Monday, February 5, 2018

"Oh, My Aunt!"

IT'S AN UNEXPECTED pleasure to stumble across the first American appearance of a long-running series British sleuth. Sherlock Holmes may have had his A Study in Scarlet and Miss Marple "The Tuesday Night Club," but Reggie Fortune (introduced to the world nearly twenty years after H. C. Bailey started publishing) will always have "The Magic Stone." The editor of People's magazine left us this note:

   "This is the first of a series of amusing short stories about the entertaining adventures of Mr. Reginald Fortune, detective at large. Each story is complete in itself. We think you will enjoy the whimsical Mr. Fortune."

Here are Reggie's first seven exploits in an American periodical (FictionMags data) (ss = short story; nv = novelette):

  (1) "The Magic Stone" (ss), People’s, January 1, 1923 [below]
  (2) "The Snowball Burglary" (ss), People’s, January 15, 1923
  (3) "The President of San Isidro" (ss), People’s, February 1, 1923 [possible duplication of story (7) below]
  (4) "The Unknown Murderer" (nv), People’s, March 1, 1923
  (5) "The Vanishing Lady" (nv), People’s, April 1, 1923
  (6) "The Ascot Tragedy" (nv) People’s, May 1, 1923
  (7) "The President of San Jacinto" (nv).

All of these were collected in Mr. Fortune’s Practice (1923) (reviewed HERE).
~ ~ ~
   "Begin at the beginning and relate all facts without passion or recrimination."

"The Magic Stone."
By H. C. Bailey (1878-1961).
First appearance: People's, January 1, 1923.
Short story (13 pages).
Collected in Mr. Fortune's Practice (1923).

Online at (HERE).
"A nightingale began to sing in the limes."
When Superintendent Lomas just happens to mention that the British Museum has lost "an infernal pebble," it starts Reggie Fortune down a long and winding trail that will lead him to eccentric collectors, an enigmatic woman, a duplicitous sibling, a creepy house, a kidnap-ping, and a fatal car crash . . .

Typo: "she cired"
Artwork by F. Dorr Steele
Introduction to Reginald Fortune

On his capabilities:

  "It was an enemy who said that Mr. Fortune had a larger mass of useless knowledge than any man in England. Mr. Fortune has been heard to explain his eminence in the application of science to crime by explaining that he knows nothing thoroughly, but a little of everything, thus preserving an open mind. Or will you prefer to believe with Superintendent Bell that he has some singular faculty for feeling other men's minds at work, a sort of sixth sense? This is mystical and no one is less mystical than Reggie Fortune."

On Reggie's acquaintances:

  "It is believed that there is no class or trade, from beggars to bishops, in which Reggie Fortune has not friends."

On the limitations of the police:

  ". . . he is apt to diverge into an argument that policemen are creatures whose function in the world is to shut the stable door after the horse is
stolen. A pet theory of his."

On Reggie's driving skills:

  "Sam, his admirable chauffeur, was told that he [Reggie] preferred to drive himself, which is always in him a sign of mental excitement."

. . . and Reggie on himself:

  "I don't like men dying, that's all. Professional prejudice. I'm a doctor, you see."
- Nick Fuller's assessment of H. C. Bailey ("one of the true masters of the genre, and, like all the best writers, shamefully neglected today") is still online (HERE).
- Jon L. Breen keenly reviews (HERE) a recent book about Bailey and his sleuth that echoes Nick Fuller ("Identifying ten types of detective characters, Blackwell believes he can squeeze Fortune into eight of them [Eccentric Thinking Machine, Scientist, Psychologist and the Intuitive, Defender of Justice, Philosopher, Erudite Scholar, Aristocrat, and, most surpris-ingly, Hard-Boiled], leaving only Ordinary and Mystical/Psychic").
- ONTOS has noted Bailey's work on more than one occasion (HERE), (HERE), and (HERE).
- Thanks to Nick Fuller for his helpful corrections.

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