Friday, May 25, 2018

"We Have a Machine"

AS WE'VE NOTED BEFORE we like to bring to your attention the first appearances of what were to become well-known (but not necessarily great) detectives; today's case in point: Luther Trant, the psychologist and gadget whiz who's never without a crime-fighting gizmo regardless of the occasion.

"The Psychologist As Detective."
First appearance: Hampton's Magazine, April 1909.
Article (2 pages).
Online at Hathi Trust (HERE).

The editors prepare their readers for the coming introduction of "a real discovery, a startlingly original method of detecting crime by means of experimental psychology. 
To make an extreme, but nevertheless accurate statement, this new detective theory 
is as important as Poe's deductive theory of 'ratiocination.'"
~ ~ ~
"Writers and Their Work: The Originators of Luther Trant, Detective."
First appearance: Hampton's Magazine, May 1909.
Article (2 pages).
Online at Hathi Trust (HERE).

The next issue of Hampton's sees the introduction of this newfangled sleuth, the creation of Edwin Balmer and William B. MacHarg, "both Chicagoans; and they have had academic and literary training which, together with the merit of this initial story, indicates that readers of this magazine who enjoy fiction of real worth have a treat in store in the series of stories founded on the achievements of Luther Trant."

~ ~ ~
Then comes the story in question:

"The Man in the Room."
By Edwin Balmer (1883-1959; HERE) and William B. MacHarg (1872-1951; HERE).
Illustrations by William Oberhardt (1882-1958).
First appearance: Hampton’s Magazine, May 1909.
Collected in The Achievements of Luther Trant (1910; online HERE and HERE).

Reprinted in Boston Sunday Globe Magazine, February 11, 1912; Amazing Stories, April 1927; Scientific Detective Monthly, March 1930; and Great Detective Stories, April 1933.
Short story.
Online at Hathi Trust (HERE; 12 pages, 4 illos) and Comic Book Plus (HERE; 9 pages, 1 illo; select page 44 from the dropdown menu; faded text).

"Luther! You are charging murder!"
The chief financial officer of the university is found dead in a locked room permeated with gas; the circumstantial evidence supports the theory that he's been embezzling money from the school's accounts, couldn't cover his defalcations, and with an upcoming audit looming large has committed suicide in consequence. Young Luther Trant, however, thinks otherwise and vows to prove that not only was the dead man not a thief, "but—he was not even a suicide." It's plain to Trant that when the victim died, someone else was there with him; one of his three closest friends had to be the man in the room . . .
Comment: This could be the only story you'll ever read in which a character "laughed uglily."
Typo: "steal" [steel].

~ ~ ~
Of course it won't surprise you to learn that after the first handful of stories had appeared not everyone was enchanted with this sleuth, as one letter to the editor (HERE) reveals:

   "The special articles you publish are usually very fine. Peary is good, sugar, ditto; all the muckrake articles O. K. But in the fiction department you collapse most lamentably. Luther Trant will never amount to anything as a detective. His first exploit was fascinating, his second passable, but all the others have been rotten. There is not enough variation in them and there is no possibility of there being any further variation. The psychological side of a story appeals to one if it is properly presented, but this Trant stuff is always presented the same way and gets very tiresome.
   "You know I believe I could write better detective stories than these with my left hand. In fact, I believe I could write better stories than any you have published in a year. I don't like your fiction and I wish you would get better stuff in that department, because if I've got to read your magazine for another year anyway, I would like to get at least three good pieces of fiction in each number."
   — O.H.H., Minneapolis, Minnesota

We have no idea what happened to the dextrorotary O.H.H. after he or she canceled their subscription.
~ ~ ~
- Douglas G. Greene, book editor emeritus, has written in an introduction to The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box's collection The Compleat Achievements of Luther Trant, Psychological Detective (2012; HERE):

   "Nowadays, we would find psychological interpretation to be less absolute, and the lie detectors and other machines to be less dependable, than MacHarg and Balmer believed. But the stories are more than just the application of gadgets (as Reeve’s Craig Kennedy stories too often are). Trant often makes subtle deductions from physical evidence before he employs the machines. His judgments in the first story that the death was not a suicide are excellent, and in perhaps his best story, 'The Axton Letters,' the conclusions based on the different forms of observation in various letters are persuasive. The back-grounds of the stories are varied and colorful — Aztec magic, exotic ports, shipwreck, Russian radicals, the deep woods, mixed marriage. Although the stories appeared in a magazine deeply opposed to business practices, that issue is raised only a couple times. Several of the stories have a manufacturing or financial background, but only 'The Man Higher Up' emphasizes corruption, and 'The Empty Cartridges' shows how murder and betrayal were at the heart of a business enterprise."

- Michael Grost on his megasite (HERE) considers Luther Trant:

  "William MacHarg and Edwin Balmer's The Achievements of Luther Trant (1909-1910) are some of the pioneering American scientific detective 
stories. Trant is a psychologist, Chicago based, who works as a crimino-
logical consultant on mysteries. He is a young, clean cut and dynamic 
scientist, a characterization that probably influenced Arthur B. Reeve's detective Craig Kennedy."
- Here are the first seven Luther Trant stories as published in Hampton's Magazine:
(1) "The Man in the Room" [above].
(2) "The Fast Watch."
     First appearance: Hampton’s Magazine, June 1909.
     Short story (13 pages, 4 illos).
     Online at Hathi Trust (HERE).

(3) "The Axton Letters."
     First appearance: Hampton's Magazine, January 1910.
     Short story (14 pages, 2 illos).
     Online at Hathi Trust (HERE).

(4) "The Eleventh Hour."
     First appearance: Hampton's Magazine, February 1910.
     Short story (13 pages, 2 illos).
     Online at Hathi Trust (HERE).

(5) "The Hammering Man."
     First appearance: Hampton's Magazine, May 1910.
     Short story (12 pages, 2 illos).
     Online at Hathi Trust (HERE).
     Also see (HERE).

(6) "A Matter of Mind Reading."
     First appearance: Hampton's Magazine, October 1910.
     Short story (12 pages, 4 illos).
     Online at Hathi Trust (HERE).

(7) "The Daughter of a Dream."
     First appearance: Hampton's Magazine, June 1911.
     Short story (12 pages, 2 illos).
     Online at Hathi Trust (HERE).


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