Sir Arthur Conan Doyle | The Idler | M.P. Shiel | Baroness Orczy | Catherine Louisa Pirkis | Arthur Morrison | Max Pemberton | Harry Blyth | George R. Sims | Headon Hill | August Derleth
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New Arabian Nights
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (available on-line at http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/1661)
After all, Doyle had to get his information about the Australian Gold Rush from somewhere. What could be more natural, as Professor Stephen Knight has suggested, than a reading of Borlase and Fortune? Conventional literary historians always ascribe these tales to the influence of Bret Harte. This is certainly possible - even likely. Harte is probably one influence on Doyle. But is he the only one? Harte's tales tend to be pure Westerns, whereas Borlase and Fortune usually mixed crime elements in their work - the same paradigm as many of Doyle's stories.
Most importantly, "Benito Cereno" is one of the most perfectly plotted stories of the 19th Century, and the one most closely approximating Golden Age mystery technique in pre-Doyle fiction. From it, if no other mystery fiction had existed, Doyle could have learned the whole art of mystery plotting. One begins to see that Doyle had some powerful role models available to him when he created Sherlock Holmes: Poe and Gaboriau for the paradigms of the detective story. Robert Louis Stevenson for atmosphere and the concept of high adventure lurking in the fog of London. Borlase's and Fortune's detective James Brooks as a role model for the character of Sherlock Holmes. Melville's "Benito Cereno" for plotting technique.
Doyle's "Uncle Jeremy's Household" (1887) is the early work of his most nearly in the style and story telling technique of his Holmes mysteries. It seems to be one of the last tales he wrote before starting "A Study in Scarlet". Clearly, here Doyle found his voice. It is far less static than some of his early fiction; it has a dynamic quality, as the plot situation is not just stated, but evolves, with one situation developing into another, and different subplots playing off one another.
Doyle never reprinted this work. One possible reason is that he might have been embarrassed by the racism and religious prejudice in the choice of Indian villains. Their villainy is related to their alleged 'primitive' character, and their lack of Christianity, by the narrator of the story. As far as I can tell, Doyle never did this later in his fiction. The Indian sect in the story is one of a series of "murderous conspiracies" in Doyle's work: a group of early religious cultists in "A Study in Scarlet", Moriarty and his gang, the KKK in "The Five Orange Pips", the nihilists, and the Molly McGuires in "The Valley of Fear". These better known groups of Doyle villains differ from the Indians in "Uncle Jeremy" in that they are white, Christian males. Most of these groups (at least in Doyle's fiction - whose historical accuracy has often been challenged!) engage in a near public reign of terror, often dominating whole communities. Doyle does not posit them as any sort of racial "other". In keeping with Doyle's democratic views, they are just the same sort of people as the good characters in the story, including Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. These groups form a memorable leitmotiv running through Doyle's tales. Even the "Bravoes of Market-Drayton", in Doyle's little historical account, adhere to the same pattern.
Doyle's choice of villains aside, "Uncle Jeremy's Household" is an excellent piece of storytelling. It uses the technique found in the Holmes stories of a subplot entering the tale, destined to mysteriously alter the balance of power in the future, but in a way not immediately clear to the reader.
Doyle's "Our Midnight Visitor" (1891) has a Scots setting, and clearly has the feel of a Robert Louis Stevenson adventure tale, such as "The Pavilion on the Links", a story Doyle admired highly. Also Stevensonian is the theme of father-son conflict.
Doyle's mysteries tend to center around situations. He tends to present the reader with some extremely puzzling situation, one that is difficult to explain. He then solves the mystery, by developing some brilliant twist that stands the apparent situation on its head.
Doyle had little interest in alibis in his work. This is not because mystery fiction was unaware of them: they were used by such 1860's writers as Harriet Prescott Spofford and Charles Martel. In general, Doyle was not deeply interested in whodunit. He did not present a crime, have several suspects around who might equally have committed it, and then challenge the reader to pick which one of them actually did. Doyle's very popular contemporary Fergus Hume did this in The Mystery of a Hansom Cab (1886), a book Doyle had read, and disliked. So Doyle could have set up his mysteries this way: he had certainly seen the pattern in Hume's work. Whodunits were also used by Anna Katherine Green, another author whose work Doyle knew. Doyle only rarely begins his stories with a murder. Instead, Holmes is most commonly called on to investigate a theft, blackmail, a disappearance, or a strange job a middle class person is asked to do, as in "The Red-Headed League", "The Adventure of the Copper Beeches" or "The Stockbroker's Clerk". When there is a killing, it is often a byproduct of a theft, such as in "Silver Blaze" or "The Reigate Puzzle". "The Boscombe Valley Mystery" is an example of a full-fledged murder mystery within the Holmes canon.
Doyle, and Holmes and Watson, loved the fantastic, the outré and the bizarre in his cases. He is at the start of a great tradition of surrealism in modern mystery fiction. Virtually all the great 20th Century authors of detective stories had a strong surrealist element to their work. This cuts across schools. It is a dominant tradition among intuitionist writers, such as Carr, Queen and Chesterton, but one also finds it in Rinehart, Frederick Irving Anderson, and other Early American writers of their generation, and among Freeman, Sayers and the Realist school. Most of these writers were strongly influenced by Doyle, and paid written tribute to his work. Throughout this Guide I have often referred to this as a "surrealist" aspect of their work; but Doyle's fiction preceded by many years both Surrealism, and its ancestor Dada. Dada emerged around World War I, c1917, with Surrealism following in the 1920's, while Doyle's love for the bizarre was emphasized in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes of 1891 - 1892. Doyle also influenced surrealist-like activity in other media, such as film. For example, take Juve contre Fantômas (1913). This hour long film is Chapter 2 of Louis Feuillade's movie serial Fantômas. The bedroom scenes here seem to be directly derived from Doyle's "The Adventure of the Speckled Band" (1892). Feuillade's work was much admired by the Surrealists.
Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories were huge popular successes. It has become de rigueur for histories of mystery fiction to attempt to explain why. But, after reading a dozen or so such purported explanations, I remain skeptical that critics actually know why. Shouldn't any genuine explanation involve interviewing the public, asking them questions about why they like the stories, and analyzing their responses, perhaps using statistics? A critic can explain why he or she likes the stories; but just by analyzing the story itself, cannot really determine what the public thinks about it. Unfortunately, as far as I know, there were no pollsters around in the 1890's measuring public attitudes.
I first read the Sherlock Holmes stories as a child. I was overwhelmed by them. They seemed magical. Many other people have described such an experience: Ellery Queen's account of how he discovered the tales as a youth is superb. One cannot recapture childhood wonder as an adult, of course. But I was surprised at how well these stories stand up, on my recent rereading of them at age 44. A story like "The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor" had me completely fascinated, hanging on every twist of Doyle's plot, and every line of dialogue.
Doyle did not confine himself exclusively to this Intuitionist approach. In two stories, he emphasized instead the analysis of physical evidence. "The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet" (1892) and "The Reigate Puzzle" (1893) are both stories of theft, in which Holmes uses trails of physical evidence to track down the guilty parties. This approach was used by the Casebook writers and Gaboriau in the 1860's, and it will be used after Doyle by the Realist writers of the 20th Century. This approach was used less often by Doyle in his tales. It seems less central to his work than the Intuitionist method. But the ability to read physical clues also seems like definite part of the equipment of a great detective, in Doyle's view. Sherlock Holmes would not be the Complete Detective, without demonstrating these kinds of skills. It is significant that Doyle segregated the physical evidence approach out in these stories, rather than mixing it in throughout his career. It is as if he saw it as a separate kind of approach to mystery fiction, one that deserved to be concentrated in its own special stories.
In contrast, "Silver Blaze" and "The Naval Treaty" are also stories of theft, but their clues are entirely the non-physical concepts of the Intuitionist tradition. For example, the wonderful "incident of the dog in the night-time" from "Silver Blaze". This clue involves an ingenious situation. It is a clue that Holmes can understand only through the Intuitionist approach of insight combined with logical deduction.
"Fair play", the idea that all clues to a mystery must be set forth to the reader before the solution, so that he or she has a chance to solve the mystery on their own, is an important concept in 20th Century mystery fiction. The first explicit discussion of this principle known to me occurs in Israel Zangwill's 1895 preface to his "The Big Bow Mystery" (1891), although Zangwill does not use the actual words "fair play". Doyle's stories sometimes use fair play, and sometimes do not. It is significant that most of the Doyle tales that anticipate the Intuitionist school use fair play in their treatment of clues. For example, in "Silver Blaze" Doyle provides a complete set of clues that would allow readers to solve the mystery. Sherlock Holmes even underlines some of the clues in his discussions with the police. By contrast, in the stories concentrating on physical evidence, "The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet" and "The Reigate Puzzle", some of the evidence is shared with the reader, and some of it is not. This different treatment of fair play emphasizes the separateness of approach in these two kinds of stories.
"The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet" (1892) is in the tradition of the Casebook stories and Gaboriau, of the 1860's. Like many Casebook stories, it is about a robbery, and Holmes has to penetrate the gang of thieves to recover the stolen gems. Also Casebook like is the emphasis on money in the tale. The realistic, prominent treatment of the servants in the story is also a Casebook feature. Holmes' deduction from prints in the snow is a homage to Gaboriau's Monsieur Lecoq (1867). The use of disguise by Holmes in the tale is also reminiscent of Gaboriau. The whole work is a throwback to an earlier tradition. In part, this is a homage, a tribute to earlier authors. It also demonstrates Holmes' versatility: the story shows that in addition to his other talents, he has all the skills that were in the repertoire of the Casebook- Gaboriau school of detectives. While the Casebook tradition emerged in the 1850's and 1860's, it was still going strong in Britain in the 1890's. Several of the writers who followed Doyle, such as Max Pemberton, Arthur Morrison, and C.L. Pirkis, were not so much influenced by him in their actual stories, but continued to write mysteries in the Casebook tradition.
"The Adventure of the Priory School" (1903) seems to be modeled in its structure on "The Boscombe Valley Mystery". Both works have three components: a puzzle of who-done-it, a hidden backstory about character relationships, and reading tracks in the ground around a crime scene. The puzzle plot aspects of these three components have changed, however. There is no dying message in the who-done-it, but we do get a solid puzzle about who could have lured the victim and how. The backstory now lacks adequate clues to its plot twists, and is not fair play. The tracking gains a puzzle plot, something lacking in the tracking section of "The Boscombe Valley Mystery". The new tracking mystery approaches the impossible crime.
"The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter" (1893) is mainly a thriller, with only the smallest elements of mystery. It introduces Mycroft Holmes, one of the great characters in the saga. Mycroft only appears in four short stories, and is often off-stage even in these. But this does not stop him from being unforgettable. He forms a counter-example to the inane critical cliches about characters needing novels to be interesting.
Some of the stories in Doyle's The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1891 - 1892) remind one of Braddon. In these works, Doyle seems to have taken plot material both Braddon's works, given it new, ingenious twists, and developed it into mystery plots. In all cases, Doyle has come up with something original. He has also made the plots more purely mystery oriented. Doyle has also made Braddon's initial situations more optimistic, and more with a happy ending. There is also an alteration of the social roles of the women and men. He has altered the plots to make the leading woman character more morally pure. Also, in Braddon, the men in the story have both the money, and the power of the patriarchy behind them. The women have nothing. In Doyle, the women typically have money, and they are preyed on by men, who attempt to use their patriarchal power to control them. Doyle's approach is closer to such Wilkie Collins works as The Woman in White (1859 - 1860). In all three authors, there is a feminist subtext, in which women struggle with all their might to resist being controlled by the patriarchy. Doyle's approach makes the duel between the two characters slightly more evenly matched. It is unclear whether it is more realistic however.
"The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor" (1892) reminds one of Braddon's Lady Audley's Secret (1861 - 1862). Here, Doyle has shifted the background story away from Braddon's English and Australian setting, and into a California mining camp that recalls one of Doyle's favorite writers, Bret Harte. He has also made the heroine's response to the situation much more idealistic. However, one might point out that Doyle's heroine can afford to be idealistic - she has money of her own, while Lady Audley does not. In "the Noble Bachelor", the unsympathetic nobleman combines in one package the patriarchy which attempts to control women, and the aristocratic rule from which Americans successfully escaped. This is a clever symbolic union, and makes him an ingenious emblem of everything Doyle detests.
Doyle's "The Adventure of the Copper Beeches" (1892) is in the tradition of Braddon's "The Mystery at Ferndale". In both tales there is a locked wing of the house, in both a woman sleuth explores both the outside and the inside of the locked wing. Both have solutions involving a similar concept, although Doyle has come up with some ingenious new approaches here. Both take place at lonely country houses, each with a plant name.
One can also see touches of "The Mystery at Ferndale" in Doyle's "The Man with the Twisted Lip" (1891). The scene where the heroine looks up and sees her husband at the window of the room, rather recall similar ones where characters in "Ferndale" see mysterious characters at an upper window. And there is some relationship of mystery approach here too, although it is a distant one.
Later tales by Shiel in the Prince Zaleski series are not as good; "The S.S." in particular is ridiculous, although it is much admired by some critics. Shiel wrote and collaborated on many other mystery novels and tales of intrigue. All of these are virtually unknown today, and one wonders whether there are any outstanding detective works among them. Shiel promoted crackpot (and worse) religious and political ideas in his work; ideas in "The S.S." and some of the Cummings Monk short stories are offensive to me, and surely to other people as well.
Similarly, while the Scarlet Pimpernel is an interesting character and his secret identity is an important innovation, the novel The Scarlet Pimpernel is not that good a book, as a whole. It pales when compared to the swashbucklers of Alexandre Dumas.
There are other possible innovations in Orczy. The Old Man in the Corner tales open with lists of characters who will appear in the tale. I do not know which author was the first to do this. It became common in detective novels of the 1920's through 1940's. Many readers, myself included, welcome this as a handy way to keep track of the characters in the story. In Orczy, the character list is referred to by the drama-derived term "Dramatic Personae". These cast lists are already present in the original magazine publications of Orczy's tales. They are preserved in the collection of tales edited by E.F. Bleiler for Dover Books, The Old Man in the Corner (1980), but not in many other book versions of the stories.
Orczy is skilled in pinning the crime on a person the reader didn't much suspect. She often fools me.
Orczy regularly explores the times of the crime and various suspects' actions. Sometimes these are used for alibi puzzles, sometimes not.
Servants in Orczy often serve as witnesses. They function almost as recorders, observing everything that happens, including bits of conversations, and later reporting it verbatim to the authorities. They often spill the beans to the police, about their employers' secrets. Other lower-downs, who are not technically servants, sometimes perform similar functions: the nurse who overhears things in "The Case of Miss Elliott", for example.
A running character throughout the Old Man tales is the lawyer Sir Arthur Inglewood. He is a superb counsel for the defense. We never see Inglewood operating in other than his professional capacity. He is dignified, expensive to hire, and well recognized as a top lawyer.
"The Fenchurch Street Mystery" (1901) is the first of the Old Man tales. It sets up the two series characters and the paradigm of the stories.
"The Fenchurch Street Mystery" has an elaborate backstory for the suspects. It involves decades of their lives, and foreign travel to distant lands. She also has a complex interaction between the characters in the contemporary time of the story. Orczy uses this elaborate backstory to weave a complex mystery plot. She inter-threads hidden mystery developments in it, to prepare ingenious mystery plot surprises. Orzcy will employ this same backstory-and-complex-mystery approach in another outstanding tale, "The Tremarn Case".
"The Mysterious Death on the Underground Railway" (1901) eventually becomes a borderline impossible crime story. Impossible crimes are rare in Orczy's work.
Some Orczy characters perceive the world so vividly, that their experiences are almost visionary. The plot in "The Mysterious Death on the Underground Railway" depends on the opposite effect: a witness who is vague about what he sees, and who has not paid close attention. The story opens with an in-depth look at problems of humans not closely observing what they see.
SPOILER. The Lady Molly tale "The Woman in the Big Hat" has similar basic plot as "The Mysterious Death on the Underground Railway". The gender roles have been reversed, and the impossible crime aspects have been removed. It adds a clue, concerning the hat of the title.
"The Regent's Park Murder" (1901) is an alibi puzzle. The tale is logical, fairly complex, and holds the attention. But its solution has disappointing aspects. SPOILERS:
The various people who work in the victim's building make an interesting background.
SPOILER. "The Mysterious Death in Percy Street" has an unusual choice of killer. One wonders if Orczy was the first to do this. It also does unusual things with the story's narrator, who is effectively the Old Man. Both of these elements might have influenced Agatha Christie.
"The Glasgow Mystery" (1902) has a clever plot idea. It has been much imitated by later writers, but it is still surprising. SPOILER. The execution of the idea in "The Glasgow Mystery" depends on the isolation of the kitchen staff from the boarders - something that might not be familiar to today's readers.
"The Glasgow Mystery" was omitted by Orczy from editions of The Old Man in the Corner published in her lifetime. It is therefore not included in e-book versions derived from these editions. It is readily available in print though, including the collection of tales edited by E.F. Bleiler for Dover Books, The Old Man in the Corner (1980). And in Rivals of Sherlock Holmes (1978) edited by Alan K. Russell.
"The York Mystery" is a minor tale. SPOILER. Its sole ingenuity involves an unexpected choice of killer. Otherwise, there are no surprises in the solution: the crime is pretty much what it first seems to be, only done by another killer than the original main suspect. "The York Mystery" is one of a series of mild, bland tales Orczy wrote using this approach: others are "The Case of Mrs. Norris". "The Murder of Miss Pebmarsh", "The Tragedy of Barnsdale Manor". Motives in these cases tend to be similar: an upper class person trying to avoid scandal, when their bad behavior comes to life, and they start getting hounded by a lower class person. The choice of the killer in these tales also tends to be similar.
"The Liverpool Mystery" is a minor tale of a jewelry swindle, without much ingenuity. SPOILER. Its only puzzle plot aspect is a mildly surprising choice of bad guy. However, one reason this choice is surprising, is that it is not especially logical or clued.
"The Dublin Mystery" (1902) is an intricately plotted mystery about a will. But somehow, the ideas are not that ingenious or impressive. Still, this tale should get credit for its plot's complexity and logic.
Orczy reworked different aspects of the plot material from "The Dublin Mystery" into such later tales as "The Tragedy in Dartmoor Terrace" and "The Duffield Peerage Case". These two later stories are drastically different from each other, but both have roots in "The Dublin Mystery". "The Ayrsham Mystery" and "The Murder in Saltashe Woods" form a parallel series, that also have links to these tales.
"The Edinburgh Mystery" (1902) is a poor story. It has an alibi puzzle involving the time of the killing, resolved by a similar inane, uncreative idea as the solution of "The Case of Miss Elliott".
"The Edinburgh Mystery" suffers seriously from a stereotyped portrait of a disabled man.
"An Unparalleled Outrage" is also known as "The Brighton Mystery" (1902). The core idea of the mystery puzzle is today a cliche in the genre. It frequently appears in books and TV crime dramas. Because of its familiarity, the story's solution is easily guessed, and the tale does not seem very impressive. However, it might have been more baffling in 1902. SPOILER. Today, such plots are most often associated with kidnapping mysteries. Dashiell Hammett used such a twist in his kidnapping tale "The Gatewood Caper" (1923) (also known as "Crooked Souls"), and one suspects it has spread from there to other writers. By contrast, "An Unparalleled Outrage" concerns blackmail.
"The De Genneville Peerage" is also known as "The Birmingham Mystery" (1902). SPOILER. The puzzle plot is a variant on that of "The Fenchurch Street Mystery". It is simpler than the one in "The Fenchurch Street Mystery". And the killer benefits less in "The De Genneville Peerage" than in "The Fenchurch Street Mystery". For these reasons, "The De Genneville Peerage" seems like a less successful story. The storytelling also seems flatter and less colorful.
Both Orczy and Bodkin show similarities with the mystery fiction of Fergus Hume. Hume's tales are also dispassionate and restrained in their telling. Hume sets up a network of relationships, then shows how those relationships can be reinterpreted to form the surprise solution to the mystery. All of these writers emphasize the fair play, puzzle plot. Hume works like The Mystery of a Hansom Cab, also perform much of their storytelling in the form of trial scenes. There is also a great deal in Hume about public reaction to cases, in the form of newspaper publicity, which is also a feature of Orczy. Marriages tend to be sinister in both authors, with either one party killing the other, or sharing some guilty secret. Hume, like Bodkin and Orczy, also featured female sleuths in his fiction.
The crimes in Orczy's tales are usually committed for financial gain, and often involve a distinct swindle or theft by the villain. Sometimes this is very close to the Rogue school: see the swindle in "The Liverpool Mystery".
The Old Man's frank admiration for the clever villains is also an attribute of this school.
Rogue fiction often involves clever crooks dressing up in the fine clothes of the upper classes, and using this to sway people's opinions and responses. This recurs in Orczy:
"The Red Carnation" takes place against a background of Russian - Polish conflict, such as would later animate Joseph Conrad. This is one of the few works in Orczy's oeuvre set against the Eastern European background of her youth - it is laid in Vienna. A woman from Vienna appears in the London-set "The Woman in the Big Hat".
The tale describes how the heroine's instinct and talent for espionage work draws her back into the profession. Orczy would go on to create the similarly talented woman detective, Lady Molly of Scotland Yard.
The tale keeps describing the heroine's actions as automatic: first at the beginning of the story, which describes her espionage role as automatic to her as a hunting dog going after its prey, then at the end, where emotionally overwhelming circumstances cause the heroine to move like an "automaton". The heroine's feelings are intense throughout.
The story is notable for the vivid sensory impressions of the heroine. Especially towards the end of the story, virtually every sentence describes some perception she has. All of the senses are appealed to: touch, sight, hearing, smell, taste, even heat and cold. There is a riotous mix of textures: a paragraph will describe first furs, then flowers and palms. One wonders if Orczy is participating in the turn of the century literary movement of Impressionism, whose advocates included Stephen Crane and Conrad, and which stressed rich description of sensory effects. Orczy's work has a visionary quality, as if it were a dream. Orczy would have real life visionary experiences, where her creative imagination would present to her both the Old Man in the Corner, then The Scarlet Pimpernel, enabling her to create these characters. These are discussed in her autobiography. Orczy trained as a painter, and apparently "saw" the world through a multitude of media.
"The Case of Miss Elliott" is an alibi puzzle. Its solution is sound enough, but distressingly uncreative. In fact, the solution is so routine that some readers might regard it as a cheat.
Its setting is the real London street of Blomfield Road in Maida Vale. This locale of a pretty London neighborhood near a canal combines a nice landscape with architecture, in the form of a foot bridge. Landscapes and architecture are both regularly featured in classic mysteries.
"The Case of Miss Elliott" shows skepticism about leaders and administrators of charitable organizations, suspecting they might be crooks. This theme will return in "The Mystery of the Pearl Necklace".
"The Hocussing of Cigarette" is a story about a threatened race horse, like Doyle's "Silver Blaze". It is pleasantly enough told, and has some nice twists and turns. The solution is pretty minor though: one of those lesser Orczy tales, in which another person turns out to be guilty rather than the chief suspect, but in which this doesn't change the case much. The solution does do some decent things with motives.
"The Tragedy in Dartmoor Terrace" has an inventive mystery plot. It depends on coincidence - but so do a lot of good mysteries. The story involves a similar situation as "The Dublin Mystery", with two young men rivals to be heirs to a fortune. The plot of "The Tragedy in Dartmoor Terrace" is more developed. SPOILER. One clue is now dated, based on knowledge about London life in 1902 that most readers today do not know.
"Who Stole the Black Diamonds?" has an implausible central situation, that creates holes in its plot. SPOILERS. The scheme depends on the husband dying - a coincidence no one could plan for. Worse, the scheme depends on him not obtaining any documentation of the sale. In real life, people buying valuable objects obtain all the documentation they can get. Furthermore, a man's heirs would save all this documentation, not destroy it as the widow does in the story. Such documentation would be designed precisely to avoid such lawsuits as are in the tale.
"The Murder of Miss Pebmarsh" is a minor tale. SPOILER. Its only good mystery plot feature is an unexpected choice of culprit. There are some timetable-and-alibi aspects to the puzzle, that help to indicate the killer. It is not an "alibi puzzle", i.e., it is not a tale in which the sleuth has to break a perfect alibi. But the alibis and timetables do suggest the killer. Both subject matter and the killer in "The Murder of Miss Pebmarsh" reflect an earlier, minor Orczy tale "The Case of Mrs. Norris" (1903), which features her sleuth "Skin o' my Tooth".
"The Lisson Grove Mystery" is a well-constructed alibi mystery. It shows an alibi puzzle long before the appearance of alibi problems in Freeman Wills Crofts or Christopher Bush. SPOILER. The alibi uses similar techniques as those Orczy employed in "The Mysterious Death in Percy Street". They are more elaborate in "The Lisson Grove Mystery". And used to construct an actual alibi puzzle, something unfortunately not found in the weaker "The Mysterious Death in Percy Street". "The Lisson Grove Mystery" and "The Mysterious Death in Percy Street" have elements of the "breakdown of identity", used to construct alibis by Crofts and others of the Realist school.
"The Tremarn Case" is an elaborately plotted tale, with a well-constructed solution. Its structural approach reflects that of the first Old Man tale "The Fenchurch Street Mystery".
"The Fate of the Artemis" has the same mystery plot as the later "The Mystery of the Pearl Necklace". The two stories have different backgrounds: "The Fate of the Artemis" involves international intrigue and a valuable map; "The Mystery of the Pearl Necklace" looks at the stolen jewels of the title. I prefer "The Mystery of the Pearl Necklace": "The Fate of the Artemis" tells the reader all about a late plot development right from the start, then flashes back to the main story, while "The Mystery of the Pearl Necklace" reserves this development as a startling surprize later in the tale. This increases its effectiveness, and also underscores its bafflingly mysterious nature, its complication of the mystery puzzle. "The Mystery of the Pearl Necklace" also adds new plot twists that take place outside of its hotel, while "The Fate of the Artemis" sticks closely to the single setting of its rooming house.
"The Disappearance of Count Collini" is a minor tale. Its plot derives from Doyle's "A Case of Identity". The plot also seems highly improbable, something that would be difficult to pull off, without everyone realizing the truth. The tale has some mildly decent alibi features.
Orzcy would reuse this material as part of the later "The Case of the Sicilian Prince". Plot summaries of the non-series historical novel The Nest of the Sparrowhawk (1909) suggest the plot was re-used there as well.
"The Ayrsham Mystery" has a puzzle plot idea recalling "The Tragedy in Dartmoor Terrace". It is simpler and less clever though. The material about the young woman and the boyfriend she protects is mildly distasteful. Later, Orczy would considerably re-work "The Ayrsham Mystery" into "The Murder in Saltashe Woods", replacing all the romantic elements with business dealings: an improvement.
"The Affair at the Novelty Theatre" has a pleasant backstage setting, which might appeal to readers (like me) who have a passion for the theater. Some aspects of its theater portrayal anticipate the classic Cue for Murder (1942) by Helen McCloy: the great actress, the big melodrama scene on-stage, the non-actor boyfriend with a cameo role in the play. Also appealing is the story's light-hearted focus on a jewel theft, rather than a grim murder. It is also the only mystery story known to me that uses the term "art nouveau" (to describe a necklace). Unfortunately, the solution is mainly pretty routine. SPOILER. The best feature of the solution is the unlikely culprit, who is indeed indicated by a fair play clue.
"The Tragedy of Barnsdale Manor" is a fairly minor tale. Its solution is not that much different from the apparent facts of the case. This robs the solution of ingenuity. The repeated suggestions that working class women might commit murder, but that aristocratic women wouldn't and couldn't, seem like class prejudice. SPOILER. The choice of killer recalls "The Murder of Miss Pebmarsh", although the culprit's identity was better hidden in "The Murder of Miss Pebmarsh" than in "The Tragedy of Barnsdale Manor".
"The Mystery of the Pearl Necklace" is well plotted, mixing an ever-more complicated story with an inventive solution. The tale shares imagery with "The Affair at the Novelty Theatre", but the mystery plot eventually moves in decisively different directions.
The tales are narrated by Mulligan's confidential clerk Alexander Stanislaus Mullins. The mild-mannered clerk serves as a "Watson", recounting his boss' detective work. The clerk is frequently called "Muggins" by his mean boss "Skin o' my Tooth", as sort of a joke.
Aspects of Skin o' my Tooth anticipate Erle Stanley Gardner:
SPOILER. The mystery plot of "The Murder in Saltashe Woods" is another Orczy tale about two brothers. Like the others, it has some symmetry between the pair of brothers, and suggestions that actions attributed to one brother may actually have been caused by the other. Among such brother stories, "The Murder in Saltashe Woods" seems closest to "The Ayrsham Mystery". Both open with a body being discovered in a woods; both have a handsome younger scapegrace brother being immediately suspected of a crime, while his successful, respectable older brother is never suspected till the finale. However, these tales are a bit less close to other Orczy "brother stories" like "The Dublin Mystery", "The Tragedy in Dartmoor Terrace". There are no concerns over who might be an heir, for example, in "The Murder in Saltashe Woods", unlike the other stories.
"The Case of the Sicilian Prince" was originally called "The Case of the Polish Prince" (1903) in magazines. It is a minor tale. It combines the plot idea from Orczy's "The De Genneville Peerage" with that of Orczy's "The Disappearance of Count Collini", which in turn derives from Doyle's "A Case of Identity".
Material from the Old Man tale "The Dublin Mystery" was reworked into the "Skin o' my Tooth" story "The Duffield Peerage Case" (1903). Instead of the will in "The Dublin Mystery", "The Duffield Peerage Case" centers around documents about who is the rightful heir to a title, and the characters are different. But the mystery plots have similarities. There are plot differences:
"The Case of Major Gibson" (1903) differs from most Orczy stories, in that it is not a mystery puzzle, solved through reasoning. Rather, the guilty party is unearthed when they fall into a trap set by hero "Skin o' my Tooth" at the end of the story. And aside from the identity of the guilty party, there is not much plot revelation or surprize at the end of the tale.
Normally, I regard such stories as inferior to true mystery tales. However, "The Case of Major Gibson" shows good storytelling. It helps characterize "Skin o' my Tooth", showing his dramatic, fierce methods. It also shows his relations with his clients. The tale also shows how upper class British society handled suspicions and accusations, often unfairly, till "Skin o' my Tooth" intervenes. As a whole, "The Case of Major Gibson" makes a pleasant change of pace in Orczy's oeuvre.
"The Inverted Five" more a thriller-with-surprises, than one of Orczy's purr puzzle mysteries. It eventually becomes lurid and lowbrow. It does include such mystery elements as a mysterious death, traced at the end to a surprising culprit: Orczy has not lost her skills about unexpected murderers.
Pirkis' best stories involve three stages. The first is the setting forth of the mystery; the last is the solution. In between is an episode in which Loveday elaborately interferes in the activities of the culprits, leading to their neutralization and capture. This can become ingeniously complex. "It's all so intricate - so bewildering", one character exclaims as Loveday explains it all to him, in "Drawn Daggers". This stage of mystery fiction seems to be unique to Pirkis. It has its roots in the casebook school - all the casebook detectives had to not just identify the criminal, but lay traps to catch him, (unlike Golden Age detectives, in which the revelation of the killer's identity usually led swiftly to his arrest). Still, Pirkis has developed this into something personal and ingenious.
Pirkis' poorer stories suffer from a lack of what would later be called "fair play". While it is perhaps unfair to judge an earlier writer by the norms of a later age, Pirkis' lesser mysteries (e.g. "Missing!") sometimes have solutions that come at the reader completely out of left field, involving elaborate early histories of the characters or other events that have been completely unprepared for in the tale. The solutions can also involve deductions from clues that have never been shared with the reader.
Fair play is sometimes treated today by critics as a campy remnant of a stiff upper lip era of British sportsmanship - good form, and all that. I wish to vehemently disagree. Fair play is deeply embedded in the logic of the mystery form itself. It has nothing to do with manners or social customs or even morality. Instead, the mystery as an art form depends on the logical unfolding of solutions to puzzling events. Unless the solution is logically deductible from the information provided in the earlier parts of the story, the mystery logically falls apart. By the 1920's people began to understand this as an explicit principle of mystery construction, although the principle had been used implicitly much earlier by authors, such as Conan Doyle. It had also been set forth by Israel Zangwill in his 1895 introduction to The Big Bow Mystery (1891), although Zangwill did not use the actual name "fair play". It applies to virtually any tale that involves a mystery, and is not restricted to any one school of detective fiction. (Of course, it is inapplicable and irrelevant to crime novels, books that tell the story of a crime without any mystery in their plots.) The principle is related to the general aesthetic principle of "artistic unity", the idea that all parts of a work of art should work together to create a logically coherent effect. The concept of fair play goes beyond that of artistic unity, however, in that a work of art can lack artistic unity, and still be made up of outstanding pieces, whereas a mystery tale that ignores fair play will probably just be an incoherent mess. The name "fair play" for this principle is perhaps mildly unfortunate. It suggests good sportsmanship and/or honesty, two things highly desirable in themselves, but which actually have little to do with fair play, in the detectival sense.
All of the Loveday stories show a feminist point of view. Women in the tales are often struggling to get out from under male control. This control is often used to lead them into crime or corruption, something the women are struggling to avoid. Society's sympathy for men and lack of sympathy for women is shown to be often deeply misguided, from a moral point of view - not to mention a good source for detective plots. Loveday herself is shown to be a highly professional, intelligent detective. This is one of the most "liberated" portraits in detective fiction history, even by the standards of the 1990's.
Pirkis' religious points of view come through loud and clear in the tales, as well. She admired what she called "practical Christianity": doing good works and charitable activities. She disliked what she called "religious hysteria" and cult groups. She saw the "millennial" sects of the 1890's as purely bad. Pirkis also admired independent thinking, and warned of the dangers of blindly following charismatic leaders.
"The Ghost of Fountain Lane" is an early story in which the detective investigates two seemingly unrelated cases, which gradually coalesce and prove to be linked. Raymond Chandler did this in Farewell, My Lovely (1940), and it has been common in modern private eye and police procedural books. I have no idea who was the first person to write such a mystery story.
Pirkis' two best tales are such triumphs in the history of detective fiction that one wishes she had written much more in our genre. She seems to have turned to detective fiction because it was what was selling in the 1890's, after the success of the Holmes stories. (See remarks in "The Redhill Sisterhood".) Perhaps there are other important Pirkis tales among her uncollected magazine short stories.
Bernard Higham's illustrations to Loveday Brooke are halfway between Sir John Tenniel, and the sort of Victorian narrative art burlesqued in Herriman's Krazy Kat comic strip. There are the props like clocks and food on the table, sentimental portraits of sad heroines and heroes that merely look a bit wimpy by today's standards, an interest in staged tableaux, and an overdone emotionalism in the hand gestures - all part of the Kat tradition. Despite all of this, Higham was not a bad artist. He did have the ability to create his own world. His sentimental pictures seem at odds with Pirkis' forceful, dynamic characters. There is something clean cut and straightforward about Pirkis that seems antithetical to all this Victorian folderol.
Martin Hewitt does sometimes surprise clients with information about them, in a manner made famous by Sherlock Holmes. See "The Flitterbat Lancers". As in the Holmes tales, Hewitt's knowledge is firmly grounded in reasoning from evidence.
Some Martin Hewitt tales are written in the "third person". Others are narrated by his journalist friend Brett (Brett's full name is not given). In some ways, Brett resembles Watson in the Holmes tales. Both men are friends of the detective, both give inside, first person accounts of his cases, based on personal observation, neither has any detectival skills themselves. However Brett is far less close emotionally to Hewitt, than Watson is to Holmes, and the two men do not room together, unlike Holmes and Watson. Brett admires Hewitt's detective skill, but expresses this admiration far more moderately than Watson's lavish praise of Holmes.
Financial considerations loom large in his behavior: another traditional casebook element. The casebook detectives were business people. By contrast, although Holmes is hired by his clients, once he is on the job he seems largely motivated by loyalty to the innocent, and the need to search for truth.
Another casebook feature in Morrison: the use of codes and ciphers, both in "The Case of Laker, Absconded" and "The Flitterbat Lancers". This use of codes was introduced by Poe, and was taken up by Forrester into casebook literature. Morrison gives detailed, carefully reasoned explanations of his sleuth's breaking of the codes. Interpreting the meaning of the coded messages also builds on Hewitt's knowledge of underworld slang. The interpretation of the letter fragments in "The Loss of Sammy Crockett" is also a bit code-like, though it does not involve an actual code.
Morrison, like the casebook writer Charles Martel, also wrote his own variation on Poe's "The Murders in the Rue Morgue": Morrison's is "The Case of Mr. Foggatt". For a detailed list of such tales inspired by "The Murders in the Rue Morgue", please see the article on Charles Martel.
There is perhaps something suggestive about Morrison and Doyle's use of titles. Morrison's stories begin with "The Case of", and Morrison is faithful to the traditions of casebook fiction. The far more innovative Doyle called his tales "The Adventure Of". Doyle's fictions are structured as complex melodramas in which many groups of people, the villain, Holmes, and various innocent suspects, are all struggling in complex, interactive ways. Holmes is far more deeply embedded in the action of the story, than in the casebook tradition. Holmes is indeed having an adventure. He is experiencing something in the first person. Doyle's fictions have elaborate puzzle plots as well, and Holmes' detective attempts to solve these also serve to immerse him far more into the story than is traditional in the more standoffish casebook fiction. In casebook tales, the crook is up to his crimes, the detective is busy detecting him through standard detectival techniques, and the two stay firmly in separate spheres.
The way such pioneers of Rogue fiction as Morrison and Max Pemberton seem rooted in the detective techniques of casebook literature suggests that there is some continuity between the two schools. Just as the early American school of Rinehart and Reeve seems to lay the groundwork for both the pulp and the general American magazine fiction of the 1920's, so does casebook fiction stand in some ancestry to the Rogue school.
Some of the earliest Martin Hewitt tales are borderline "impossible crimes". Both "The Lenton Croft Robberies" and "The Case of the Dixon Torpedo" involve thefts, that look as if they were impossible to commit. Impossible crimes are at the core of the puzzle plot tradition.
Tales which are not impossible crimes, but which center on puzzle plot mysteries, are also in the Martin Hewitt corpus: "The Stanway Cameo Mystery", "The Case of Laker, Absconded".
Midway through "The Stanway Cameo Mystery" the detective provides a list of suspects, and outlines the case against each.
Hewitt always progresses rationally, step by step building up his conclusions and discoveries. Hewitt never pulls a conclusion or discovery out of thin air. Instead, each new step of the investigation is logically grounded in work that has gone before. Morrison goes to a great effort always to provide his sleuth with a logical, reasoned process of investigation.
Hewitt logically deduces the identity of culprits. He builds up evidence, showing that one suspect is innocent, and another is guilty. Other aspects of the mystery puzzle are also given such logical groundings in evidence.
Martin Hewitt also uses such logical, step by step investigation for activities that are not puzzle plot mysteries. For example, in "The Case of the Dixon Torpedo", once Hewitt has deduced the identity of the guilty party, he still has to track him down, and recover the photographs from this thief. Tracking the thief down is not a puzzle plot mystery. But Hewitt still uses the same step by step logical investigation to find this thief. First, Hewitt uses a clever ruse to get the thief's address. Then he finds a way to access the thief's room, and search for the photos. None of this happens by luck or chance: everything Hewitt does is a step by step investigation fueled by his thinking skills.
Our first glimpse of Martin Hewitt in his first story "The Lenton Croft Robberies" includes a brief backstory, showing how he became a detective. This "origin story" emphasizes Hewitt's skill at gathering evidence. This skill persuaded Hewitt he should set up as a private investigator.
One aspect of "The Case of Laker, Absconded" is its procedural nature:
The procedural aspects seem to anticipate 20th Century mystery fiction.
Both "The Case of Laker, Absconded" and "The Flitterbat Lancers" show how gangs of crooks are funded and controlled by respectable-looking men. These men are almost like today's "venture capitalists", only they fund criminal schemes rather than business start-ups. Later, Morrison's "The Narrative of Mr. James Rigby" will look at the Camorra in Italy, depicting it as a business-like "crime for hire" organization.
An odd but pleasant sidelight: both "The Case of Laker, Absconded" and "The Flitterbat Lancers" have men who carry individualized umbrellas. I don't recall such personalized umbrellas in post-1950 America. Such umbrellas are apparently part of the Victorian era. The umbrellas play a role in the plots of both tales. An umbrella also briefly pops up in "The Case of the Dixon Torpedo".
An odd problem: "The Loss of Sammy Crockett" is the title of this story both in its original magazine publication (reproduced in facsimile in Rivals of Sherlock Holmes (1978) edited by Alan K. Russell) and apparently in its original book publication in Martin Hewitt, Investigator (1894) (original American edition available in scanned form on the Internet at the HathiTrust). But the story has also been reprinted as "The Loss of Sammy Throckett", especially in Britain. I have no idea what is going on with these two story names.
The art world aspects include much about the business of art. The central character is an art dealer. There are no creative artists in the story. This makes "The Stanway Cameo Mystery" another Morrison tale about the business world, like "The Case of Laker, Absconded" and "The Affair of the 'Avalanche Bicycle and Tyre, Co., Limited'".
The physical break-in is analyzed by sleuth Martin Hewitt at the end. He makes some mildly interesting points. Unfortunately, his deductions are based on clues and observations that were NOT shared with the reader during the course of the story. In other words, in today's terminology, "The Stanway Cameo Mystery" lacks "fair play".
Both "The Case of Laker, Absconded" and "The Flitterbat Lancers" have scenes in cupboards under basement stairs.
The landscapes are perhaps a bit ancestral to the countryside and seaside landscapes later used by realist school writers such as Freeman, Crofts and John Rhode, although Morrison's work tends to stress the man-made aspects of these landscapes more than these Golden Age writers will. There is always something constructed about Morrison's landscapes, an architectural or engineering emphasis. There is also often an element of eccentricity to them, as well. They are something unique to Morrison's story, whereas the realist school writers set their works in "typical" landscapes of the countryside.
While it is not a landscape, an actual floor plan is included in "The Case of the Dixon Torpedo".
Elaborate floor plans and buildings will recur in Mary Roberts Rinehart, and her followers, and in S.S. Van Dine and his followers, such as Ellery Queen. These buildings are some of the most imaginative aspects of Golden Age fiction.
Morrison's mainstream writings often use this sort of man-made landscape, as well. Morrison wrote a story called "The Street", which imagines a single long street as the metaphorical setting of all of London's poor. His most famous mainstream book is The Hole in the Wall, also an architectural/landscape idea.
SPOILER. The doodles turn out to represent a district of a city: two streets and their buildings. This is a direct expression of Morrison's interest in man-made landscapes. Here such a landscape is converted into a mental representation, represented by sketchy drawings. When Morrison represents thought, it is thoughts of a landscape!
Like some other Morrison tales, what once were clues based in facts well-known to 1890's readers, have now been obscured with time. Toady's readers, myself included, are likely not familiar with 1895 Tottenham Court Road. And the clue of turning the bread loofs over, is also based on now obscure ideas.
Dorrington's long suit is charm, like most con-men, at least in fiction. He is a great story-teller, which he uses to get close to people. He is also noticeably handsome.
The Dorrington Deed-Box has been attracting attention from critics in recent years. Some people seem to prefer it to the Martin Hewitt tales. However, I think it is weaker than the best Martin Hewitt stories: detective elements are much skimpier, plots are more rudimentary. One suspects that many critics' interest centers around Horace Dorrington. Dorrington is the sort of super-villain that seems to fascinate people today. By contrast, I myself have never been able to work up much interest in villains, preferring heroes and detectives. Be that as it may, it is hard to see that most of the The Dorrington Deed-Box stories have as much substance, in terms of plot, background or characterization.
SPOILER. "The Narrative of Mr. James Rigby" re-works material from "The Case of Laker, Absconded". It is more thriller-like and more horror-driven than "The Case of Laker, Absconded", and much less of a detective story. The sinister events that befall the hero of "The Narrative of Mr. James Rigby" turn out to be caused by a similar scheme as that afflicting the victim in "The Case of Laker, Absconded". Unfortunately "The Narrative of Mr. James Rigby" is not much good. The horror aspects weaken the entertainment value of the story. So does the lack of detection, and the story-telling richness it adds to "The Case of Laker, Absconded".
"The Case of Janissary" is a pleasantly told crime tale. Janissary is a race horse, and the tale has a background of horse racing and crooked bookmakers.
"The Case of Janissary" shares a story template with "The Affair of the 'Avalanche Bicycle and Tyre, Co., Limited'", later in The Dorrington Deed-Box. Both tales:
"The Affair of the 'Avalanche Bicycle and Tyre, Co., Limited'" combines two interests from previous Morrison tales:
"The Affair of the 'Avalanche Bicycle and Tyre, Co., Limited'" is also a mystery story, with Dorrington investigating who is behind some problems afflicting an honest company. SPOILER. One perspective on the tale, is that the only significant aspect of the mystery solution is the fairly surprising identity of the guilty party. This mystery is very simple, and limited in scope. The one clue is withheld from the reader, until the solution.
On the other hand, perhaps one should take a broader view about what constitutes the tale's "mystery aspects". Perhaps the nature of the business swindle should be regarded as a "mystery puzzle". The tale opens by showing the reader how a bicycle business appears to the public. Then Dorrington investigates further, and step by step he uncovers the truth behind the business swindle. Everything is fully revealed by the near-finale of the story. This "truth uncovered behind appearance" does indeed have the structure of a mystery tale.
"The Ripening Rubies", anthologized by Hugh Greene in The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes, is the only story in Jewel Mysteries I Have Known that is at once good, and of some similarity to the conventional crime story. This is a vividly realistic story of a jewel robbery at an English society party.
"The Comedy of the Jeweled Links" is a Biter Bit tale of some sharp dealing involving a pair of emerald cuff links. It is more in the tradition of sardonic tales of con jobs than of the mystery story proper. Somerset Maugham ("A String of Pearls") and Roald Dahl ("Mrs. Bixby and the Colonel's Coat") went on to write stories somewhat like this, in which affluent people who engage in dubious business practices eventually find themselves stung. I believe that the tradition has at least some roots in de Maupassant's "The Necklace", although that story is far grimmer than any of the others discussed here.
Finally, "The Watch and the Scimitar" is an adventure tale, partly set in the Casbah in Algiers, no less. It shows lots of exotic foreign color.
Pemberton's A Gentleman's Gentleman has been cited as the pioneer Rogue book, but I have never even seen a copy, let alone read it.
The tales in Jewel Mysteries I Have Known, while dealing with crime, are not really all that close to the Rogue school. For one thing, there are no memorable rogues on the order of Raffles or Simon Carne in the book. Nor does the book have the anti-social glee one associates with Rogues. "The Ripening Rubies" does anticipate the Rogue school in its look at lower class crooks adopting the clothes of the upper classes, and mingling with them socially, to steal their jewels.
Despite the fact that this story dates from the Doyle era, its technique recalls the casebook literature of Waters and Forrester from 30 years previously. There is the same heroic narrator, infiltrating bad guys, detecting their crimes while preserving a certain incognito, and leading a police raid on the bad guys' headquarters, just as Forrester's hero did in "Arrested on Suspicion". There is also considerable, realistic attention paid to servants in this story, just as there was in Forrester. There is also a vivid portrait of London Society in this tale.
The title of the story refers to the yellow color of the stolen rubies in the tale; Pemberton has a penchant for color titles.
These are all British writers, and one suspects Sexton Blake was a major formative influence on generations of young Britishers, including many future writers. By contrast, one wonders if Blake was much read in this country (the US).
Watching Dorcas impersonate a nurse to do detective work also reminds one of the numerous 20th century nurse detectives: is this the first use of this plot?
Sims' use of such archetypal images as a pool and a gate also seems especially well done. The pool seems to represent the return of repressed images and dangerous events. The heroine is found lying half in and half out of it, just barely alive; later the pool will turn up all sorts of information. The pool is a female symbol; it also represents memory. The way the assailant in the case gradually emerges more and more throughout the story is a fine piece of detection, and also a well done example of mise en scene, with a man figuratively emerging from the mists, or from the unconscious.
Like most of the Dene tales, "The Man With the Wild Eyes" shows Sims' careful creativity with detection. We see step by step how Dorcas Dene discovers each new fact in the tale. We see Dene's stratagems, which allow her to explore areas and locales associated with the crime; we see her using clues to reconstruct the crime; we see her ingenious search for new sources of information; we see her tracking characters and following their trails. The detection is very full bodied. Sims clearly feels that such detection is one of the main subjects of a detective story, perhaps the principal one, along with the nature of the crime itself. It makes for a very well developed traditional detective story, which each new fact following logically from genuine detective work.
Also, it enhances the status of Dorcas Dene as a detective. She comes across as a genuine professional. She always uses real detection, never guess work or coincidence, to solve her cases. Her cases are solved by brain work, and lots of it. Certainly she has equal ability to any male detectives: no detective of either gender could work more intelligently or professionally to detect crime. This professional status for her is deeply embedded in the structure of the plot: it is based on the solid detective work she performs throughout her adventures. The feminism of this portrait of a woman detective is deeply enhanced by the careful plotting of Sims' tales.
"The Diamond Lizard" is a tale about stolen jewelry. It is ultimately comic in tone, with Sims coming up with elegant plot constructions tracing the path of the stolen items. Both the crime schemes and Dene's detective work also build up to elegant patterns of plot in "The Mysterious Millionaire".
The Dorcas Dene tales have some ties to Rogue literature, as well. Elegant stories of the flow of jewelry such as "The Diamond Lizard" recall Max Pemberton's "The Comedy of the Jeweled Links". The night club scenes in that tale look forward to E. Phillips Oppenheim, and his fascination with danger and fighting in sinister but exciting night clubs. The way that Dene is always getting disguised and going undercover in different roles, also anticipates the Rogue tradition.
The Dene stories have a nice plotting flow, in which detail after detail is added to some scheme, either detection by the heroine, or the crime by the villain. The flow is a pleasing reading experience, like listening to a piece of music. The details all fit into a logical pattern. They tend to be bigger and more extended than the reader first assumed was possible; it is pleasant to watch such a logical design be preserved and extended. The plot ideas tend to involve activities: actions taken by a character. Many of these actions are secret, and concealed from others.
Both "The Diamond Lizard" and "The Mysterious Millionaire" have feminist overtones, perhaps not surprising in an author who creates a female detective. Sims looks at the dark side of well to do Victorian men, and their treatment of the women in their lives. Doyle had also looked at the exploitative nature of male-female relationships. Telling such "home truths" about male and female social standing seems to be one of the purposes of the 1890's detective story.
Also interesting is the way Dene orders her "Watson" Mr. Saxon around, directing his activities and providing all the brain work and planning for his actions. There is nothing too unusual about this: Sherlock Holmes similarly directed Watson, and such a brain power / leg work division of labor is standard in detective fiction history. What is unusual is that the detective here is a woman, giving a man orders. Dene is completely successful at this, with her instructions to Mr. Saxon always bearing fruit in unearthing new clues and information. This portrait of an able woman boss must have been quite startling in its day.
The end of the first chapter of "The Diamond Lizard" mentions both Gaboriau's Lecoq and Doyle's Sherlock Holmes - another example of the long tradition of detective writers paying homage to their predecessors. Some features of Sims do seem Gaboriau like. Dorcas Dene is a master of disguise. In "The Mysterious Millionaire" Dene uses physical clues ingeniously to track people, and to reconstruct events at crime scenes. Sims shows considerable inventiveness at such use of clues, in the Gaboriau tradition.
"The Haverstock Hill Murder" is notable mainly for the detection Dorcas Dene does. There is a good reconstruction of the crime, something popular in Gaboriau and Anna Katherine Green. There is also much charming use of disguise, and following of race track crooks. Doyle's stories are full of disguise, and Sims' tale is in the tradition of such Doyle works as "A Scandal in Bohemia" (1891). Not only does Dorcas Dene show ingenuity in her disguises, but she also disguises subsidiary characters in her schemes, just as in Doyle.
That British staple, the tracing of the bank notes, gets some new wrinkles here. This is one of the earliest stories I remember reading in which such notes play a role.
The introductory chapter of Dorcas Dene, Detective, "The Council of Four", sets up Dene as a character, and introduces us to her husband and mother, with whom she lives, as well as her Watson, Mr. Saxon. This is the weakest part of the book. The mystery case Dene solves here, "The Helsham Mystery", is less inventive than most later Dene stories. Worse, Dene is depicted as subservient to the alleged intellect of her obnoxious male chauvinist husband, and as a follower of all sorts of Victorian nonsense about Womanly Ideals of behavior. This chapter seems to be a sop to chauvinistic ideas about women, popular in their day. It has rightly been criticized by Professor Kathleen Gregory Klein in her book The Woman Detective: Gender & Genre (1988). Fortunately, once the actual cases of Dene start getting underway in the subsequent chapters, all of this is ignored. Dene's dismal husband largely disappears as a character, and Dene shows outstanding detective skills throughout the book. This portrait of a highly intelligent, gifted woman excelling in her profession through ability is deeply feminist.
The role played by Kala Persad is similar to the pure thinking that Sherlock Holmes often does to solve cases. Holmes and Persad hear the story of a case, learn about its basic situation, analyze it, and come up with a unique insight that shows the hidden, underlying pattern. Both Holmes and Persad do this through pure thinking. In both Doyle and Hill, this hidden solution is often startlingly different from the apparent situation of the case, involving some unique twist. Doyle's approach here is clearly the ancestor of the Intuitionist detectives of the 20th Century, such as those of Chesterton, Christie, Queen and Carr. Hill, who is plainly influenced by Doyle, has separated this function out to one of his two detectives.
Mark Poignand, on the other hand, does Holmes' functions of disguise, on the spot investigation, evidence gathering and probing of motives. The point of view character of the stories, he does not figure out the central solution of the crime, but he has to gather all the evidence that will stand up in court. He is definitely not a Watson, unlike most of the detective associates in the Holmes era. In Doyle's stories, Watson provides bravery and personal support, but he does not actually detect, except on rare occasions when separated from Holmes, as in The Hound of the Baskervilles (1902).
Kala Persad and Mark Poignand anticipate, to a degree, Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe and Archie Godwin, with Persad being a genius, and narrator Poignand being an energetic young detective who does leg work. However, the roles of Hill's pair are far more strictly defined than Nero and Archie, both of whom can take on each other's typical tasks.
Kala Persad is in some ways an early "armchair detective", someone who solves mysteries brought to him, without ever leaving his seat. The work usually cited as the start of armchair detection is Orczy's The Old Man in the Corner, first published in 1901, some years after the Persad tales.
It is worth looking at Kala Persad's thought processes in detail. The narrator at first says that Persad is a mystic Indian who arrives at his processes through some non-rational process, maybe reading minds. But Persad himself says that he arrives at his results through reasoning and insight, and Hill seems to agree.
While Headon Hill is a lone Britisher offering teams of detection, we can find them in an American writer of a different school, Anna Katherine Green. Her detectives, in any given novel, often come in teams, mixing both amateurs and professionals, together with different types of professional. This approach was also followed by some American writers influenced by Green, such as Pauline E. Hopkins and Mary Wilkins Freeman. One also remembers the rivalry in the American Ottolengui between the two detectives Mr. Barnes and Mr. Mitchell. Still, Hill's detective team is different from any of these, in that his detectives are part of a commercial team. They are consulting detectives in the Holmes tradition, not mixtures of police and amateurs as in the Green school.
Derleth excelled at stories about searches for hidden treasure. This is a standard kind of mystery tale, dating back at least to Poe's "The Gold-Bug" (1843). Derleth's treasure hunts have an especial charm. "The Adventure of The Purloined Periapt" and "The Adventure of the Mosaic Cylinders" (1959) are among his most involving works as story telling.
Derleth was Catholic, and Catholic subject matter sometimes appears in his work. "The Adventure of the Black Cardinal" (1930) is built around events in the 20th Century history of the Catholic Church. It deals not with theology or ritual, but various factions, their conflicts, and interactions with historical events. I am neither a historian nor an expert on religion, and am unable to judge the accuracy of the tale's references. But I can praise the tale as an attempt to do something different, in basing a mystery on events in the history of religion.
Both as a mystery and as a sociological portrait, No Future for Luana is thin, simple and undistinguished. It rarely rises to heights of insight that would make it interesting reading.
Plays in tents. The victim is a member of a traveling stage troupe, that puts on plays in tents in rural areas throughout the Midwest. We see one of their typical shows (Chapter 1), and learn about the history of the troupe (start of Chapter 4). Unfortunately, most of these details are about what one might expect or guess.
We learn that the traveling troupe began in the 1910's, when the rise of movies offered competition to plays in theaters (start of Chapter 4). No Future for Luana claims that plays in tents were actually much more profitable than plays in theaters. It does not explain why, however, or offer an in-depth look at theater finance.
Before the play there is a bit of vaudeville. A pianist does a swing version of Tchaikovsky (Chapter 1). This was an era in which classical music was sometimes fused with pop. In real life, a Wisconsin musician named Liberace was just rising to fame with his mixed classical and popular approach. Crossover classical musician protagonists appear in Edgar G. Ulmer's film classics Detour (1945) and Carnegie Hall (1947).
No Future for Luana shows promotional events before the show, selling the audience boxes of candy linked to prizes. A mystery on a related topic: Hugh Lawrence Nelson's Dead Giveaway (1950). "Giveaways" were live shows before films in movie theaters, in which prizes were given away to the audience.
No Future for Luana doesn't try to suggest there is anything culturally significant about the mainly cornball fare the troupe offers.
Cooperative Farm. A farm is worked cooperatively by two families (start of Chapter 5). It started out as two family farms, neighbors to each other. However, when one farm house burned down, the family moved in with their neighbors, and the two families discovered they liked living and working together. I don't recall seeing this sort of cooperative farm in other books. Stories instead tend to emphasize the extreme isolation of farm life, with each family deeply separated from their nearest neighbors: see Susan Glaspell's "A Jury of Her Peers" (1916).
We also learn that most of the family members are college graduates.