Waters | William E. Burton | Andrew Forrester, Jr. | Charles Martel | Anonyma (W. Stephens Hayward ?) | Tom Taylor | M. Lindsay | John Babbington Williams | Early American Detective Stories | Lawrence L. Lynch | Mary Fortune and James Skipp Borlase | Bibliography

A Guide to Classic Mystery and Detection Home Page

Recommended Works:

British Casebook Fiction

William Russell, also known as "Waters"

Short stories

Charles Martel

The Detective's Note-book (collected 1860)

Andrew Forrester, Jr. (James Redding Ware ?)

The Revelations of a Private Detective (collected 1863)

The Female Detective (collected 1864)

Anonyma (W. Stephens Hayward ?)

Revelations of a Woman Detective (collected 1864)


"The Mystery of the Hotel de L'Orme" (1862)

Tom Taylor

The Ticket-of-Leave Man (1863)

American Casebook Fiction

John Babbington Williams

Leaves from the Note-Book of a New York Detective: The Private Record of J. B. (collected 1865)

Early American Detective Stories: An Anthology

The best stories in this anthology, edited by LeRoy Lad Panek and Mary M. Bendel-Simso, include:

Australian Casebook Fiction

James Skipp Borlase

The Night Fossickers (collected 1867)

Mary Fortune

Short stories

"Waters": Founder of the Casebook School

There is an enormous literature of police "casebook" stories from the 1850's and 1860's, by "Waters" and others, most of which has not been reprinted in modern times. All of these writers wrote short stories, dealing fairly realistically with police tracking down suspects in crimes. The stories tended to be narrated in the first person, either by the policemen themselves, or amateurs working with the police, and often purported to be "true crime" accounts of real life cases, although as far as scholars can tell, they are entirely fictional. These short stories appeared in magazines first, then were collected in volumes known as "casebooks", giving a name to the school of fiction.

E.F. Bleiler, the expert in 19th Century detective fiction, says that these writers should be considered the true start of the "police procedural" school of writing. "Waters" short story "Murder Under the Microscope" is quite realistic in its police procedure, and since "Waters" is founder of the school, one suspects that his approach is paradigmatic of many authors of casebook fiction. However, casebook tales by later writers, such as Andrew Forrester, Jr. and Charles Martel seem less so, and more like fantasies.

Little is known about the casebook writers as people. Many of the names are clearly pseudonyms, such as "Waters", whose real name seems to be William Russell. Often times the dates of birth are not known, nor any biographical facts, or even whether the writers are male or female, although they usually used male pseudonyms. Unlike the Sensation novelists (such as Wilkie Collins), who were well known literary figures whose biographical study has been enormous, the casebook writers have been treated as subliterary figures, barely worthy of study among 19th Century fiction. One often has the impression that the audience for casebook fiction was more "lower class" than the mainstream audience of Victorian fiction, although I have no sociological studies to back this up. (According to Ellery Queen, the Dollar Monthly Magazine, which published M. Lindsay, used to bill itself as "The Cheapest Magazine in the World".)

Reading casebook fiction requires adjustments for the modern reader. Many aspects of the Golden Age mystery are missing from them, and the stories can therefore seem crude and incomplete. More importantly, the police procedure of the 1860's is bewilderingly different from anything known today. Casebook fiction is most enjoyable, if instead of reading one story, the reader reads as many as possible in fairly quick succession. This allows the reader to immerse themselves in a different world, both the literary conventions of the genre, and the detective activities of the 1860's. It also helps to read the novels of Émile Gaboriau, the French mystery novelist of the later 1860's whose work immediately followed the casebook writers, and whose world draws on theirs in so many ways. Reading 1860's fiction in quantity allows the reader to stop comparing each casebook story to Agatha Christie or Dashiell Hammett, and instead start noticing the similarities and differences of each casebook story with each other. Casebook tales start seeming like a series of variations on a common theme, and often surprisingly ingenious.

The British casebook writers laid the foundation for both Gaboriau and the modern crime novel that derives from him, and for later 19th Century British crime fiction, with their influence extending all the way to the 1890's and such authors as Arthur Morrison, Max Pemberton, and C.L. Pirkis. Although these three writers were contemporaries of Arthur Conan Doyle, and published detective series in the wake of his Sherlock Holmes stories, their literary technique seems more influenced by the casebook tradition, than anything in Doyle. The casebook stories are on the direct pathway that leads to the modern mystery.

As a rare example of "Waters" fiction available today, "Murder Under the Microscope" is of fascinating historical interest. It is a landmark in the depiction of science to detect crime. It is in the anthology Isaac Asimov Presents the Best Crime Stories of the 19th Century (1988) edited by Isaac Asimov, Martin H. Greenberg and Charles Waugh.

LeRoy Lad Panek and Mary M. Bendel-Simso's Early American Detective Stories: An Anthology reprints "Hunting Rogues" by William Russell: presumably a tale by the man who also wrote as "Waters". This is a fascinating little piece, looking at the work of private detectives. These detectives' approach is different from anything we are used to today, in subsequent private eye fiction.

The Term "Casebook" Fiction

This subgenre of mystery fiction is referred to as "casebooks" by E.F. Bleiler in his anthologies A Treasury of Victorian Detective Stories (1979) and Three Victorian Detective Novels (1978). Kathleen Gregory Klein refers to this school of mystery fiction as the "casebook" in her academic book The Woman Detective: Gender & Genres (1988). This Guide follows these experts in using the term "casebook" to refer to such short story collections. It is indeed a logical term: many of the tales are collected in books, which consists of the cases of some sleuth.

I do not know the full history of the term "casebook", or who was the first to use the word.

William E. Burton

William E. Burton was a well-known playwright and theater manager. Burton wrote a short story "The Secret Cell" (1837), that is a genuine detective tale. It is at: http://tinyurl.com/6u22qe, pages 206 and 255.

Comments by Bob Schneider

"The Secret Cell" was brought to my attention by Bob Schneider, who writes:

"I was researching early female detectives on the Jess Nevins' website Fantastic, Mysterious, and Adventurous Victoriana when I came across a reference to a story by Burton titled "The Secret Cell" published in his The Gentleman's Magazine in 1837. Google has digitalized the 1837 issues of the magazine so I downloaded and read the story. William Burton may have possibly (and unknowingly) written one of the earliest recognizable fictional detective stories in 1837 thereby beating Poe by four years.

"Burton is ostensibly narrating an event from eight years earlier when he was still living in London. Since he offers a detailed narrative containing the extensive verbatim conversations of many people/characters I assume the reminiscence device he employs is simply that—a device to lead his readers into the fictional story. Action begins in "The Secret Cell" when Burton's former laundress calls upon him to help find her missing 17-year-old daughter. Burton enlists the aid of a friend "in the police department". From that point forward Burton acts as the police detective's Watson and we are off on an exciting adventure.

"There is little deduction, or as Poe would say, ratiocination present but plenty of investigative work is done. The detective, unfortunately named L________, is quite effective at disguises and dialects and is certainly brave and dogged but is far from infallible. He makes several mistakes and misjudgments during the course of his investigation but overcomes them because of his unfailing determination to solve the case. Early in the investigation he deploys his wife undercover to gain some important information.

"In "The Secret Cell" we have detectives who investigate and, in a manner, detect. We have various police constables giving a hand and a mystery solved. Is this not a detective story? Granted, this story runs more along the lines of Vidocq rather than Dupin and the, what we now would consider, Nick Carter-ish pulp fiction-like action is a bit over the top yet I could not help thinking that Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson could easily have slipped into the shoes of Burton's detective and narrator.

"While living in Philadelphia Burton started The Gentleman's Magazine in 1837, and published "The Secret Cell" (1837) there. Burton hired Edgar Allen Poe as co-editor in 1839 and eventually sold the magazine to George Rex Graham in 1840. Graham's Magazine is where Poe's story, "The Murders in the Rue Morgue", would be published in 1841. Burton and Poe had a stormy and complex relationship (understandable due to Burton's often violent temper and Poe's erratic behavior)."

Detective Technique

Mike Grost here:

"The Secret Cell" is clearly an important story: one that has a successful portrait of a police detective at work, at a very early date. The hero has features that anticipate many later sleuths:

We get a cross section description of crime and Men Behaving Badly of the era - also interesting and detailed.

There is no puzzle plot. No whodunit features. No murder.

If I hadn't known better, I would have sworn "The Secret Cell" was from the 1860's. By that decade, there were quite a few Casebook writers, who penned tales of policemen's cases. "The Secret Cell" reads just like a Casebook tale from the 1860's. But it was written 25 years earlier - in 1837!

Andrew Forrester, Jr.

Andrew Forrester, Jr. is a member of the "police school" of mystery short story writers pioneered by "Waters" in the 1850's. His three casebooks were published in the early 1860's, before Gaboriau, after the early Wilkie Collins. Forrester is clearly not just influenced, but in the same genre as "Waters". Their similarities are immense. It is especially pronounced in Forrester's story "The Unknown Weapon". Both: One odd thing about Forrester's world: police detectives seem to be hired by private citizens, to aid them in detective investigations. This gives the detectives a bit of the flavor of the later p.i.'s of the pulps. Wilkie Collins' 1850's characters seem to hire lawyers, not policemen, to do their detecting, but Collins otherwise has much the same feel as Forrester.

In 1860's British writers, the detectives are always sneaking around, in disguise or incognito, trying to gain information without blowing their cover. They use guile and try to pump witnesses without making them suspicious, read inquests, and study the crime scene and other physical evidence long after the murder. This is different from both France and Australia, where the police seem to be in charge, bossing around civilians. In Gaboriau, for example, they take over everything and start investigating immediately after the murder is discovered, and are very thorough and systematic. Gaboriau's approach is the one that will be followed by 20th Century detective fiction. The British writers get plenty of plot mileage out of their approach, and Forrester is especially ingenious about imagining ways for his detectives to sneak around without tipping off either the criminals or the witnesses. Collins exploits this necessity for a stand-offish role for British detectives in another way: by making the elapsed time between crime and pursuit even longer in "A Plot in Private Life", he creates considerable suspense about whether the detective will be able to pick up the trail at all, and displays his detective's ingenuity in following such a cold scent. Still, Gaboriau's approach was the right one for later detective fiction to take. It is far richer in plot possibilities, in the long term, and it just seems more logical and satisfying: after all, the detective is there to detect, and it just makes sense for the detective to start doing so right away in as systematic a manner as possible.

We hear a lot about the use of disguise in early detective fiction, and this is part of everybody's image of detectives of the Nick Carter - Sherlock Holmes era. Elzie Segar burlesqued this penchant for disguise delightfully in his comic strip Thimble Theater. But the original reasons for all this disguise in the 1860's have been obscured with time. In British writers of the "Waters" school, disguise is necessary because the police seem to have no authority to simply haul off and question people. They have to disguise themselves to trick witnesses to talk to them, and to go around the locality of the crime without exciting suspicion. In Gaboriau's France, on the other hand, police like M. Lecoq disguise themselves to protect their private lives and identities: the public both hates and despises the police, and they live their personal lives largely incognito. Of course, they also engage in undercover operations in disguise, too. Still, we are a long, long way from Inspectors Queen and Alleyn here.

Forrester emphasizes energetic detective work by his narrators, and they seem oddly similar to Nancy Drew and other gung ho amateur sleuths of the 20th Century. Lecoq will be a similar bundle of energy in Gaboriau.

I like the way Forrester's hero uses public sources of information, such as press bureaus, in "Arrested on Suspicion".

Forrester's hero seems to be always thinking, an appealing trait. Michelle Slung points out that the Female Detective is characterized, not by externals, but by her way of thinking and her mental personality. Forrester's characters all seem to have interiority, a well thought through inner mental life.

The Inquest and Forensics

In "The Unknown Weapon", a doctor testifies at the inquest. His findings and approach are startlingly similar to modern forensics. He talks about the wound, and about the sort of weapon that produced it. This is the sort of testimony that could occur in any modern-day book or TV crime drama. It is of course lacking in modern advances like DNA testing. Still, it shows that such forensics were part of mystery fiction at an early date.

Forrester and Charles Felix

Charles Felix' The Notting Hill Mystery (1865), while mainly a rather poor Sensation novel about mesmerism, has a short detectival section influenced by the police literature of its era. The brief scene in Notting where the police sergeant narrator searches for clues and makes deductions seems especially close to the ratiocination of the narrator of Forrester's tale.

Felix' extremely clear, limpid prose style is different however from Forrester, who is often slangy, full of references to current, 1860's institutions that are not fully explained, and who in general has slight exposition problems. Forrester's style also has considerable liveliness, and is fun to read.

The Influence of Poe and Collins on Forrester

Both Forrester and Gaboriau knew and admired the work of Poe. Forrester's "Arrested on Suspicion" is a combined imitation of Poe's "The Purloined Letter" and "The Gold Bug". Poe is evoked by name here, and also in Forrester's novella "The Unknown Weapon", which also explicitly draws on "The Purloined Letter". Wilkie Collins' "The Stolen Letter" also seems to imitate Poe's "The Purloined Letter", and Forrester apparently knew this tale as well, because he mentions Collins' solution (not by name) to the hidden letter problem in passing in "Arrested", only to discard it as not being the correct one in his tale. "Arrested on Suspicion" shows lots of vigorous thinking, about where an object might be hidden, and the best ways to search for it.

Another possible Collins influence: the narrator's sister looks much like another character in "Arrested on Suspicion", and this plays a role in the plot; doubles of all sorts were very common in Collins' fiction, although they were put to far more symbolic use than they are in Forrester, who simply uses them as a plot engine.

The "energy under adversity" attitude of Forrester's hero in "Arrested on Suspicion", also recalls similar attitudes in Collins' "Anne Rodway". Forrester's can-do attitude, looking for practical solutions to problems, is commendable.

The omnipresence of female characters is another common feature of both Collins and Forrester; it also led to speculation that "Forrester" was the pseudonym of a woman. However, the Wikipedia says that "Forrester" was the pseudonym of a much published male writer James Redding Ware. Collins' Anne Rodway was an early woman amateur detective; perhaps this character inspired Forrester to create his professional woman detective, whose tales are collected in The Female Detective (1864). Collins' character is apparently the first woman amateur detective, and Forrester's is perhaps the first professional woman detective.

Forrester's "The Unknown Weapon" contains a nosy middle-aged woman on whom the detective draws for information; a similar character appears in Collins' much later tale, "Who Killed Zebedee?" Both of these snoopy old ladies predate Anna Katherine Green's classic formulation of the character, Miss Amelia Butterworth in That Affair Next Door (1897).

E.F. Bleiler says that the "The Unraveled Mystery", a Forrester story I have not read because it is unavailable in reprints, is influenced by Collins' The Woman in White.

Characters in Collins' 1850's stories such as "Mad Monckton", "The Diary of Anne Rodway", and "A Plot in Private Life" also track people, so this seems a basic early plot. The Australian casebook writer Mary Fortune also has her detectives track criminals through the bush. One wonders if all of these writers knew of one anothers' work.

The Influence of Casebook Writers on Gaboriau

It is hard when reading the casebook writers not to feel that they influenced Gaboriau, in his own tales of the police detecting crimes. The three writers "Waters", Forrester, Gaboriau seem to be part of a single unit, somehow. And one that is ancestral to later mystery fiction.

Both Gaboriau and the casebook writers deal with police heroes who solve mysteries. Forrester's cases tend to deal a lot with police reconstructing crimes and using that information to track down suspects. These are the same principal activities found in Gaboriau. Gaboriau deals extensively in alibis, which I have not yet seen at all in the works reprinted by Forrester and "Waters", but which appear in the work of casebook writer Charles Martel. Forrester's "The Unknown Weapon" does create an elaborate timetable of events on the night of the murder, which seems wonderfully anticipatory of later detective fiction. (Oddly enough, this timetable does not seem to be fully consistent in different parts of the story, perhaps by oversight by the author - or maybe I am reading it wrong.) Timetables are important in Anna Katherine Green. Gaboriau uses two other devices I haven't yet seen in the British casebook writers: deliberately faked evidence designed to mislead the police, and suspects under arrest whose devious interrogation statements are difficult to interpret.

Police Procedure and the Public

Gathering evidence at a crime scene is becoming so widely known as police procedure in "The Unknown Weapon", that not just the detective, but also lay people in the story are aware of its significance, something Forrester uses for full comic effect. The conventions of detective fiction and murder investigations are becoming well known in 1864 - and why not, this is 35 years after Bulwer-Lytton's Pelham (1828), for example. Forrester's civilian characters also know a lot about shadowing and laying traps for suspects, including leaving signals in the window to alert police watchers that an event is taking place, as the amateur hero does in "Arrested". One gets the impression, that by the 1860's, detection was a kind of mass public mania. Gaboriau's lower class poachers in Le Crime d'Orcival (1866) also are familiar with detective procedure, discussing it with each other as they discover the body in the early pages of the novel.

Forrester is also intensely interested in the theory of detection. "The Unknown Weapon" is full of advice from the detective narrator on the best ways to track criminals, and principles to use in investigations. Poe's Dupin also was wont to lecture on such things, and such maxims will become a standard part of detective fiction. The recent Mystery Book of Quotations is full of the most striking such tidbits from hundreds of authors. It is a fun browsing book, and the brief excerpts from authors are surprisingly good at evoking their authors' personalities, and bringing back happy memories of their stories.

Charles Martel

Charles Martel's "Hanged by the Neck: A Confession" is clearly the source of the widely discussed locked-room episode in Thomas Bailey Aldrich's Out of His Head (1862). Martel's very obscure story was apparently not reprinted between 1860, when he included it in one of his own collections, and 1979, when E.F. Bleiler revived it for A Treasury of Victorian Detective Stories. Aldrich's version is simply a straight out transcription of Martel's tale. I prefer Martel's version of the story, not just because it is the original, but because Aldrich added a sour plot twist at the climax, which leaves a bad taste at the end of his version.

The doctor present at the crime scene in Martel's story gives a very clear account of the locked room situation. He even uses the word "impossible" to describe and sum up the crime! So did Poe in "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" (1841), which is clearly the ancestor of Martel's story. Bleiler cites other early locked room stories of the period, as do Douglas G. Greene and Robert Adey in their anthology Death Locked In. I would love for all of these impossible crime tales to be reprinted, so I could read them. It is unclear if impossible crimes were a full genre at the period, something fully recognized and consciously participated in by both writers and readers, but the principle is clearly there, in the year 1860.

Martel's story is another evidence that mid-19th century English detective writers knew Poe's work. It is clearly inspired by "The Murders in the Rue Morgue". There is the same sort of locked room problem, a similar kind of solution, and eyewitness accounts of the crime quoted in a newspaper article, just as in the Poe story. Other 19th Century stories that seem to be imitations of Poe's "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" include M.M.B.'s "Mystery of the Hotel de L'Orme" (1862), John Babbington Williams' "The Walker Street Tragedy" (in book form 1865) and Arthur Morrison's "The Case of Mr. Foggatt" (1893). It is hard to believe that all of these authors didn't just read the Poe story, and come up with an ingenious variation on it. By contrast, the "locked tent" in Mary Fortune's "The Dead Man in the Scrub" (1867) seems to be a completely new concept in detective fiction.

We know that Forrester knew Poe, because he mentions him admiringly in a story; and we can guess that Wilkie Collins knew Poe, because his "The Stolen Letter" has some similarity to Poe's "Purloined Letter", although it has a very different solution. Dickens had known about Poe, because Poe wrote a famous review of his novel Barnaby Rudge, solving its mysteries while still in serialization. Also, Poe's work was widely known in France since the 1850's, when it was translated by Baudelaire; Gaboriau was openly inspired by it in the 1860's. Harriet Prescott Spofford in the US also knew Poe.

Anonyma (W. Stephens Hayward ?)

Hayward's Revelations of a Woman Detective (collected 1864) is a collection of ten stories about Mrs. Paschal, a second female detective of the era. As Laura Marcus has pointed out, "The Mysterious Countess" contains elements reminiscent of both the Gothic novel, such as strange doings at night in mysterious buildings, and the Sensation novelists, such as well to do women with sinister secrets. It is unclear to me whether Hayward's use of Gothic and Sensation elements is unique to Hayward, or fairly common in Casebook tales which I have not yet read. In any case, it is a terrific story.

It is also a full-fledged detective story. The detective heroine seems very much in the mode of the casebook detectives of the era, with her semi-independent relations to the police who employ her, her use of disguise, her sneaking up on suspects to observe them while disguised, and her shadowing people and setting traps for their final capture.

As in other casebook stories, there is considerable attention paid to architecture.

The story is full of quotable quotes showing how the heroine regards her detective profession. This is similar to Forrester's The Female Detective and her running comments on the technique of detection. However Mrs. Paschal is more interested in the detection business itself, her relations with the Chief of Police, the emotional mindset needed for detective work, her relations with other police, and so on, and less interested in the technique of detection itself. The Female Detective seems above all to be interested in thinking, and is motivated by the mental challenge of her work, whereas Mrs. Paschal sees herself as part of a profession.

Mrs. Paschal shows class rivalry with the upper class woman who is her target. I don't recall seeing such class warfare in the works of other casebook writers, who tend to deal with more middle or working class people.

Hayward has a formal but vivid prose style. It is full of the carefully constructed clauses of some Victorian writers. Each word is carefully chosen to convey a maximum amount of information and emotion to the reader. Hayward continually conveys the emotions her detective heroine-narrator is feeling to the reader. The style is very beautiful.

Tom Taylor

The Ticket-of-Leave Man

Tom Taylor's play The Ticket-of-Leave Man (1863), seems to come out of the same world as the casebook writers. It focuses on an ex-con (convicts were given a "ticket-of-leave" when they left prison in Victorian England) who is trying to go straight, but who is blackmailed by a gang of crooks into helping them out with a robbery. The play was immensely popular in its day, and its basic situation has been much reused ever since, being sure to turn up on TV at least once a month.

There is a detective, Hawkshaw, who behaves a lot like those in the casebooks, and whose name has become a slang term for detectives. This is a splashy role in which a macho actor can still make a showing. I've seen the play both live on stage, in a full length production at Michigan State University in July 1981, and in a condensed British TV adaptation, where it was part of a well-done series of 19th Century dramas called The Victorians (1963).

The play differs from the casebook writers in focusing on an ex-con, not on the detective, and in having heavy doses of melodrama. It is full of grim anxiety, probably shared by most middle and lower middle class members of its audience, that they could lose their jobs over accusations of dishonesty. There is also little real detective work in the play, and one would tag Taylor (1817-1880) as a melodramatist and professional playwright whose works drew on, but were not a full participant in, the casebook tradition.

Historical note: Taylor's play Our American Cousin (1858) was playing at the Ford Theater the night Lincoln was assassinated.

M. Lindsay

The Garnet Ring: a short story

Not all casebook stories are of high quality. Ellery Queen reprinted M. Lindsay's "The Garnet Ring" (1861) from a Boston, USA magazine in the November 1944 EQMM. He regarded this story as terrible; so do I: it is ineptly plotted and written.

Yet it shows some intriguing variations on the casebook formula. It is a courtroom drama, and its narrator is an impecunious lawyer, not a detective. It is interesting to see that courtroom dramas were in existence back then. John Babbington Williams also wrote some short stories that are courtroom dramas.

Most of the characters are poor working women who live in a cheap boarding house; they remind one of the working women in Wilkie Collins' "The Diary of Anne Rodway" (1855). Queen says that the Dollar Monthly Magazine was a "household magazine", with appeal to women; and one wonders if the use of an initial M. instead of a full name hides the identity and gender of a female author. The 1860's was the era in which women writers integrated the mystery story.

John Babbington Williams

John Babbington Williams is an American writer, known for his casebook collection Leaves from the Note-Book of a New York Detective: The Private Record of J. B. (collected 1865). The book contains thirty stories, and has recently been reprinted by Westholme Publishing.

The Introduction and first twelve tales, all deal with New York City police detective James Brampton. Brampton, who narrates the tales, solves a series of lively mysteries. Brampton stars in a few of the stories after this point, but most of the remaining tales are non-series stories.

Williams' tales fall into modern subgenres: detective stories, thrillers, courtroom dramas, medical mysteries. It is striking to see these subgenres so well-defined, at such an early date.

There might be some mild SPOILERS ahead; the reader is urged to read these entertaining tales first, before proceeding.

Detective Stories

The best Brampton tales center on solid detection. Brampton is a genuine detective, who follows up on clues from the crime scene, the body, and facts about the deceased, to figure out the real story of the crime. It is admirable that ideas about detection and reasoning from evidence are so clearly thought through here, at such an early date.

In many of the Brampton tales, it is obvious to the modern reader whodunit right away. Maybe it was also clear to intelligent readers in 1865. The pleasure of such nicely done stories as "The Accusing Leaves" and "Stabbed in the Back" involves seeing Brampton using real sleuthing to establish the truth - rather than a whodunit puzzle. "The Knotted Handkerchief" is similar in its pure detection, but it introduces its killer at the end of the story. "The Bowie Knife Sheath" also features detective work in its first half, but this slow moving, somewhat lesser tale is stretched out with different kinds of storytelling.

However, a few of the stories offer some plot surprises, as well as solid detection by Brampton. These might be the best pieces in the collection: "The Club Foot" and "The Lottery Ticket".

In "Stabbed in the Back", the detective finds a series of clues, that enable him to develop a profile of the killer. He learns three things that are probably true about the murderer: this allows him to search the small town, looking for a man who fits this profile. Such multi-clue profiles will play a prominent role in later detection fiction. See Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes story, "Silver Blaze" (1892); Chapter 11 of E. C. Bentley's Trent's Last Case (1913). Such profiles will be regularly employed by Ellery Queen.

"The Accusing Leaves" and "The Knotted Handkerchief" show how evidence that first looks one way, can actually be made to support different conclusions, upon deeper examination by Brampton.

A rival detective, Mr. George Lewis, appears as a supporting character in "The Accusing Leaves" and "Stabbed in the Back". He is nowhere as good a sleuth as Brampton, and he makes an entertaining foil. Such rivals will also be popular in later crime fiction, for example Inspector Lestrade in the Sherlock Holmes tales. Lewis underscores Brampton's good detective procedure, by his own poorly done detective work.

Both Lewis and Brampton work for the same detective organization in New York. We sometimes hear Brampton talk about his detective chief. But unfortunately, Williams never takes us to the head office, or gives us other inside looks at the detective organization as a whole.

Medically-based Crimes

Some of the Brampton tales are accounts of medically-based crimes. These stories are not so good. Their medical detail can be grim; the medical ideas tend to be arbitrary, bending to the ends of the plot, rather than ingenious; the detection elements are weak. The medical tales include "The Silver Pin" and "The Defrauded Heir".

The Thrillers

As a change of pace Brampton also gets involved with some well-done thriller plots, in "The Struggle for Life", "The Masked Robbers" and "The Coiners". These thrillers typically involve a chase after criminals in a series of well-defined country locations, often in the American Midwest. They climax with the hero alone with bad guys, during a night at a remote country inn or run-down house. "The Night of Peril" is also mainly such a thriller, although it starts out with some solid detection at a crime scene, in the Brampton manner. Such pleasant, non-series stories as "An Adventure with Italian Brigands" and "An Adventure at an Inn" are in the same mode as the Brampton thrillers.

In "The Masked Robbers", the hero shows some ingenuity in setting a trap for the killers. In "The Coiners" and "The Night of Peril", the hero shows ingenuity in escaping from them at the end.

"An Adventure at an Inn" has plot gambits that seem to derive from Wilkie Collins' "A Terribly Strange Bed" (1852).

Many of the Brampton tales take place in New York City. Typically they are set in what is today the Downtown (the far South) of Manhattan. Presumably, this was the main part of Manhattan in existence in those days. In the thriller "The Struggle for Life" and the medical "The Defrauded Heir", the detective disguises himself, and goes undercover as a crook in the Five Points district of Southern Manhattan. The Five Points clearly had a reputation as a criminal hangout in this era. But Williams does not paint the sort of extreme negative depiction of the Five Points neighborhood as a whole, that will later be seen in such lurid books as The Gangs of New York (1928) by Herbert Asbury. Williams simply shows criminals hanging out in its slum saloons. The Five Points-set finale of "The Defrauded Heir" is the most entertaining part of the otherwise grim medical story. (Eventually, in real-life, the Five Points slum was completely demolished. Today the area is the Foley Square district of lower Manhattan, home of imposing, official looking government buildings.)

Many of the thrillers take place in the American Midwest countryside. The heroine of "An Adventure at an Inn" takes the train to Wheeling, West Virginia, locale of the classic "Life in the Iron Mills" (1861) of Rebecca Harding Davis. From there, the heroine books passage on a steamship up the Ohio River to Wellsville, Ohio, right across the Ohio River from Hancock County, West Virginia, future locale of The Egyptian Cross Mystery (1932) by Ellery Queen. But most of the story takes place up the Ohio River from there, between Industry and Rochester, in Beaver County, Pennsylvania.

Courtroom Dramas

The book contains a few courtroom dramas. This genre seems already to be in existence at this early date. "My First Brief" makes satisfying theatrics, as the lawyer-narrator figures out whodunit, right in the courtroom. The detection unfortunately depends too much on coincidence and guesswork. It is not quite up to the best standards in the Brampton stories. Still, most readers will enjoy seeing a courtroom drama way-back-when.

"The Bowie Knife Sheath" also features courtroom drama in its finale.

Poe and Impossible Crimes

Many Casebook writers published an imitation of Poe's locked room puzzle in "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" (1841). While reading Williams' book, I kept wondering if he would attempt such a mystery. Finally he did: "The Walker Street Tragedy" is a mildly-impossible crime, that shows a definite ancestry in Poe's work. Williams' ideas are related to - but distinctly different from - Poe's. Williams deserves credit for coming up with his own mystery solution.

By today's standards, "The Walker Street Tragedy" is simple as an impossible crime tale. I had no difficulty figuring out how the crime was committed. In Williams' day, it was probably creditable. Williams also includes a second impossible mystery, about the knife. It too is only mildly clever, compared to Carr and his successors.

The plot in "The Walker Street Tragedy" is related to Williams' "The Lottery Ticket". There is a reversal: the solution in "The Walker Street Tragedy" looks like the first, false ideas in "The Lottery Ticket" - while the solution in "The Lottery Ticket" looks a little bit like the first false idea in "The Walker Street Tragedy".

Walker Street seems to be in what is now known as the TriBeCa district of New York City: another Williams story set in lower Manhattan.

The Introduction

The Introduction to the book essentially consists of two short stories. One describes how the writer Williams allegedly met and befriended James Brampton. The second half is a mystery that Brampton solved - basically, just another Brampton case, and one of his weakest.

The first half of the introduction is better. It shows Brampton turning his sleuthing powers, to deducing facts about passerby. This recalls Dupin's feats in Poe's "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" (1841), and anticipates the famous deductions of Sherlock Holmes about his visitors.

Paranormal Detective Stories

Today, in the new millennium, there is a deplorable interest in supernatural and paranormal elements fused with detective fiction. I hate this! The supernatural and paranormal are a load of crap, and have no place in a genre like detective fiction, which emphasizes mysteries solved by human reason. In any case, such stories are nothing new. Williams includes a non-series mystery, "The Broken Cent", which has a paranormal element, a so-called "lucky coin" (something that only exists in fiction, one might add). Up until its finale, "The Broken Cent" is a pleasant detective story. Its hero reconstructs the crime, using the same solid detection James Brampton uses in other stories. Then, at the end, the criminal is identified following the trail of luck produced by the coin. This is a cheat of a finale.

"The Broken Cent" benefits from some nice travel writing, showing the city of Baltimore. Baltimore also appears in "The Lottery Ticket".

Crime Stories

"Mr. Sterling's Confession" is unusual in the book, in that it is mainly a straightforward account of a crime, in the form of a confession by the criminal. The story shows what "white collar crime" was like back then, as perpetrated by a businessman. The tale has added interest, in that the victim was Brampton's father, thus filling out some of Brampton's life history.

Early American Detective Stories

LeRoy Lad Panek and Mary M. Bendel-Simso's Early American Detective Stories: An Anthology (2008) is a large collection of mystery short stories, mainly reprinted from US newspapers and magazines in the second half of the 19th Century. The anthology includes a few fine mysteries by "literary" authors, such as Harriet Prescott Spofford and Brander Matthews, that are discussed elsewhere in this Guide. But most of the stories are by little-known scribes, often anonymous, whose fiction was designed for mass consumption. The editors reveal that there are hundreds of such stories in the files of American newspapers of the era, now largely forgotten. The editors' detailed Introductions are highly informative, and give a vivid picture of this era of publishing.

Police Procedure

The stories vary widely in their approach. Some are basically thrillers, without much mystery. These can show detectives hunting down and capturing crooks. Two tales in this mode seemed especially enjoyable: Capt. Charles Howard's "An Old Offender" (1874) and Anonymous' "The Detective's Story" (1864), which opens in Buffalo. Beware: "The Detective's Story" is one of three stories in the anthology with similar titles! The one I am praising shows such interesting features of detective life as stakeouts and fences. It is notable that such concepts are already present in detective fiction in 1864.

The anthology has a section containing short comic burlesques of detective fiction. Some of these also look at similar man-hunt material. Anonymous' "A Detective's Story" (1880) is another "capturing a crook on a train" tale, like "An Old Offender". Anonymous' "After a Clew" (1889) deals with shadowing. Both tales have clever twists.

Colorful Investigations

Far more baroque is Herbert Lee Standish's "Five Thousand Dollars Reward" (1862). It is a thriller most notable for its elaborate setting. It includes a haunted house that turns out to be not supernatural at all: a common gambit in later mystery fiction. The detective's name is Brompton, recalling John Babbington Williams' sleuth James Brampton. And it has a "hunt the counterfeiters" plot, recalling Williams' "The Coiners". Both tales even have a similar plot twist. "The Coiners" has no haunted house aspects, though.

Also well done as a tale of a detective investigating a cryptic situation is W.W. Buchanan's "In the Cellar" (1868). This tale is also notable for its use of setting: Australian mining towns. One has to wonder if this story is reprinted from some Australian journal.


Other authors try to have genuinely puzzling mysteries. Anonymous' "The First Case" (1869) actually covers two distinct crimes solved by its detective hero, Robert Blaisdell, nicknamed the "Doctor". In each case, the story has a baffling mystery, with what were perhaps surprising solutions in 1869. Modern readers might well figure these solutions out. "The First Case" includes what we now call an "origin", telling how the hero first became involved in the detective business. Origin stories are a big deal in comic books, and they turn up regularly in prose mystery fiction, too.

Anonymous' "Written in Blood" (1882) is an early Dying Message tale. In fact, it was published long before Conan Doyle's "The Boscombe Valley Mystery" (1891), often cited as an early example of the form. "Written in Blood" does not involve interpreting a cryptic message: the dying message is perfectly clear. But it does build up an interesting, if simple, puzzle.

The Ideas

Several of the detective stories have an ingenious idea, through which the detective is able to link the crime to its perpetrator. For example, in Anonymous' "A Tell-Tale Ink Mark" (1886), the sleuth uses the then novel idea of fingerprints to identify the guilty party. (The author gives full credit to Mark Twain's Life on the Mississippi (1883), which used fingerprints first.) Such ideas are often at the center of these stories' plots. They seem to be the main point of the tale, treated as a structure of detective reasoning.

There is often only one such idea per tale. After all, the stories are pretty brief. Unfortunately, this sometimes means that the rest of the story depends on coincidence. In "A Tell-Tale Ink Mark", the sleuth has no actual way of tracking down the culprit. He searches the city at random, and finally encounters the murderer by chance. Once he suspects the man's guilt, he then uses fingerprints to prove it. Such chance meetings with the guilty run through several of these tales.

"Idea" stories like these recall the tale by "Waters", "Murder Under the Microscope". Both show how a scientific advance can be used to solve a crime, and find evidence against a wrongdoer. Such tales seem like early examples of Scientific Detective stories.

Ideas can also appear that don't relate to science. Anonymous' "Tracing a Murderer" (1880) involves times, a kind of mystery clue that will play a major role in later mystery fiction. The tale also has an interesting frontier setting.

Poorer Stories

Inevitably, some of these tales are better than others. I didn't like the two stories by James D. M'Cabe, Jr, about his Paris sleuth Eugene Laromie. "Seventy Miles an Hour" (1866) suffers from coincidence-laden "detection", bad judgment by his hero that kills bystanders, and gruesome violence. And "The Telltale Eye" (1866) centers on a hokey bit of pseudo-science that is best forgotten. M'Cabe seems to be something of a hack writer.

Most of the book's tales were published after 1860. One of the few earlier ones, Anonymous' "Story of a Detective "Expert"" (1858), shows that the mystery story paradigm was in full swing by 1858, with a well-known detective unraveling a mysterious murder. The story suffers from racial stereotypes, however, and is not recommended. By contrast, most of the stories in the anthology are racism-free.

Lawrence L. Lynch

Lawrence L. Lynch was the masculine pseudonym of the American female writer Emma Murdoch Van Deventer, who published many detective novels in the later 1800's, from the 1870's on. I finally got a chance to read one of her now rare novels, Against Odds (1894), and found it terribly disappointing. In fact, it seems like a tenth rate piece of hack work. This novel is a detective story - its lead characters are detectives who prowl the real Chicago world's fair of the previous year - but there is no actual mystery plot in the modern sense, with mysterious events that need to be unraveled. Instead, the detectives get involved in melodrama at the fair, pursuing different groups of crooks, and helping to sort out the tangled personal lives of some honest characters as well. So although this book was published after such genuine mystery writers as Anna Katherine Green and Conan Doyle had become huge best sellers, it is not a mystery tale at all. Lynch's writing is terrible, and inadequate to give a vivid description of life at the fair, something that could have been fascinating in the hands of a better writer. Her book also suffers from relentless racism.

Lynch's hero is a Secret Service agent, but one learns nothing about that fascinating institution. She simply labels him as a member of the Secret Service, then does nothing more with this aspect of the plot.

It is hard to place Lynch in any mystery story tradition, perhaps because her book is not actually a mystery. Its focus on the detectives as protagonists and point of view characters remind one a little bit of Gaboriau and the Casebook writers. However, the Casebook detectives are usually on a well defined case, often with a real mystery, whereas Lynch's detectives are just wandering around and involved with amorphous doings at the fair.

Australian Casebook Fiction: Mary Fortune and James Skipp Borlase

The mid 19th Century Australian mystery writers Mary Fortune and James Skipp Borlase seem to me to be major finds in the history of the detective tale. These writers are of a generation that discovered the possibilities of writing fiction set on the frontiers of various countries: Bret Harte and Mark Twain in America, William Henry Hudson in South America. Both writers were actually born in the British Isles, Fortune in Belfast around 1833, Borlase in Cornwall in 1839, before emigrating to Australia. Borlase started publishing first. Fortune got her start by adding onto the series of James Brooke detective stories by Borlase, before inventing her own series detective. Their works seem to be an Australian counterpart of the British casebook school. Their work consists of short stories dealing with lawman heroes, just like their British counterparts, but depicts frontier justice in the Australian gold fields, far removed in style from the urban crimes of Paris and London. Both Borlase and Fortune are smoother and more dynamic storytellers than the British casebook writers who have been reprinted.

One gets the impression that Australian casebook fiction was less well known and less influential than British casebook fiction. It did not have the dominant influence on later Nineteenth Century mystery fiction that the British school did. However, Australian detective historian Stephen Knight suspects that Arthur Conan Doyle, no less, read Borlase. I also suspect he read Fortune, as Doyle's "De Profundis" (1892) repeats motifs from Fortune's mystery tale, "The Dead Witness" (1866). The resemblance is very close, and it seems impossible to be a coincidence. Furthermore, the detective James Brooke seems to me the 19th Century detective whose personality seems closest to Sherlock Holmes, and one wonders if he were a role model for that greatest of all detectives. The resemblance is especially close in the Brooke case "Murder and Mystery" (1866), which might be by either Borlase or Fortune. This story was originally published anonymously in the Australian Journal. Borlase included it next year in his collection The Night Fossickers, but computer analysis suggests its real author was Mary Fortune. See the fascinating study, "Whodunit?: Literary Forensics and the Crime Writing of James Skipp Borlase and Mary Fortune", by Lucy Sussex and John Burrows, Bibliographic Society of Australia and New Zealand Bulletin vo.21 no.2, Second Quarter, 1997, pp. 73-105.

The three stories of Fortune's I have read tend to be set in the outback, and involve tracking through the bush. Borlase's tend to be set in areas of denser population, such as a gold mining camp or a station. The tracking in Fortune's tales echoes similar tracking in British casebook fiction and Gaboriau, and in general her fiction seems a little closer to these European traditions than does Borlase's. Perhaps I am just generalizing here on a very small sample; I would love to read Fortune's now very rare collection, The Detective's Album: Tales of the Australian Police (1871).

The Locked Tent

Fortune's "The Body in the Scrub" (1867) includes a locked room problem. Actually, it is a locked tent. Fortune does not treat this the way a modern mystery writer would, by propounding the mystery at the start, and solving it at the end. Instead, she raises the problem only to solve it almost immediately. Still, it is a genuine locked room situation, with a legitimate, and clever, solution.

This raises the issue as to what other early locked room situations there are. Fortune would almost certainly be familiar with Poe's "Murder in the Rue Morgue", whose locked room solution has always seemed to me to be something of a cheat. Also, Poe does not quite emphasize the locked room concept explicitly. It is not quite clear in reading the story whether Poe really has the concept of a locked room mystery explicitly in his head. Nor does LeFanu in "The Murdered Cousin". But it is already clear and explicit in Martel's "Hanged by the Neck: A Confession" and in this Fortune tale.


Fortune's work has a heavy emphasis on what we might call "Bodies in packages". Bodies keep turning up in mysterious ways in her works. Their emergence is mysterious, and at the center of grand tableaux. Often times they are surrounded by things, and are in containers: ponds, tents, suitcases.

If Fortune is interested in the emergence of bodies, Borlase's motif seems to be holes and hollows in the ground. Freudians could read such things as female or womb symbols, and "Murder and Mystery" definitely links its hollow to the female character.

The Character of Australian Detectives

The vigor and confidence of the detectives of Borlase and Fortune is heartening, and much more modern seeming than the Victorian atmosphere that surrounds such English contemporaries as Forrester and Waters, not to mention Dickens and the sensation novelists. There are times when detective James Brooke sounds just like Sherlock Holmes on a case. On wonders whether in fact Conan Doyle had read Borlase, as mystery historian Stephen Knight speculates, and Fortune too.

The Australian detectives are largely lacking the tremendous emphasis put on the lower class status of the British detectives. English writers are forever emphasizing that Sgt. Cuff or Bucket are not quite gentlemen, and are more typical of the working classes. These detectives always seem to be seen from the outside, somehow. The Australian detectives seem to be social equals, at least on the job, of everyone they meet. They concentrate instead on doing their work, which they pursue with zest. They have the confidence of middle class professionals, knowing they are good at their work, and understand it well. They intervene in the actions of the other characters' lives, just like Sherlock Holmes does. They have a "take charge" personality. By contrast, English Victorian detectives always seem to be standing off on the sidelines, deferentially asking questions, and trying not to get in the way of the other characters, who are clearly their betters. "Making inquiries" seems to be their paradigmatic mode of operation.

Borlase's or Forune's "Murder and Mystery" clearly recalls such Doyle works as "The Speckled Band". In both, the detective goes to a country house, and intervenes in a terrifying, nocturnal situation. The detective's intervention is seen as key in breaking the situation, and solving the mystery.

Recommended Reading

E.F. Bleiler has done more to reprint British casebook fiction than anyone else. His anthology A Treasury of Victorian Detective Stories (1979) contains pieces by Martel, "Waters" and Forrester, while his Three Victorian Detective Novels contains Forrester's novella "The Unknown Weapon", as well as the much later "The Big Bow Mystery" (1891) of Zangwill. His scholarly introductions are also excellent. Laura Marcus' and Chris Willis' Twelve Women Detective Stories (1997) contains Hayward's "The Mysterious Countess", as well as excellent later pieces about women sleuths by Catherine Louisa Pirkis, Grant Allen, Anna Katherine Green and F. Tennyson Jesse. The story by M.M.B. is found in Douglas G. Greene and Robert Adey's anthology Death Locked In, along with classics by Cornell Woolrich, Joseph Commings and Edward D. Hoch.

Professor Stephen Knight's anthology Dead Witness: Best Australian Mystery Stories (1989) is a first rate source for Australian mystery fiction. In addition to such casebook stories as Borlase's "The Night Fossickers of Moonlight Flat" and Fortune's "The Dead Witness", there are recommended pieces in this book by Doyle, Hume Nisbet, Meade and Eustace, E. W. Hornung, A.E. Martin, Arthur Upfield and Jennifer Rowe. Knight defines mystery fiction very broadly; some of these pieces are only borderline mystery stories, although hopefully you will find all of them enjoyable. The book also comes with an informative introduction. These two tales by Borlase and Fortune are artistically the best of the Australian casebook tales discussed here.

Carmel Bird's Australian Short Stories (1991) includes Fortune's "The Dead Man in the Scrub". Elizabeth Webby's and Lydia Wevers' Happy Endings: Stories by Australian and New Zealand Women (1987) includes Fortune's "The Evidence of the Grave". Cecil Hadgraft's The Australian Short Story Before Lawson (1986) contains Borlase's "Mystery and Murder" (which might be by Mary Fortune), as well as a really useful bibliography of 19th Century Australian short stories. The reference in Hadgraft's title is to Henry Lawson, the Australian writer and champion of the democratic values, in the tradition of Aeschylus and Walt Whitman.