Author (1 page)

Typo: "J. I. M. Steward"
- Crime Culture has an introduction to Victorian detective fiction (HERE).
- For even more background on this era's detective fiction, go to A Companion to Crime Fiction (2010) online (HERE, PDF); see especially Chapters 1—7, 19, and 28—31. Also 
consult Howard Haycraft's Murder for Pleasure (1941), Chapters I—IV (HERE).
- The British Library has a series of articles on 19th century "Crime and Crime Fiction" (HERE).
- Listopia has 134 mystery titles set in the Victorian era beginning (HERE).
- If you're at all interested in "Leather Apron," then the Casebook: Jack the Ripper website (HERE) is for you.
- We've already dealt with The Woman in White and The Moonstone (HERE) several years ago.