The Rogue School | Adventure Offshoots of Rogue Fiction | Secret Identities | Frank L. Packard | Sinclair Lewis | Jack Boyle | Roi Cooper Megrue | Dornford Yates

Spies and Thriller Writers: E. Phillips Oppenheim | William Le Queux | Frederick Harcourt Kitchin | Charles Edward Montague

Detective Offshoots: Grant Allen | Gelett Burgess | Robert Barr | Dick Donovan | J.S. Fletcher | J. Storer Clouston | Dietrich Theden | Arnold Bennett | Ernest Bramah | Bertram Atkey | Johnston McCulley | Octavus Roy Cohen | Ralph Durand | Harold MacGrath | Joseph Szebenyei | Virgil Markham | James Howard Wellard | Undercover Operatives

A Guide to Classic Mystery and Detection Home Page

Recommended Works:

Rogue Fiction Writers

Herbert Keen

The Chronicles Of Elvira House

Guy N. Boothby

A Prince of Swindlers (1897) (available on-line at

E.W. Hornung

The Amateur Cracksman (available on-line at The Crime Doctor (available on-line at

George A. Best

"The Counterfeit Cashier" (1902)

O. Henry

Tictocq stories (1894)

Short Stories:

The Gentle Grafter (available on-line at

Maurice Leblanc

The Seven of Hearts (collected 1907) The Confessions of Arsène Lupin (collected 1912) (available on-line at Jim Barnett Intervenes (collected 1928)

Frank L. Packard

The Adventures of Jimmie Dale (1914-1915) (available on-line at

Running Special (collected 1925)

Jack Boyle

Boston Blackie (collected 1919)

Alfonso Ferrari Amores

"A Scrap of Tinfoil"

Spy Stories and Thrillers

E. Phillips Oppenheim

The Lost Ambassador (1910) (Chapters 1 - 6) (available on-line at

The Adventures of Mr. Joseph P. Cray (collected 1925)

William Le Queux

Revelations of the Secret Service (collected 1911)

Charles Edward Montague

Action and other stories (collected 1928)


Arnold Bennett

The Grand Babylon Hotel (1901) (available on-line at

The Loot of Cities (written 1903; published 1905) (available on-line at

Roi Cooper Megrue

Under Cover (1914) (available on-line at

Detective Fiction Influenced By Rogue Fiction

Grant Allen

"The Great Ruby Robbery" (1892) (collected 1910) (available on-line at

An African Millionaire (1896-1897) (available on-line at

Miss Cayley's Adventures (1898) (available on-line at

Dick Donovan

The Records of Vincent Trill of the Detective Service (collected 1899) (available on-line at

Dietrich Thede

"Well-Woven Evidence" (available on-line at

J. S. Fletcher

The Ivory God (collected 1907) The Adventures of Archer Dawe (Sleuth-Hound) (collected 1909) The Middle Temple Murder (1918)

Paul Campenhaye, Criminologist (collected 1918) (available on-line at

The Secret of the Barbican (collected 1924) (available on-line at The Million-Dollar Diamond (1923)

The Heaven-Sent Witness (collected 1930)

Bennett Copplestone (Frederick Harcourt Kitchin)

The Diversions of Dawson (collected 1923)

Robert Barr

The Triumphs of Eugène Valmont (collected 1906) (available on-line at or Selected Stories

Ernest Bramah

Max Carrados (available on-line at The Eyes of Max Carrados (collected 1923) (available on-line at Max Carrados Mysteries (collected 1927) (available on-line at

Johnston McCulley

Who Killed William Drew? (1917)

Octavus Roy Cohen

Six Seconds of Darkness (1918) (available on-line at

Jim Hanvey, Detective

Epic Peters, Pullman Porter (collected 1930) Scrambled Yeggs (collected 1933)

Ralph Durand

"Artful Jane" (1929)

Harold MacGrath

The Blue Rajah Murder (1929-1930)

Joseph Szebenyei

"The Master of the Conjurers' Guild" (1930)

Michael Arlen

"Gay Falcon" (1940)

What the collected in a date means: (collected 1930) means a book of short stories was collected in 1930; while (1922) means the stories were first published in magazines in 1922. The original magazine date is preferable; but if it is not known, we have to settle for the date of collection in a book.

The Rogue School

The Rogue school, such writers as Guy N. Boothby, Max Pemberton, Maurice Leblanc, and E.W. Hornung, wrote tales about clever thieves and swindlers, that were at one time immensely popular with Late Victorian readers. The stories were comic and cheery in tone, and treated the crook protagonist as a hero. This thief only stole from the very rich, and never committed murder, rarely used violence, and never did anything to harm anyone except the very wealthy. He often outwitted policemen who were trying to catch him. Many of their works involve impersonation, one of the key elements of the Rogue writers. The rogue would often impersonate well to do members of the upper classes. Oftentimes the crook is dressed as a very rich man.

Many of these rogue stories are not really mysteries. That is, there are no mysterious events to be solved. Basically, they are adventure stories, often with elements of suspense and comedy. There are often surprise twists in the plots of all these writers, and a great deal of emphasis on the protagonists ingeniously outwitting their opponents through clever plot schemes. Although there are often plot surprises, there is not typically much emphasis on puzzle plots in any of these authors.

The Rogue school was still going strong into the 1930's. I am not an expert on this brand of fiction, strictly speaking; I know more about mystery stories proper than the real Rogue tales. What I do like are some of the genuine mystery stories that have roots in the Rogue tradition; this article will examine some of these writers in more detail below. Rogue fiction also influenced the adventure fiction of the 20th Century.

The Lives of Rogue Writers and their Work

Many of the Rogue writers, the official Rogue writers such as Guy Boothby, Max Pemberton, Maurice Leblanc, E.W. Hornung and O. Henry, together with such writers they influenced like Arnold Bennett, William Le Queux, Fletcher, Kitchin, Hope, Montague, Orczy and Oppenheim, seem to have been born in the years 1862 - 1867. This is a very narrow time frame. R. Austin Freeman and Arthur Morrison, who sometimes wrote Rogue stories in addition to their detective fiction, were also born in this time interval.

Another thing notable about the Rogue writers, and the detective authors they influenced, is how many of them were immigrants to the society in which they worked. Robert Barr, Grant Allen and Frank L. Packard were all Canadian. The contemporary Canadian mystery author Howard Engel notes that these writers all left Canada for other countries, England in Barr and Allen's case, the United States in Packard's, in order to publish their work. Similarly, Guy N. Boothby was from Australia, and published in England. Hornung grew up in Britain, but emigrated to Australia before returning to England. Leslie Charteris was from Singapore, and worked in the US and Britain; English was not his first language. Baroness Orczy was Hungarian, and did not learn English till she was 15. Michael Arlen was an Armenian immigrant to Britain. Herman Landon, author of the Grey Phantom tales, came to the US from Sweden. Percival Pollard, author of Lingo Dan (1903), came to the US from Pomerania as a teenager. Film director Maurice Tourneur came to the USA from France. Other Rogue writers performed different kinds of "immigration". Arthur Morrison came from a background of extreme poverty in England, but educated himself to be a respected writer. He kept his boyhood poverty a dark secret; in a class conscious society like Britain he would have been discriminated against had it been known. This involved a complete change of his appearance, speech habits and social customs, just as if he had immigrated from another country.

One might note that this immigration is by no means universal among Rogue writers. Pemberton, Donovan, Leblanc, Fletcher, Freeman seem to be non-immigrant Englishmen and Frenchmen, in Leblanc's case. The spy writers who adopted Rogue traditions, such as Le Queux, Oppenheim and Kitchin, are all non-immigrants. But still, around half of all writers in this tradition seem to be immigrants. This is a statistically significant percentage. Another common factor in the biography of the non-immigrant writers is how many of them worked in foreign countries. Donovan, Le Queux served as foreign correspondents; Freeman was a doctor in Ghana; O. Henry lived in Latin America; Oppenheim married his American wife while on a business trip to the USA. This is an experience much like immigration, in that it involves working in a foreign country.

Two themes in Rogue writing could be related to this background of immigration. One, the way Rogue protagonists often impersonate upper crust members of society to achieve their schemes. Many immigrants spend a long time learning to adopt the manners and customs of a society. While people born into a society might accept its mores unconsciously, immigrants often adopt its clothes, customs and mores as part of a conscious, learned effort. They might see a societies' clothes as a costume that is put on to make one look like part of a group.

Secondly, is the emphasis in these writers on heroes who are perfect social aristocrats. Baroness Orczy's Sir Percy Blakeney, the Scarlet Pimpernel, is the perfect English gentlemen, the ultimate embodiment of the mores of English society. Similarly, Frank L. Packard's Jimmie Dale is the ultimate millionaire member of New York society - his saga opens at the St. James Club, the most exclusive in New York, and constantly emphasizes his perfect belonging to New York's top rungs. Both of these men truly belong to the society they inhabit. Michael Arlen liked to write about the chic British inhabitants of Mayfair, the section of London occupied by the "smart set" of London Society.

Adventure Offshoots of Rogue Fiction

Anthony Hope (The Prisoner of Zenda, 1894) and E. Phillips Oppenheim (The Great Impersonation, 1920) are two writers whose adventure stories fall outside the boundaries of mystery fiction, but whose work has a good deal in common with their mysterious contemporaries. They seem especially related to the Rogue School. Hope's tale describes an English gentleman who has to impersonate the King of Ruritania, a mythical Balkan kingdom; Oppenheim's is a World War I spy tale. Both writers at one time were immensely popular. (The debonair English actor Ronald Colman gave a definitive interpretation of Hope's hero on screen; Colman's gentlemanly qualities and sophistication are greatly missed today.) Their stories, like the Rogues, are in the form of an adventure story, one emphasizing plenty of intrigue around some goal. In the Rogue writers, this goal is usually theft, but in Hope and Oppenheim it is political. The setting of all of these writers, is the "high life", the upper reaches of society, reached by the otherwise middle class protagonists through impersonation.

I have to admit that I don't think that either of these writers is very good, nor do I like Orczy's Scarlet Pimpernel as much as her detective fiction, but at least all three writers created archetypal situations in popular fiction, and deserve credit for that.

Secret Identities

An apparent offshoot of the Rogue School is The Hero With a Secret Identity. A chronology: Although Orczy created this whole school, her own detective tales in The Old Man in the Corner (1901 -1902) are models of the fair play puzzle plot school, not rogue fiction.

Frank L. Packard

The Adventures of Jimmie Dale

"The Gray Seal" is the first story in Packard's The Adventures of Jimmie Dale (1914-1915). It sets up the background of his popular gentleman thief. It is a very entertaining piece that shows great ingenuity in its plotting. The respectable hero with his thief secret identity of the Gray Seal seems close to several later pulp magazine characters. These are the Rogue tales that seems closest to Erle Stanley Gardner's Lester Leith and Ed Jenkins, who like the Gray Seal, use their "criminal" activities to aid the innocent, and interfere in evil schemes. And the hero's adventures in his secret identity remind one of Frederick Davis' The Moon Man. In later stories, Dale will adopt other underworld identities, as well. These multiple secret identities anticipate Walter Gibson's The Shadow. Herman Landon's Gray Phantom seems to be a straightforward imitation of Packard's The Gray Seal.

The Adventures of Jimmie Dale seem like a complete blueprint of the way in which secret identities will be used in later fiction. Such stories in the collection as "By Proxy", "The Affair of the Pushcart Man", and "Devil's Work" ring ingenious changes on the secret identity theme that have been used countless times in later pulps, in superhero comic books, and in TV shows derived from them. The ideas in these stories will seem very familiar to today's readers, who are used to them - they are still being used as plots of superhero TV shows in the 1990's - but they must have wowed readers back in 1914. Not only his hero uses secret identities, but later in the book his heroine and villains will use them as well.

Packard's Jimmie Dale maintains a half way house where he can change from one identity to another. Hornung's Raffles maintained a similar apartment. However, Packard's hideout seems to have some new overtones. It is called Sanctuary by Jimmie Dale, and seems to have the feeling of a refuge for him - and a place where he can be "himself". It anticipates in tone such places as Superman's Fortress of Solitude, a secret place known only to the hero. Such lairs were also used by the 1930's pulp heroes who preceded Superman, such as Lester Dent's Doc Savage.

Robert Sampson, in his history of pulp fiction Yesterday's Heroes, thought that The Adventures of Jimmie Dale was the first American book to show the sort of tough adventure in the underworld that would later dominate Black Mask and other hard-boiled pulp fiction. I certainly agree that there is a resemblance.

Some elements of Packard's characterizations anticipate later writers who are non pulp, as well. Jimmie Dale's other secret identity as "Larry the Bat", an underworld character who gets his name from living largely by night, might have inspired the name of Mary Roberts Rinehart and Avery Hopwood's super criminal The Bat (1916 - 1920). And the aristocratic Jimmie Dale's drawling and pose of indifference in his dialogue seem like a prototype of the character of S.S. Van Dine's Philo Vance. Dale is a gifted artist, and lives in a luxuriously furnished house, complete with a rosewood desk.

Although the Dale stories unquestionably come out of the Rogue tradition, their villains seem to derive more from contemporary authors in the American Scientific School, such as Reeve and Rinehart. The villains tend to be crooked businessmen. There are also looks at police corruption. These are themes that dominate the writings of Packard's scientifically oriented contemporaries. In general, like the Scientific School writers, Packard deals with the public realm of theft, industry and civic corruption, not with the family and romantic motives that dominated Golden Age writers like Agatha Christie.

Railroad Fiction

Packard started his literary career by writing railroad fiction. "The Man Who Confessed" is a Bret Harte like tale of special friendship amid Western railroad adventure. It is very emotionally involving. This tale has some crime elements, but basically it is an adventure story, with an emphasis on character. Packard does not use the technical aspects of the train background of his story to construct an intricate, science based plot, unlike Victor L. Whitechurch. Instead, the railroading is mainly used for descriptive passages, that give color to the adventure story. While Packard focuses on his principal characters, there is also a communal portrait of the lives of the railroaders as a whole, reminiscent of such Harte tales as "The Luck of Roaring Camp" - my favorite among Harte's works. The crime elements in the tale, which mainly emerge toward the end of the story, concern the ambiguous roles his characters played in a crime; this theme was pursued more elaborately in the complex plot of "The Gray Seal".

Sinclair Lewis

A writer who seems directly influenced by Packard is the mainstream writer Sinclair Lewis. His "The Willow Walk" (1918) is a crime story that appeared in The Saturday Evening Post before Lewis achieved mainstream fame. It concerns a crook who develops an elaborate secret identity. Like some of Packard's characters, Lewis' crook eventually gets trapped in this identity. Lewis explores the consequences of this on character in a much more "literary" way than the pulp writer Packard does.

Lewis' fiction is largely written in the "plain" or "vernacular" style that wowed critics in the 1920's and 30's. The originator of the style seems to be Sherwood Anderson; others of Lewis' contemporaries who used it include Ring Lardner, Dorothy Parker, and Ernest Hemingway. The style seems to be an attempt to write prose that matches the way that ordinary Americans speak. Many critics treated the style as more artistic than the ornate prose that was traditionally so admired. They also felt it had something profound to say about America. I tend to think the plain style is overrated, and am more impressed with more elaborate, more poetic prose styles. It has become an oft repeated idea that Dashiell Hammett's prose is closely related to these writers. This idea seems doubtful to me. Hammett's prose, and those of many of his hard-boiled contemporaries, includes richer and more ornate descriptive passages. It also eschews the often deliberately inane dialogue of Lewis and his mainstream cohorts, in favor of complexly organized, nearly epigrammatic, dialogue.

Jack Boyle

Boston Blackie

Jack Boyle published only one book, the short story collection Boston Blackie (collected 1919). This book was immediately taken up by Hollywood, who turned it into a huge flood of motion pictures. Like Jimmie Dale, Boyle's hero is a thief. Unlike Packard's hero and other gentleman thieves, Boston Blackie is a professional burglar from the lower classes. Boyle also gives one a first hand look at prison life, in a way that was apparently quite unusual in his day. The American crime fiction of the 1910's often offered inside looks at some "real life" institution. Johnston McCulley wrote stories about the police that qualify as early procedurals, Arthur B. Reeve showed us scientists and industry, Mary Roberts Rinehart looked at nursing. There was an attempt in all of this to combine a documentary look at the real world with a fictional story. Similarly, the early films of the 1910's often included looks at serious social issues, far more than Hollywood films of most later eras.

Boyle's hero and tales seem influenced by Jimmy Valentine, the safecracker originally created by O. Henry in "A Retrieved Reformation" (1903). Boston Blackie seems especially close to the version in Paul Armstrong's hugely popular stage adaptation, Alias Jimmy Valentine (1910), and in director Maurice Tourneur's fine silent film of the same name (1915). Jimmy Valentine might be a crook, but in the play and film especially, he has a deep respect and affection for women and children. These profound and somewhat rare virtues make him a genuine hero, and lure him away from a life of crime. Boston Blackie has a similar genuine respect for women and children.

Both Jimmy Valentine and Boston Blackie spend time in prison, an important element in both their characterizations. Tourneur's film actually has location footage shot at Sing Sing.

Boyle's hero influenced those of other silent crime films: please see the discussion on Tod Browning's Outside the Law (1921). Boyle's crook hero reminds one not just of the Rogues of crime fiction, but also the outlaws popular in Westerns. For example, the "good Bad Guy" (as William K. Everson called him) of William S. Hart's Western film The Toll Gate (1920) is softened and reformed by his love of an innocent little tike, just like Boston Blackie in "The Baby and the Burglar" (1918). Unfortunately, I know too little about Western fiction or films to offer a detailed history of the Outlaw in the Western. But it is clear that Rogues have to be seen as part of a wider movement of the period to have dishonest protagonists in books and films. Early silent movies were full of rough, dishonest leads. In addition to thieves like Blackie and outlaw Western heroes like those of William S. Hart, the silents had an assortment of spies, vamps, swindlers, gangsters, swordsmen, crooked preachers, rotten military officers and crooked businessmen.

Roi Cooper Megrue

Under Cover: a play

Roi Cooper Megrue was a popular Broadway playwright, during the years 1912-1921. He wrote a number of melodramas featuring crime and detection, including the still delightful Under Cover (1914). Under Cover involves smuggling jewelry, US Customs agents, crooks and good guys, all played out against a High Society background. It is unclear how close Megrue is to the Rogue tradition, but I am otherwise unsure where to place him. Unlike Rogue writers, Megrue does not glamorize crime. Instead, his heroine is a pure hearted, courageous woman who has to battle against criminals. However, the elegant society background, the light hearted escapist tone, the non-violent crimes involving gems, and the clever twists and turns of the plot all recall parts, at least, of the Rogue tradition. Megrue's play also has a heaping helping of romance. It also shares the concern over corruption found in other American crime writers of this era, such as those described below in the article on Octavus Roy Cohen.

Megrue's brisk, fresh dialogue, alternating between the exciting and the humorous, seems quite modern in tone. In fact, Under Cover seems curiously modern in all of its aspects. It is the sort of entertaining tale of suspense that might have been made into a crime movie or TV show at any time during the last 100 years. Quite a few Rogue influenced writers have a similarly fresh tone. Much of the comic dialogue is full of a naughty disregard for convention.

Under Cover is included in Famous Plays of Crime and Detection (1946), edited by Van H. Cartmell and Bennett Cerf. And there is a link in the Recommended Works section above to a free e-book version.

Other Plays and their Film Versions

Roi Cooper Megrue was also well known for his comedies. Seven Chances (1916) was filmed by Buster Keaton in 1925, and recently remade as The Bachelor (1999). Megrue also collaborated with Walter Hackett on the oft filmed business spoof It Pays to Advertise (1914). Under Cover was itself made into a now obscure silent movie in 1916. Under Sentence (1916), a crime play Megrue wrote with Irvin S. Cobb, was filmed by director Allan Dwan as The Fighting Odds (1917).

Dornford Yates

Dornford Yates was a British writer of both comic tales and thrillers, at one time highly popular. Most of his work is outside of the scope of this Guide, which concentrates on detective stories (defined as mysteries investigated and solved by detectives). But some of his work has ties to Rogue fiction, so will be discussed here.

A Trick of Memory: a short story

Dornford Yates wrote about a team of expert, sly crooks who rob the homes of the rich, in the short story "A Trick of Memory" (1921). It is discussed in Ontos, where I learned about it. A contemporary magazine illustration included there is excellent. This tale (under a different title and slightly rewritten) also forms Chapter 8 of Yates' collection Berry And Co. (1921).

These crooks come right out of the Rogue tradition. In fact the narrator says the "cracksman of the novel had come to life". The tale also uses the word "rogue".

Rogues often assume the clothes of the upper classes to pull off their clever crimes. This is true in "A Trick of Memory". Most of the crooks wear a "green mask, white kid gloves, and immaculate evening-dress": "evening-dress" being a synonym for "white tie and tails".

The criminals are all dressed alike in white tie and tails. The tails serve as a uniform, worn by the men. The illustration shows them looking alike down to the smallest detail. This uniform quality is also part of white tie itself. The sheer perfection of the outfit has a uniform aspect in real life. Men who wear it are achieving a highly detailed standard of dress. The illustration also shows the men with uniformly identical shortly trimmed hair.

The white kid gloves provide both an upper crust appearance, and prevent these criminals from leaving fingerprints. They also introduce leather clothes to the outfit. White tie is normally worn with black patent leather evening shoes, something not mentioned by Yates.

However, one of the crooks wears "a footman's livery". Both this footman's uniform and the other crooks' tails play a role in their insidious scheme to deceive the police. The footman's uniform also introduces the concept of hierarchy: he is seemingly there to serve and take orders from the wealthy-looking men in white tie and tails. Hoaxes often benefit from invocations of hierarchical chains of command. See my discussion.

The man dressed as a footman is enormously powerful, picking up a heavy chair without any effort. Rogue tales sometimes include muscular power, as well as clever criminal schemes. For example:

The footman assumes a second uniform later in the tale, dressing as a chauffeur. This underscores the crooks' ability to wear and exploit uniforms.

"A Trick of Memory" differs from many Rogue tales, in that the crooks are not series heroes. Instead "A Trick of Memory" is part of a comedy series, in which the good guy protagonists are the heroes. These comic heroes get attacked this one-time-only by the crooks.

Spies and Thriller Writers

British Spy fiction of the World War I era seems heavily influenced by the Rogue School. Many of the same themes, characterizations and techniques are employed by the Rogue and Spy writers.

Another writer who could have been influenced by the Rogue tradition is the American Richard Harding Davis. There is a good deal of swindling in all of his crime stories, not to mention plain, old fashioned lying, and his spy characters in works like "Somewhere in France" (1915) seem especially Rogue like.

All of these British writers went on to write "thrillers", non spy stories, set in the world of crime and criminals, that are not at all fair play, puzzle plot mysteries in the Golden Age tradition. These thrillers were immensely popular in their day, although they are little read today.

These thrillers anticipated and probably influenced many later branches of crime fiction and film. E. Phillips Oppenheim's work, like that of Richard Harding Davis, probably influenced the hard-boiled pulp stories of the 1920's and 1930's, with their tough two fisted heroes, their mobsters, and their settings in night clubs and restaurants. Although Pulp Fiction is often (mistakenly) described as a Uniquely American phenomenon, it is hard not to see resemblances here.

Le Queux' fiction perhaps influenced movie serials, with their cliff hanging traps and master villains. And Frederick Harcourt Kitchin's books are about heroes who do undercover assignments, taking on new identities and infiltrating bad guys. Such undercover agents were popular in the Semi-Documentary Crime Films of the 1940's, and the TV shows of the 1980's.

E. Phillips Oppenheim

Oppenheim wrote a huge amount of spy fiction, but he also wrote some crime stories. In "The Reckoning with Otto Schreed" (1921), his hero Joseph Cray has to cope with a monstrous World War I profiteer.

In Oppenheim's fiction, the hero often has to gather his strength. He is in a position of weakness at the start of the work, when he is suddenly surprised by some enemy. He marshals his resources, does research on the issues involved, gets himself in physical shape, and gathers allies. All prepatory towards a big fight at the end of the tale. He does this silently, careful not to tip his hand towards his adversary. This is fairly realistic. It is in contrast to today's macho action heroes, who always swagger in, guns blazing, at the beginning of the tale. They never admit the slightest sign of weakness. Oppenheim's stories also require moral strength from the hero. In The Great Impersonation (1920), this involves a long process of moral and physical rejuvenation, with the hero drying out and getting himself fit. In "The Reckoning with Otto Schreed" the hero has to gather evidence.

Both J.S. Fletcher and J. Storer Clouston wrote about Rogues who dressed in the formal city clothes of the successful London businessman. Such costumes were important in Oppenheim, as well: in "The Reckoning with Otto Schreed" the hero is dressed this way at the start of the tale. In Fletcher, it is the crooks who wear such clothes, not the hero. In Oppenheim, the clothes have similar function, however. They are power clothes: wearing them is a sign that his hero now has considerable wealth and power in the world. There is a flashback to the past, when the hero was dressed as an army officer in his W.W.I khakis. Then, he could not do anything about war time profiteers like Shreed. Now, his business clothes mark him as a power figure, with the wherewithal to successfully tackle this, or any other weighty problem. Oppenheim emphasizes how well tailored the hero's clothes are. Everyone notices how well he looks in them, compared to his khakis, and much thinner, too. Such fine tailoring was an upper class status symbol. Here they mark the protagonist as a hero. He has undergone a transformation: while in the Army, he was an Everyman, a representative of all the men who served in the war. Now his hard work has elevated him to a position of power in society, and he can undertake a reckoning with their former oppressors.

Just as in the rogue tales, the clothes are something the hero puts on, and which mark him as a person with entree into the upper classes. Oppenheim's story is more emotionally satisfying than the rogue stories, however. The rogues are fakes. However much delight they and the reader have in their impersonations, they are just using an image. Cray is for real. His hard work has given him these powers in real life, and he can use then to achieve some long overdue social transformations. It's like watching Clark Kent turn into Superman.

Oppenheim also refers to his hero in ways that underline his business success. In The Adventures of Mr. Joseph P. Cray, both the "Mr." and the middle initial are forms of a name that might appear on a business card or an office. Neither is typical of the "Adventures of ..." pattern common in detective fiction since The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1891 - 1892).

Oppenheim's The Lost Ambassador

The early sections (Chapters 1 - 6) of Oppenheim's The Lost Ambassador (1910) seems like a precursor to the whole world of American hard-boiled pulp fiction. We associate Oppenheim with spy stories, but he actually wrote tales in a great variety of genres. This novel takes place against the background of the Parisian underworld. Although the characters are leading crooks in the underworld of Paris, their characterization reminds one of the gangsters of Los Angeles and San Francisco one will later see in the pulp magazine Black Mask in the 1920's and 1930's. Much of it takes place at that most popular locale in American tough guy fiction, the underworld run night club full of mob figures. Oppenheim's mobsters, like Black Mask's, are powerful ruthless figures, with the ability to bump off their opponents. They have many lieutenants, and are quick to fight. They have girl friends, women whose beauty and seductiveness is matched only by their dangerousness and ruthlessness. The hero of Oppenheim's story also reminds one of the later hard-boiled heroes of the pulps. He is not a mobster himself, but a 100% good guy who is entering this world on a quest for justice: he is looking for a missing man. He is a tough violent man, very good at two fisted fighting. He likes public encounters in cafes and night clubs. He is always walking into underworld traps. He has his own rigid code of honor, different from the law, by which he measures out justice. Such a code of honor recalls the later Philip Marlowe of Raymond Chandler, and other hard-boiled sleuths. The quest for a missing person is also a standard pulp fiction plot. It is often the basic situation with which private eye tales open, with the detective being hired to find a missing person.

As Robert Sampson pointed out, the hard-boiled underworld began to appear in US pulp magazines with the publication of Frank L. Packard's The Adventures of Jimmie Dale (1914 - 1915). There are also hard-boiled locales and themes in Richard Harding Davis' "The Set-Up" (1915). This is just a few years after Oppenheim's book. Oppenheim was an immensely popular writer. Both Oppenheim and Packard are straight out of the Rogue tradition. We can see a similar mix of underworld and society settings in Packard as in Oppenheim. Packard's "Devil's Work" opens in a glittering Broadway theater, and follows its opulent society crowds out onto the street. It then moves to an underworld dive. This is exactly the progression in Oppenheim's The Lost Ambassador (1910).

One can see some difference's between Oppenheim's hero, and that of Black Mask. Oppenheim's protagonist is an upper crust British gentleman, not a private eye. In fact his brother is an earl. Such a background was a sine qua non for the British in 1910. However, one should not be misled by this. Oppenheim's hero is a tough man, out looking for adventure, and not afraid of action or bad guys. He is infinitely closer in personality to Philip Marlowe than Lord Peter Wimsey. Packard's Jimmie Dale resemble's Oppenheim's hero, in that he is a socially prominent millionaire, who is also good at tough action in the underworld.

Oppenheim's underworld figures are faultlessly dressed in the elegant clothes of the upper class Frenchman. In fact, at one point the hero notes that the only difference is that these crime leaders' clothes are too perfect. In some ways, this is not too different from American mobsters and their sharp suits and evening clothes. But Oppenheim's book also reflects Rogue tradition. His underworld capos are impersonating members of the upper classes by wearing their clothes. American mobsters are simply flaunting their power by wearing $300 suits, while Oppenheim's Parisian underworld types are actually trying to pass as French upper class males. Oppenheim and his readers clearly found this exiting. Members of the Parisian mob do not just wear well cut evening clothes and morning clothes. Some also have military beards and demeanors, as if they were high ranking military officers. The illusions are very detailed.

Oppenheim's Parisian mobsters are very different from the Mafia. The mob is first called by name in stories of 1909: Baroness Orczy's "The Irish Tweed Coat" (1909) in Lady Molly of Scotland Yard (collected 1910); Joseph Conrad's "Il Conte" (1909), and Arthur B. Reeve's "The Black Hand" (1911) in The Silent Bullet. These tales always emphasize the Secret Society nature of the Mafia, and its ability to reach out and punish victims. These tales have little to do with the Rogue tradition. Their Mafia characters are not elegantly attired figures in white tie and tails, like Oppenheim's; they are shadowy figures in the background who can reach out and strike around the world.

Ambiguity in Oppenheim and later Pulp Fiction

Oppenheim's characters are ambiguous, especially in the opening Paris chapters (1-6) of The Lost Ambassador (1910), which by the way are the best parts of the book. He keeps us in suspense at all times about their true motivations and nature. This is somewhat similar to a tradition found in later pulp heroes, especially stories that introduce them to readers for the first time. One thinks of Frank L. Packard's first story about Jimmie Dale, "The Grey Seal" (1914); Harold MacGrath's first story in The Blue Rajah Murder (1929-1930), "Impromptu", Raymond Chandler's first mystery story, "Blackmailer's Don't Shoot" (1933); Lester Dent's first story about Oscar Sail, "Sail" (1936), and Bill Pronzini's excellent modern pastiche of pulp fiction, "Stacked Deck" (1987).

This sort of ambiguity is distinctly different from that found in the "pulp style of plotting", in which there are so many characters operating at cross purposes, that the reader is never sure who has committed the latest criminal act. The confusion is resolved at the end of the tale, often with considerable ingenuity. This style of plotting is first found in Carroll John Daly in the early 1920's, then in Erle Stanley Gardner in the later 1920's, and finally in a whole slew of Black Mask writers of the 1930's (see the article on Baynard Kendrick for a list). It is largely absent from the work of Dashiell Hammett. We could contrast the two styles of ambiguity in pulp fiction. In Oppenheim and his successors, we are unsure about the characters and their motivations, but we know who is committing each act in the story. In the Daly "pulp style of plotting", we largely know about the character of the people in the tale, but the stream of actions in the story are difficult to ascribe the individual characters. However, the Daly tradition also enables ambiguity about characters in the story: for example, is the mysterious woman in the tale a heroine, or a femme fatale in league with the villain?

There are far more stories using the "pulp style of plotting" than there are employing the Oppenheim approach. However, the Oppenheim tradition is strategically placed, due to its use at the start of some key series in detective fiction. The fact that there are at least two major traditions of ambiguity in pulp fiction is itself interesting.

William Le Queux

William Le Queux's "Reveals the Cotton Glove" from Revelations of the Secret Service (in book form in 1911), is a surprisingly enjoyable spy story. Once again in Le Queux, the hero is mainly trying to get information useful to the British Government. He is an upper crust, apparent member of the diplomatic corps who functions as a British spy.

Le Queux's fiction has some features in common with the Rogue writers. His hero is, to a degree, impersonating a member of the upper classes. Although he is a spy for Britain's Nameless Bureau, his cover is that of a diplomat in Britain's service. In this role, he has access to every sort of upper class function and event. The hero is probably a genuine member of the upper classes, even if he is a fake diplomat, but one suspects his diplomatic role gives him an entree far beyond that of a typical British Gentleman. In any case, he enjoys the conspicuous wallow in the trappings of the elite that Rogues love. He lives in clubs, he attends diplomatic soirees, dates glamorous Parisiennes, and has friends among the idle rich.

Le Queux's hero concentrates on stealing documents that do not belong to him, just as Raffles concentrates on stealing jewelry. Like Raffles, he always has some fairly ingenious scheme in place to enable such theft. Like Raffles, he sometimes assumes a lower class identity, as a ruffian, to aid his schemes.

The hero also encounters the sort of danger that Rogues face. Just as Raffles is nearly always falling into the clutches of the police on his burglary raids, so is Le Queux's hero often getting trapped by the enemy's spies. Both Le Queux and the Rogue writers tend to emphasize ties and gags, with both the hero and enemy agents often getting bound and gagged.

The tale includes the now familiar situation in which the hero is lured into a trap, tied up, and left alone in a room where a device will kill him in a few minutes. I am used to seeing this as a form of Camp parody on film and TV. For example, the Batman TV series always used a cliffhanger of this sort to join its two episodes. Similarly, the spoof Charlie Chan and the Curse of the Dragon Queen (1981) has such a device. I don't recall reading stories before where such traps were treated straight, but here it is! Le Queux's story appeared at a time before the major movie serials began. Presumably films got such devices from writers like Le Queux.

One can see some differences between Le Queux and Oppenheim. Oppenheim's heroes and villains tend to be masters of disguise, and are always impersonating others. Le Queux's hero tends to stick to his cover role as a diplomat - a fake role, to be sure, but more stable than Oppenheim's wig and makeup jobs. Le Queux's fiction tends to be set more in the "real world" of public life - embassies, government bureaus and offices, diplomatic functions. Oppenheim's spies tend to move around in less official surroundings, such as music halls, restaurants and resorts. Le Queux shows a great deal of sophistication in his politics. Indeed, his tales are still politically relevant today. Events in the Balkans in Le Queux still resonate in the 1990's.

Also noteworthy in "Reveals the Cotton Glove" are the two sympathetic French Jewish characters. There is so much racism in British popular fiction of the era, that Le Queux's anti-racist treatment stands out.

Le Queux's heroes tend to work for British Government interests. They often pour scorn on the received opinions of the public, politicians and the press, feeling all these groups underestimate danger from Germany. But they have great confidence in their positions, and feel few conflicts of any sort about the role they are performing, or their work. Oppenheim's tend to be more private citizens, and they have to grope more to find the best course of action.

Frederick Harcourt Kitchin

Another writer who seems to have modified Rogue traditions into a detective story format is Frederick Harcourt Kitchin. Kitchin's two books feature Dawson, a detective who specializes in impersonations and undercover work. He also is more interested in robberies, swindles and other crimes of property than in murder. Like J.S. Fletcher, Kitchin's works are tales of adventure and intrigue, and have little in common with Golden Age paradigms.

Frederick Harcourt Kitchin wrote two books of adventures about Dawson, a Secret Service agent in the first, an undercover investigator in the second. Each book contains four long stories. These tales attempt to be sophisticated and witty, although they often deal with fairly gritty elements of crime, and are definitely far more extravagant than realistic in tone.

In each story in The Diversions of Dawson (1923), the hero goes undercover with a different identity. The last tale in the collection, "The Butler", has been reprinted in anthologies, and is the only piece by Kitchin that is at all familiar to modern readers. Reading it alone is very misleading, because almost every twist and turn of the plot of "The Butler" echoes and satirizes elements of the first tale in the collection, "Mr. Cholmondoley Jones". Even dialogue from the first story is given ironical twists in the latter. This means that paradoxically, although many people have read "The Butler", few people have ever had the reading experience of the tale that Kitchin intended. This unusual situation is perhaps unique in world literature.

The two middle tales in Dawson are mediocre. In one of them, "The Prime Minister", Kitchin advocates a government in Britain based on Mussolini's brand of Fascism. This is not quite as inflammatory as it sounds - Hitler was a complete unknown in this era, and Mussolini's early government managed to preserve a certain degree of civility, at least compared to the horrors of the Hitler era - but it is still absolutely dreadful, a betrayal of democratic values. It is perhaps because of Kitchin's shocking political ideas that his book has been so little reprinted.

I am not at all sure whether even at his best Kitchin was a really good writer. Even "Jones" and "The Butler" are hardly classics of crime fiction, and I debated long and hard about including them on my list. If they are not great, however, they certainly are different. Kitchin's work corresponds to no school of detective fiction known to me. It seems to have arrived from outer space, completely ignoring A. Conan Doyle, R. Austin Freeman, G. K. Chesterton, and everybody else. The first Dawson book, which I have not read, dealt with spies, and it is possible that Kitchin's work has antecedents in early spy fiction. He is best regarded as a highly personal offshoot of the Rogue School. Kitchin's emphasis on the ability of his detective to disguise himself and to assume new identities seems most related to 19th Century detectives, such as those of Gaboriau and Nick Carter, not to Twentieth Century writers, although disguise is also something Kitchin could have incorporated from the Rogue tradition.

I also do not know what biological relationship, if any, F.H. Kitchin had to Clifford Henry Benn Kitchin, the author of the classic detective novel Death of My Aunt. Given their birth dates, F.H. might conceivably even be the father of C.H.B., but this is wild speculation.

Charles Edward Montague

Montague was a mainstream novelist who occasionally wrote spy fiction.

Judith: a short story

"Judith" shows evidence of alliance with tales of multiple identities. It is perhaps in the tradition of Oppenheim's The Great Impersonation (1920). It is refreshing to read British fiction of the 1920's that shows no signs of influence from the realist school. Perhaps the Rogue-impersonation-double identity tradition gave writers a valuable alternative model for their fiction.

Like Oppenheim, Montague's tale contains a considerable love story, one that involves much uncertainty between the two parties. Neither is ever fully sure of the other's position, due to the war and the espionage and impersonation work which they undertake. Both the man and the woman have the full bodied emotionalism of Oppenheim's lovers, in addition to all the sensitivity and insight mainstream writer Montague can bring to bear on their condition.

Montague shows the interest in plot symmetry occasionally found in older writers. His love of symmetry anticipates such writers in the mystery field as Allan Vaughan Elston.

"Judith" also recalls the two part storytelling of Kitchin's collection The Diversions of Dawson, in which events from the first story occur in new contexts in the last. Similarly, the plot, characters and locations of the first half of Montague's tale occur in mirror image in the second.

Detective Offshoots of the Rogue School

There are many detective writers who work seems to be influenced by the Rogue tradition. We will discuss this influence in depth below.

Grant Allen

Grant Allen apparently wrote one of the first books of Rogue tales with his An African Millionaire (1896-1897), which appeared in magazines the same year 1896 as the book publication of Max Pemberton's A Gentleman's Gentleman and the magazine publication of Herbert Keen's The Chronicles Of Elvira House (1896). It is possible that Pemberton's stories appeared in magazines earlier, say in 1895, and might be the earliest of the three. These were not the first tales of clever criminals - one thinks of Israel Zangwill's "Cheating the Gallows" (1893), which has much in common with the later Rogue tales - but they seem to be the first story sequences, and the first works to fully crystallize the form. For that matter, some of the villains in the first six stories in Doyle's The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1891) have some Rogue like characteristics. Doyle was a friend of Allen's, and the brother-in-law of Raffles creator E.W. Hornung, so he had personal ties to the Rogue writers.

The Rogue Colonel Clay in An African Millionaire is a con man or swindler, unlike such later thieves as Raffles and Jimmie Dale. Another difference: Raffles and Jimmie Dale are the point of view characters in their stories, people whose thoughts and feelings we follow, while Colonel Clay is mainly seen from other people's point of view. He is a far more enigmatic person than these later rogues. The people in the foreground in Allen's tale are Clay's victim, wealthy diamond king Sir Charles Vandrift, and his society wife and opportunistic brother-in-law. All of these characters are mainly seen satirically. They are examples of rich, greedy people at their absolute ugliest. It is hard to think of a more repulsive bunch of human beings, mean, materialistic, social climbing, heartless to the poor, charityless, grasping and duplicitous. It is a portrait of 19th Century Robber Barons at their worst. One of Allen's main motivations in these stories is to offer social commentary, mainly about the worthlessness of such plutocrats. Reading about such unlikable people can be unpleasant.

The tales in An African Millionaire are about swindles, but they are mainly not mystery stories, in the traditional sense. Some of the tales do have Clay pulling off clever stunts whose mechanism is difficult for the reader to guess; these are carefully explained at the ends of the tales. In this sense, the stories do have mystery elements. The mystery is more "how did he do it" rather than "whodunit"; in this, the mystery is a little bit like those in impossible crime stories. The reader does wonder how Clay could have pulled off some of his coups; at first glance they do look impossible. These stories include "The Mexican Seer", "The Tyrolean Castle" and "The Arrest of the Colonel".

The tales mainly have a similar structure, in which a disguised Clay sneaks up on the Vandrift establishment and swindles them. Allen builds up an ostinato quality here, which gets funnier and funnier as the tales progress. He uses a theme and variations approach, in which each new story is a variation on the composite pattern that has gone before. The Vandrifts become quite conscious of these patterns, and often analyze them right in the stories. They often try to compare their current experiences to those of the past stories, critically analyzing them for similarities and differences. Such self-aware, critical analysis of a current plot is an approach also very strongly allied with the mystery genre. One of the notable things about mystery fiction is that both the reader and the characters in the story are not mere passive consumers of the unfolding plot. Instead, the reader and the detective are constantly analyzing the plot, trying to look for its hidden underlying patterns, its links of causality, the plausibility of its sections, its repeated motifs and principles. This is exactly what occurs in the African Millionaire tales, as the Vandrifts try to solve the mystery of each new appearance by Clay. This sort of self-reflexive analysis is especially found in "The Arrest of the Colonel", "The Seldon Gold-Mine" and "The Japanned Dispatch-Box".

While it is not a mystery in the traditional sense, "The Arrest of the Colonel" contains an early depiction in fiction of a private detective. He works for a large detective agency, whose customers tend to be rich men who need help coping with business fraud or theft. This is one of the more ingenious stories in the collection. There is also some good detective work in "The Bertillon Method". This portion of the story is quite science based, and reminds us that Grant Allen began his career as a writer of popular science. "The German Professor" is an early tale about the alleged manufacture of artificial diamonds; later such writers as Jacques Futrelle, Arthur B. Reeve and Ellery Queen would write on this subject.

An African Millionaire shares many plot approaches with Allen's earlier detective story, "The Great Ruby Robbery" (1892). Both tales have a dual perspective, involving both servants and the upper class characters in the same household. A Lady's maid is a key character in both. The scenes in "Ruby" describing the first discovery of the crime, and whether one servant will notify others, recur in a transformed way in "The Bertillon Method". And the discussion immediately following, in which masters try to protect their servants, recur in a much expanded form in the final chapter of An African Millionaire. All of this material is highly comic in tone. There is also social criticism here, in seeing that the servants are often more talented than the members of the upper classes.

Their are other similarities in approach. Suspicion is a key element of both tales. Suspecting whether a character is guilty, and building a case against them, is a key formative element of both stories' plot. "The Great Ruby Robbery" offers at an early date the principle of the Least Likely Suspect. This is explicitly formulated by the police detective in the story.

Both works also involve intervention by the criminal into a process at an unexpected stage as a way of building a mystery puzzle plot. The mystery effects in "The Tyrolean Castle" and "The Arrest of the Colonel" both depend on this. It is hard to discuss this in depth without giving away the details of these mysteries.

Gordon Browne's illustrations for An African Millionaire and Miss Cayley's Adventures are delightful. When these two story sequences were reprinted from The Strand Magazine in book form, Browne's illustrations were reprinted along with them. This means that Allen's books are among the few adult mystery stories to be profusely illustrated in their book form. Not all of Browne's illustrations survived the transition from magazine to book: in the Strand, each chapter title has an illustration going along with it, and these were unfortunately not reprinted.

Detective Stories by Allen

Allen also wrote some detective fiction. Two of his stories are especially notable for their exuberant, upbeat heroes. They are among the more appealing characters in Victorian detective fiction. Both of the characters speak their minds. Both are complete non-conformists, who are full of New Ideas and the spirit of progress. Both are also kind hearted, friendly people, with a knack of getting along with just about anybody and everybody. "The Adventure of the Cantankerous Old Lady" (1898) stars Lois Cayley, a penniless young college educated woman who plans to see the world and have adventures, while "The Great Ruby Robbery" (1892) stars the impoverished young Irish parliamentarian Sir Justin O'Byrne. Sidney Paget's illustrations to this tale also have considerable charm. Lois Cayley reminds one of Agatha Christie's young women who are off seeking adventure, like Tuppence and the heroine of They Came to Baghdad (1951). Allen's mystery plots tend to be fairly simple. They tend to derive from the Rogue tradition, and show crooks trying to carry out some scheme that will be foiled by the detective hero.

Allen clearly likes the "Old Lady" of the title, too, despite her cantankerousness. The Old Lady's comments on train travel form a detailed, even relentless, portrait of international travel of the time. Every detail of a trip from England to Germany is covered, with extreme artistic economy. They remind one of the similar progress of "The Thames Valley Catastrophe" (1897), Allen's alarming science fiction account of the wiping out of London. The catastrophe in this tale spreads with ferocious regularity from one location to the next. Allen's story has an apocalyptic quality than makes most contemporary disaster films look like mush.

"The Adventure of the Cantankerous Old Lady" is the first of twelve adventures of Lois Cayley. The tales form a story sequence, with each story building on characters and plot developments that have been introduced in previous ones. Most of the stories are not detective tales, in any sense of the word. Some are romances, some social comedies, other adventure tales. I especially liked Chapters 3, 4 and 5 of this book: "The Adventure of the Inquisitive American", "The Adventure of the Amateur Commission Agent", "The Adventure of the Impromptu Mountaineer". These stories are basically light hearted comic, adventure tales, with Lois as their heroine. She gets to perform all the heroic feats usually associated with men. Both their New Woman, feminist theme, and their comic tone anticipate the Tish stories of Mary Roberts Rinehart.

Eventually, this story sequence turns into something of a novel. The last stories in the book all deal with one common mystery case, whose unraveling carries over from story to story. The individual tales become episodes in the working out of this mystery. I cannot think of any other Victorian or Edwardian sequences that work this way - most of them have a self contained mystery in each short. Each story does have its own subject matter - one deals with a courtroom drama, another with a suspenseful chase - and its own tone. The whole thing produces a mosaic effect. This mosaic style of construction anticipates Clifford Hicks' children's mystery novel, Alvin's Secret Code (1963), which is also put together as one novel made up of a series of very disparate short stories, each with its own tone and style.

Because of its unity of plot, readers should probably read all of Miss Cayley's Adventures, and in order, to get the book's full effect. This does not mean all chapters are equally good, far from it, and I name my favorite stories from it on the recommended list above. The India set "The Adventure of the Magnificent Maharajah" contains a memorable attack on racism, one that anticipates E.M. Forster's A Passage to India (1912 - 1924).

Gelett Burgess

Gelett Burgess is an American author, whose occasional output of crime fiction, parallels in era the American Scientific School of Reeve, Rinehart, and Moffett. Not surprisingly, he has some affinities with these writers, especially in matters of detective story technique. But Burgess differs from them in his focus on rogues, criminals, and the corrupt. Burgess' protagonists tend to be crooks themselves, and in the crimes they solve they meet ordinary, if well to do, people, who are not professional criminals, but who are shaving more than a few corners and indulging in some very crooked schemes themselves. Burgess' tone is light hearted, sly and cynical, suggesting that corruption runs through what he calls "the money classes". Burgess also tends to be cynical about sexual matters, suggesting that the money classes often misbehave there, as well.

His comic tone seems appropriate to the author of "The Purple Cow". At one time this comic poem was apparently known to every man, woman and child in the US. My father used to recite it to me as a child. I always loved it, and still find it funny.

Burgess has an interest in the technical gimmicks used by con men, fake spiritualists, and burglars, such as Astro, the phony seer who serves as his detective in The Master of Mysteries (collected 1912), or Harry Glasher, the burglar protagonist of "Up the Spout" (1929). This interest in criminal technique seems like an odd echo of the technological interests of Reeve, MacHarg and others of the American Scientific School. Burgess' realism about the often crooked behavior of the upper classes, and his use of the public sphere as a setting for his tales, are definitely related to mystery approach used by the American School, as well. The independence and dynamic quality of his female characters is also typical of the American School. These women are definitely not shrinking violets, but rather just as likely as his men to engage in crooked activities.

Robert Barr

The Triumphs of Eugène Valmont

First, some spade work. Barr's The Triumphs of Eugène Valmont (collected in book form 1906) is a series of eight short stories, but the individual tales were broken up into chapters on book publication, to make the book look like a novel. The individual stories, and their corresponding chapters, are: The stories are somewhat unusual among the mystery story sequences of the day in that they were not all written for one magazine. Nor are the stories uniform in length, as is the tradition among the typical one-magazine series, but range from 15 to 34 pages. Nor do the stories show any discernible sequence or progression, unlike, say, Arnold Bennett's The Loot of Cities, in which characters grow and develop, and one tale builds on another.

The stories are very varied as well:

Barr's best tales include well constructed plots, full of twists and turns.

Four of the recommended stories in Valmont are puzzle plot mystery stories: "The Clue of the Silver Spoons" (1904), "Lord Chizelrigg's Missing Fortune", "The Ghost with the Club-Foot", "Lady Alicia's Emeralds". Two other recommended works are best described as tales in which Valmont intervenes to thwart criminal intrigue: "The Siamese Twin of a Bomb-Thrower" and "The Liberation of Wyoming Ed". I didn't like "The Mystery of the Five Hundred Diamonds" (1904), or "The Absent-Minded Coterie" (1905).

"The Siamese Twin of a Bomb-Thrower" comes long after Stevenson's encounter with bomb throwers in More New Arabian Nights (1885), and Doyle's "An Exciting Christmas Eve" (1883). Professor Stephen Knight's fine introduction to the 1997 Oxford paperback edition of Valmont has much useful analysis of Barr's influence from Doyle, especially from the first six stories in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.

"The Siamese Twin of a Bomb-Thrower" is best when imagining the complex relations between Valmont, the police of two countries, businessmen, government officials, and various kinds of anarchists. Barr manages to dream up many paradoxes in these relations.

"The Clue of the Silver Spoons" lacks a con-man. But the characters do evoke the personalities and behaviors of Rogues. They have the fancy clothes and elaborate manners often assumed by Rogues, as well as cleverness beyond Valmont's skill, in some cases. SPOILER. Everyone Valmont meets in this tale outclasses him, in one way or another. This too reminds one of the way Rogues often out-class the duped protagonist of a true Rogue tale. The people Valmont meets often surpass his original low estimation of them, also a sly comic sign that he is being outdone.

The tone of Barr's fiction is comic. He is often described as a satirical writer, but this does not seem to me to be an especially accurate description of his works. His tales instead tend toward sophisticated wit, paradox, elegant conversations, clever repartee, and ingenious, off trail situations. This is a tradition with roots in Saki and Wilde, and is a strain that pops up in mystery fiction in Barr, Frederick Irving Anderson, and T.S. Stribling.

Many of Barr's tales are driven by comic but frightening villains. These are usually all-powerful older men, who will stop at nothing at imposing their way on everyone around them.

"The Mystery of the Five Hundred Diamonds" and "Lady Alicia's Emeralds" begin and end the book with accounts of valuable jewel necklaces. The necklaces serve as MacGuffins in the Alfred Hitchcock sense: very valuable items that drive the plot. The necklaces are much talked about throughout the tales - but are only seen "on-stage" briefly, in spectacular moments.

"The Mystery of the Five Hundred Diamonds" has a suspense sequence at an auction (the middle third of the tale). I don't know if Barr was the first to include such an auction in a crime tale. Like auctions in later books and TV, Barr's is a sophisticated, big money auction. Alfred Hitchcock included an auction in North by Northwest (1959). Barr's auction includes both legitimate millionaire collectors, and slick, polished Rogue criminals. Barr generates suspense both from the details of the auction itself, and fears that criminals might intervene.

"The Ghost with the Club-Foot" and "Lady Alicia's Emeralds" share approaches:

Fair Play Mystery Plotting. "Lady Alicia's Emeralds" is a puzzle plot mystery. There are two clues to the solution. SPOILERS: This is less rigorous than a typical Ellery Queen solution, which proves that one and only one person could have committed the crime. Still, it is very much a "fair play" approach, giving clues to the reader about the solution.

Is "The Ghost with the Club-Foot" fair play? Parts of it are, parts are not. SPOILERS:

Hidden Schemes. "The Clue of the Silver Spoons" has the best mystery puzzle plot of the Valmont tales. SPOILERS in the rest of this section. The plot centers around that favorite device in mystery fiction, the Hidden Scheme. These are secret, clever schemes used by a character, that are hidden from the reader, the detective and the police. Such Hidden Schemes show up in many mystery authors, from Freeman Wills Crofts to Edward D. Hoch. Usually the detective figures out the existence and nature of the Hidden Scheme, based on clues and/or situations in the story. That's exactly what happens in "The Clue of the Silver Spoons", when Valmont figures out hidden meaning of the "silver spoons" anecdote at the end.

"The Clue of the Silver Spoons" actually has several hidden schemes:

Such multiple Hidden Schemes are a bit unusual for a mystery tale. However, they are a Good Thing, adding to the complexity and plot richness of the story.

The seating arrangement of the guests, also provides a clue to the solution.


I have included in the Recommended Works two short stories from the Barr omnibus Selected Stories. Although not mysteries, they will probably be enjoyed by most mystery fans on account of their skillful plots.

Dick Donovan

Dick Donovan was a prolific writer of crime short stories around 1900. Donovan was often strong on atmosphere, and was especially good at describing sinister scenes of recently discovered murder victims. He was often weak at mystery plotting, with uncreative solutions to his mystery puzzles.

A detailed look at Donovan's work, with bibliography, can be found at the Golden Age of Detection Wiki.

The Mystery of Oaklands Manor: a short story

"The Mystery of Oaklands Manor" includes a recurring feature in some Donovan tales: A hunt for a disappeared person, often ominous.

SPOILER. The strange place where the missing woman is found shows both ingenuity, and haunting atmosphere. It is part of the surreal aspect of Donovan's fiction.

The Spell of the Black Siren: a short story

"The Spell of the Black Siren" is one of Donovan's best short stories. It is atmospheric and dramatic throughout. It shows Donovan's gift for sinister atmospheric writing.

"The Spell of the Black Siren" has features also found in other Donovan tales:

"The Spell of the Black Siren" has ties to the Rogue school. We see slick operatives who prey on the rich, and who give the appearance of being wealthy and upper class themselves. These operatives recall the protagonists of Rogue tales.

"The Spell of the Black Siren" also has ties to spy fiction. It exemplifies the links between spy fiction and the Rogue tradition.

The discovery of the first crime in the cab in "The Spell of the Black Siren", recalls the crime in The Mystery of a Hansom Cab (1886) by Fergus Hume. The Mystery of a Hansom Cab was in this era an extremely famous best-seller.

J.S. Fletcher

Rogue Traditions

Another writer who is not strictly speaking a Rogue writer, but who seems to come out of their tradition, is the mystery writer J.S. Fletcher. Fletcher's protagonists are detectives, not thieves like Raffles, so he cannot be said to be a Rogue writer. But, his detectives, such as Paul Campenhaye in "The Magician of Cannon Street", often encounter rogues, these criminals being more dominant in the plot than the detective hero.

These rogues are often gaining illicit power through their wearing the clothes of the upper classes, a subject that seems to fascinate all members of the Rogue School. Both Fletcher's rogues and his businessmen are fully dressed in the formal "Morning clothes" of the well to do City gentleman of the era: frock coats, striped trousers, shiny silk top hats, and well polished boots. Fletcher's hapless hero keeps getting bested by such businessmen-conspirators in The Million-Dollar Diamond (1923). Their clothes were "good stuff, fashionably cut. Their boots were good, too -- first-class, expensive boots. And the man who had done all the talking spoke in quiet, cultivated tones". This book was published by the firm of Herbert Jenkins, who was also a mystery writer in his own right. The chambermaid-turned-detective of "Room 53" finds herself in a memorable encounter with a similarly well-dressed gentleman, Captain Mervyn. The tall Captain of the Lancers is most expertly attired.

Fletcher's plots seem to often revolve around clever swindles, a subject that interests him much more than murder. Swindles are common in Rogue fiction.

Like the Rogue school, Fletcher's story typically is one of adventurous intrigue. His characters are often running around tracking down some lead that will allow the capture of the criminals, and sometimes getting in a tight spot in the process.

Not Golden Age

By contrast, Fletcher's work seems to have little in common with the Golden Age puzzle plots of his contemporaries: Fletcher was not an especially good writer, at least much of the time: he certainly created mountains of hackwork. His deviations from the paradigms of the Golden Age are often ascribed to him simply being a Bad Mystery Writer. He is often genuinely "bad", but his difference in approach from his contemporaries at least partly seems to reflect Fletcher's emergence from a different tradition.

Some Golden Age Features

There are some areas where Fletcher's fiction does anticipate the Golden Age.

Fletcher's interest in architecture and landscape.

The Middle Temple Murder (1918) has its sleuths trying to reconstruct the victim's last day. The victim was traveling around London and meeting many people. This anticipates reconstructions in Freeman Wills Crofts. Crofts began publishing in 1920, two years after The Middle Temple Murder. Like Crofts, The Middle Temple Murder has little character sketches of the various witnesses who present their testimony about the victim.

Works like The Middle Temple Murder and "Room 53" also anticipate Crofts and his followers, in that the reader largely shares in all the ideas of the sleuth throughout the story.

Fletcher's Categorization of Fiction

The opening of "Room 53" has an interesting look at contemporary fiction, classifying it into categories. Fletcher's comments are simple, but pithy. He notes that mysteries are often "ending up with the arrest of the last person in the world to be suspected". This is a statement at an early date of the mystery plot approach of the Least Likely Suspect. "Room 53" was collected in the The Secret of the Barbican in 1925. I don't know whether it appeared earlier in a magazine.

The Contents of the Coffin: a short story

Fletcher became famous for his The Middle Temple Murder (1918). This novel is an expansion of a plot Fletcher used earlier in the short story, "The Contents of the Coffin", included in his 1909 collection, The Adventures of Archer Dawe (Sleuth-Hound). The plot is clever.

The story opens with a prisoner being sentenced by a judge, a scene that seemed to fascinate Fletcher, who included it in several tales. One can find similar courtroom scenes in E.W. Hornung's The Shadow of the Rope (1902).

Archer Dawe is an elderly amateur detective who works closely with Scotland Yard. Both he and the Yard detectives rely closely on Fletcher's two favorite techniques: tracking, and disguising oneself in the clothes of the upper classes. Although Dawe is a good guy, his approach here is very similar to those of Rogues. "The Contents of the Coffin" states at one point that when Dawe is dressed up in his Morning coat, that he looks like a judge. This draws together two of Fletcher's ongoing themes: impersonation of the powerful, and judges.

Another perennial Fletcher subject in this tale: a family whose grown male members all bear a striking resemblance to each other. This recalls the adult twin brothers in "From Behind the Barrier" and "The Yorkshire Manufacturer".

The Middle Temple Murder

When I first read The Middle Temple Murder (1918) decades ago, I found it disappointing. But a recent rereading seemed highly enjoyable.

Fletcher Traditions. The Middle Temple Murder shares imagery with "Room 53":

Pre-War Date. The crime that opens The Middle Temple Murder is explicitly set June 22, 1912. This firmly places The Middle Temple Murder before World War I (1914-1918). There is no sign of the War in The Middle Temple Murder, and the book has many young man civilian characters who would be in the Army had the book been set during the War years.

During the inquest (last part of Chapter 11), a witness testifies he was in England between twenty and twenty-two years ago. The Counsel says that means between 1890 and 1892. This is consistent with the "present" of the novel being 1912.

An Influence on Gardner. The reporter-detective hero visits a small town (Chapter 16). This episode anticipates Erle Stanley Gardner's Turn On the Heat (1940). In both books:

British Enterprise and Cooperation. Not only does The Middle Temple Murder anticipate Gardner. In some ways The Middle Temple Murder feels more American than British. All the sympathetic male characters work for a living. Several have their own business. It's a "commercial Britain".

The Middle Temple Murder paints a positive portrait of a well-dressed, confident young salesman David Lyell (Chapter 12). This contrasts with the skepticism such polished young sales types would receive in "The Scorched Face" (1925) by Dashiell Hammett, and Sir John Magill's Last Journey (1930) by Freeman Wills Crofts.

However Fletcher's view of British enterprise is not restricted to capitalism. He depicts a cooperative "Mutual Benefit Society" (last part of Chapter 28). These are also known as a "mutual aid society" or "friendly society". They played an important role in 19th Century Britain. Workers would pool their resources, which would be used to help members facing sickness, old age or death. As The Middle Temple Murder explicitly notes, the members were working class. Please see my list of Cooperatives and Worker-owned Businesses in mystery and science fiction.

The Mutual Benefit Society in The Middle Temple Murder is set in an industrial town in the North of England. This is another example of Fletcher's Nothern England perspective. The whole town is industrial: its workers are described as "purely artisanal".


Both "The Contents of the Coffin" and "From Behind the Barrier" include paired hotel rooms, directly across the corridor from each other. In one the hero has his room; in the other a crime is or has taken place.

Two of the main characters in "Room 53" also have hotel rooms across from each other, and a crime does take place in one of the rooms. However, the hero of the tale is actually a chambermaid at the hotel, not one of the men in the rooms.

There are other architectural motifs in Fletcher as well. Northern English buildings in Fletcher often include both offices, serving as places of business, and adjoining bedrooms. I have no idea whether this was a typical feature of the region's architecture, or whether it is rather something that comes from Fletcher's storytelling imagination. It tends to give an unusual flavor to the stories. A scene that starts out in an office can suddenly move into a bedroom. Together with all the disguise in the tales, it can give the stories a surrealist flavor.

Private investigator Paul Campenhaye has a set-up where he can spy unobserved on clients in his waiting room. The set-up anticipates similar features in the Nero Wolfe tales of Rex Stout. This set-up is shown at the start of the Campenhaye tale "The French Maid". It is the most interesting part of an otherwise uncreative short story. "The Magician of Cannon Street" reverses this situation with Campenhaye uncomfortable in somebody else's waiting room where he is sure he is being spied on.

The description of the alleyways leading to a Fleet Street club is entertaining, in The Middle Temple Murder (start of Chapter 15).

The Yorkshire Manufacturer: a short story

"The Yorkshire Manufacturer" is simple in its mystery plot. But it has an outstanding evocation of mountainous Yorkshire landscapes. These landscapes include man-made features: roads, terraces, walls. The tale is remarkably atmospheric. An interest in landscape anticipates the Golden Age to come.

The simple mystery plot of "The Yorkshire Manufacturer" recalls that of "Room 53". In both the investigator finds a clue to a person's identity, accidentally left behind at a crime scene. The investigator then follows up on the clue, traveling into a glitzy urban area. The travel requires some personal boldness on the investigator's part, a willingness to cross cultural and social barriers.

SPOILERS. The two houses of the twin brothers anticipate Ellery Queen.

SPOILERS. Both "The Yorkshire Manufacturer" and "Patent No. 33" involve the theft of intellectual property, specifically newly invented machines. I don't know if Fletcher was the first to explore this topic in crime fiction. "Patent No. 33" might have influenced The Great Insurance Murders (1937) by Milton M. Propper. We know that Propper read Fletcher, although not whether he read these two tales.

Short Stories set in Northern England

J.S. Fletcher's tale "Blind Gap Moor" (1918) shows his skill at Northern England local color. Fletcher lived in Yorkshire, wrote books about its history, and the area often pops up in his fiction. This tale turns on affection between businessmen: a banker tracks down the man who murdered his assistant. Fletcher's work often seems to show a gay sensibility; so does that of Bret Harte, Frank L. Packard, E.W. Hornung, Guy N. Boothby, George A. Best and Harold MacGrath. This is only an impression based on their fiction; I have no biographical or historical information to back it up.

"The Button and the Banknote" (1929) looks at the same sort of financial skullduggery as "Blind Gap Moor". It is not as creative as the other story, but it still seems "nice". This story is written in Fletcher's version of the Freeman Wills Crofts police procedural. However, Fletcher's simplistic idea of police procedure consists of exactly the same behavior he attributes to his amateur detectives: following suspects around, tracking them down, talking to people, and occasionally picking up a clue. As in Fletcher's The Charing Cross Mystery (1923), the detective takes a trip from London to a Northern manufacturing city. The story is notable for its many sympathetic Jewish characters. It appeared in an era of British fiction when race prejudice was virulent, so in its own low key way it makes Fletcher's feelings on this issue firmly known.

"The Murder in the Mayor's Parlor" completes Fletcher's trilogy about tales of financial crime in the North of England. All three short stories are merely anecdotes, with hardly a puzzle plot between them; but all three have real charm besides. This story is firmly set in 1914, and might be the earliest of the lot. Its combination of Northern city setting, a crime in a mayor's office, and financial skullduggery anticipates Henry Wade's The Dying Alderman (1930), and might have influenced that book.

J. Storer Clouston

J. Storer Clouston was a Victorian writer, born in 1870, who became well known for his humorous novel, Lunatic at Large (1893). He had a mordant, somewhat satirical sensibility. Around 1900 he turned to crime fiction, and kept going through the 1920's.

Coincidence: a short story

He is best known today for a single mystery short story, "Coincidence" (1920), from Carrington's Cases (1920), a piece anthologized by Sayers and reprinted by Ellery Queen in EQMM. This story shows definite affinities with the Rogue school of detective fiction. It is very stiffly told, but the solution of the puzzle plot shows some of the cheekiness of the Rogues of the day.

A Medical Crime: a short story

"A Medical Crime" (1920) is from Carrington's Cases. It is less Rogue-like than "Coincidence". Still, its detective hero Carrington has Trickster-like aspects. These give "A Medical Crime" a bit of a Rogue feel.

Although there is a clue to the identity of the criminal, Carrington mainly solves the case by laying a trap for the guilty party. In general, I look down on such traps. They are mainly used when a mystery writer fails to build a clued case based on evidence, for the solution. However "A Medical Crime" is an exception. It tries to elevate traps-for-the-crook into an art form. The traps in the tale show some ingenuity. They also offer wit.

Dietrich Theden

Dietrich Theden was a German writer of detective stories who flourished around 1900.

Well-Woven Evidence: a short story

One of his few stories available to read, "Well-Woven Evidence", is quite good. It is not a puzzle plot story, but it is full of the interesting sociological detail that was common in detective tales of its era. This approach probably means that Theden was aware of the English detective tales of his period. Theden also emphasizes international business, with his German businessmen having contacts in Paris and London. (Shades of Crofts' The Cask.)

Theden depicts his police detective dressed "undercover" as a businessman in clothes of the upper classes; such class disguises are most common in English tales of roguery by Guy Boothby and J.S. Fletcher, where con men adopt such an outfit to achieve a commanding position in society. Both of these writers also sometimes included a certain Germanic element in their tales. Theden seems most closely related to this British rogue tradition; indeed his tale focuses more on the crooks and their lives than it does on any strictly detectival elements. Also, it involves the robbery common in the rogue tales, not the murder typical of the mystery story. Of course, this rogue tradition is hardly exclusively British; France's Arsène Lupin is also a prominent representative.

Theden is more pessimistic and also more class conscious than his English contemporaries. His story has a tragic tone, and one perhaps in retrospect can see an anticipation of the terrible troubles that would overtake Germany.

The desire of his heroine for pretty things (in this case lace curtains) takes on extra force when one realizes how plain, barren and minimalist German life was in the material sense - a documentary film like Berlin, Symphony of a Great City (1927) shows an overwhelmingly bleak and depressed looking environment, compared to the America of the 1920's. (One can also see from this film what an impact the Bauhaus and its gleaming modern design must have had on the beauty-starved German psyche of the time. It would truly seem Utopian, like the birth of a new way of life.)

Arnold Bennett

The Grand Babylon Hotel

Arnold Bennett's The Grand Babylon Hotel (1901) seems to be a Nancy Drew story for adults. It is so similar in fact to the basic paradigm of the Nancy Drew tales that it is hard not to suspect a direct influence. Perhaps the author of the Drew stories read and liked Bennett's work.

We can start the comparison with the characters. There is the wealthy, widowed father, and his spirited, courageous, investigative daughter. The daughter is much respected and indulged by the dad, and given a free hand in her investigations. The daughter here is 23, not 17 like Nancy, but this is not actually much of a switch. The daughter here seems far more like Nancy than any of the Edwardian "Lady Detectives" I have read, including Anna Katherine Green's debutante detective Violet Strange, sometimes cited as a Nancy Drew ancestor because of their similar ages. Age aside, Violet Strange seems to have little in common at all with Nancy Drew.

There are a roster of villains, all engaged in a criminal conspiracy. The way the villains are identified early on, and given plenty of detailed characterization throughout the book, seem similar to the Nancy Drew tales.

If the villains are identified early, the objects of their schemes are not clear, and are only unraveled gradually by the heroine and her father throughout the course of the tale. This, too, is similar to the pattern of the Nancy Drew tales.

There is tons of physical adventure, on boats and carriages (updated to cars in the 1930's Nancy Drew tales.)

There are secret passages, just like in Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase.

The Loot of Cities

Bennett's The Loot of Cities (written 1903) seems in some ways to be a spiritual sequel to The Grand Babylon Hotel, although it has none of the same characters.

The Loot of Cities is a story sequence, not a novel. But the stories are more interconnected than those of most Edwardian detective series. Characters are introduced and continue, and personal relationships develop. The tales cumulatively have some of the effect of a novel, and should be read in sequence and complete to get their full effect. In this they resemble Grant Allen's detective series, which also have such cumulative effects.

Bennett's imagination continues to be triggered by large buildings. The apartment house of the first tale, and the luxurious hotel of the fourth, seem like descendants of the Grand Babylon Hotel. Bennett comes up with new mystery plot ideas to treat them, however. Ostend and its Kursaal return, as well, in the second tale.

The writing style of Cities is far more condensed than in the earlier novel The Grand Babylon Hotel. Bennett tries to shoe horn a great deal of plot and description into a very small space in these tales, unlike the expansive, discursive style of the novel. Sometimes this gives a clogged effect to the style that makes it harder to read, but it also ensures that the book, while very short in absolute length (around 100 pages paperback), is filled with interesting material.

Bennett continues to write about high society and the very rich. There is a great deal of emphasis on intrigue and clever schemes, and less on pure detection of mysteries. His romances have a very distinctive tone all his own, and add some welcome variation to the world of the early mystery. I wish he had written more mysteries, and wonder if his first serial is any good.

Bennett's two Algerian stories, a pair of linked tales in "The Loot of Cities", form one of the few North African excursions in turn of the century crime fiction. The other known to me is Max Pemberton's "The Watch and the Scimitar". Bennett's stories make an excellent set of crime romances, and are not unworthy of comparison with Camus' classic "The Adulterous Woman". Both Bennett and Albert Camus have the motif of penetrating deeper and deeper into the Sahara. It is in both cases a voyage into the heart of another world.

Bennett's stories show remarkable artistic economy. Many of the scenes are clearly chosen to depict the emotional relationships between his characters, which are advancing throughout the book. This is a bit unlike the conventional detective story, where many of the scenes are designed to advance the mystery plot.

One might also point out that the elaborate descriptions of luxurious surroundings are in keeping with the Flaubertian techniques of naturalism that Bennett employed in his more "Literary" books. One is used to these techniques used to describe in detail the stifling environments of the lower classes, not the opulent surroundings of the elite. Tragedy, not comedy. But the formal methods are the same.

Ernest Bramah


Ernest Bramah's work has charm, especially in its writing and its comedy, but it also seems light weight. Problems: In his book Queen's Quorum, Ellery Queen called Max Carrados one of the ten best books of mystery stories. This seems too high a ranking to me. Bramah instead seems a sometimes-good-but-not-great, mid-level author.

"The Knight's Cross Signal Problem" has all sorts of serious political problems. SPOILERS. One the positive side, it gains points for its blistering denunciation of colonialism. But very negatively, in its seeming support for violence, it comes close to endorsing terrorism. And its Indian character's flaws, corruption and lechery, are inescapably racist in their depiction. This seems to me to be one of Bramah's most overrated tales.

Bramah also wrote some good tales, listed in the Recommended Works above. My favorites are "The Last Exploit of Harry the Actor" and "The Mystery of the Vanished Petition Crown". In Queen's Quorum, Ellery Queen singles out Carrados' deduction about a moustache for praise. He's likely referring to a clever incident in "The Last Exploit of Harry the Actor".

Married Couples

Bramah sometimes wrote about middle class English young married couples starting out in life, with the husband trying to advance in his profession. Bramah is generally sympathetic to such couples, and can make them the subject of comic, light-hearted tales, without murder or violence: "The Comedy at Fountain Cottage", "The Curious Circumstances of the Two Left Shoes". Such tales give Bramah a chance to write about the British middle classes, rather than the upper crust or aristocracy. They also enable him to set mysteries in suburbia.

Links to H.C. Bailey

The Max Carrados stories anticipate H.C. Bailey and his Mr. Fortune tales: However, there are key differences. Max Carrados is an amateur without specialization as a sleuth; Mr. Fortune is an official consultant to Scotland Yard, who uses his medical and forensic skills.

Bertram Atkey

Bertram Atkey was a once popular English author. He wrote eleven books about a crook called Smiler Bunn. And a great deal of fiction about other characters too. Some of this other fiction is actual detective fiction, that is, a "tale of mysteries investigated and solved by a detective".

Works by Bertram Atkey are available for free at:

The Pyramid of Lead

The Pyramid of Lead (1924) is a mystery novel. It stars Prosper Fair, an amateur detective who also appeared in several short stories.

The Pyramid of Lead is best in imagining an outdoor landscape (Chapter 2). This landscape is beautiful, mournful, and often downright surreal.

Also nicely imagined: the odd clothes worn by an unusual character (last part of Chapter 3).

Prosper Fair is bland, lacking much in the way of personality. He's an affable English Upper Class Gentleman, but not much else. Prosper Fair is looking for "adventures", recalling Robert Louis Stevenson's New Arabian Nights (1878).

Prosper Fair is first seen on a walking tour of the British countryside. Dorothy L. Sayers would open Have His Carcase (1932) with her heroine on such a walking tour.

Kotman Dass

Kotman Dass is a genius detective, partly of Indian descent. He lives in London, and is "infallible" at solving mysteries and crimes. Kotman Dass anticipates Nero Wolfe, Rex Stout's sleuth, who debuted later in 1934. Both detectives:

"The Barford Heirlooms" (1924) is interesting, during the brief section in the middle where Kotman Dass actually solves mysteries (last part of Chapter 1, Chapter 2). The rest of the tale consists of routine thriller elements, often with Kotman Dass off-stage.

This detection episode also has some good imagery: the odd heirlooms of the title, and a vividly described mathematics book full of odd symbols. These show Atkey's gift for interestingly imagined, atmospheric detail.

"The Record of Elaine Leahurst" (1924) opens with Dass writing a book, "Dass on the Origin and History of Life and Thought". This is a comprehensive survey of all thought and philosophy. Its ambition echoes H.G. Wells' tomes.

Johnston McCulley

Johnston McCulley's best known book is The Curse of Capistrano (1919), the adventure novel that gave the world Zorro. It was made into a wonderful silent film by director Fred Niblo, starring Douglas Fairbanks, The Mark of Zorro (1920), and the book has often been reprinted under that title.

Who Killed William Drew?

Who Killed William Drew? (1917) is an unusual mix of underworld crime story, early police procedural and the Golden Age whodunit to come. The novel appeared as a serial in 1917 in the first specialized mystery pulp, Street and Smith's Detective Story Magazine (1915-), and then in book form in 1925. Johnston McCulley was a childhood favorite of Ellery Queen, who was a regular reader of Detective Story Magazine. Who Killed William Drew? appeared under McCulley's pseudonym, Harrington Strong; he used both names for his numerous contributions to the magazine.

For most of this novel, the point of view character is tough policeman Inspector Bleek. We see a great deal of early police procedure here, including trailing suspects, dealing with informers, political pressure on the police, and interrogations of suspects. McCulley has a clear idea of exactly how the police behaved in 1917. I have no idea if this police procedure accurately mirrors real life, or whether it is something McCulley invented. The police procedural novel is usually considered to have started with Freeman Wills Crofts' The Cask (1920); this book is a look at police procedure before Crofts.

Most Golden Age writers concentrated on people who were middle to upper class. McCulley's book has a whole family of upper crust characters as suspects, and the central crime is committed at their palatial mansion. But it also repeatedly shows us the crooks of the underworld. As in Golden Age books to come, many of the suspects spent time slinking around the crime scene at the time of the murder, and Bleek gradually uncovers and reconstructs their movements. These aspects of detection occupy a major portion of the novel, and strongly anticipate the later Golden Age.

It also anticipates Octavus Roy Cohen, and his first mystery novel, Six Seconds of Darkness (1918). Cohen's book comes from the same sort of world, with a much traversed crime scene at a mansion, embedded in a city filled with urban crime and politics. Unlike McCulley, however, Cohen's detective is a private eye, although he works hand in glove with a realistically described police force.

McCulley's book was written before Black Mask made a huge impact on portraits of the underworld. Instead, we see an underworld that derives from depictions by Frank L. Packard in such stories as The Adventures of Jimmie Dale (1914-1915). McCulley's crooks slink around in shadows, concealing themselves in a slum district of town known as "the underworld". There is also nicely done melodrama about secret heads of underworld conspiracies, somewhat reminiscent of the Crime Club in Packard's novel. This too recalls early pulp writers, such as Hugh MacNair Kahler, who also wrote for Detective Story Magazine. Kahler's first story for the magazine, "The Green Nail" (1917), in fact appeared while Who Killed William Drew? was being serialized.

The idea of the underworld being a separate district the city, a geographically distinct location, survives in the scripts that John Broome wrote for the 1950's comic book Big Town, one of the best and most detection oriented of mystery comic books.

McCulley's book has an old-fashioned feel. It deals with a world that would gradually drop out of detective fiction, under pressure from Black Mask on the one hand, and the Golden Age on the other. The story is a great deal of fun. McCulley has story telling flair. He also writes vigorous dialogue. McCulley tends to construct scenes as confrontations between people, each with their own point of view.

Octavus Roy Cohen

Six Seconds of Darkness

Cohen's Six Seconds of Darkness was, according to the reference books, published in 1921, but my 1930 reprint library copy is plainly marked copyright 1918. Perhaps this date refers to a magazine serialization. I get the impression that I am about the first person anywhere to read this book in around 75 years. It is a gem. It is a real detective story, very different from the Rogue like tales of Jim Hanvey that have been reprinted. Cohen's The Crimson Alibi (1918-1919) was adapted by him into a play, and Darkness also has features that suggest it is stage related - either originally a play, or written with theatrical adaptation in mind. It is very near in time to Rinehart and Hopwood's mystery play, The Bat (1920), and is recognizably in the same world. There are some similarities in characters, including the young lovers who interfere with justice, woman servants who get involved with melodrama, and the tough detectives. And there are also some similarly melodramatic events, and even plot twists that have some family resemblance.

One thing that is very different about Cohen's work from Rinehart's is that it is purely a formal detective story. The murder is discovered in the first few pages, and the detectives spend the rest of the book trying to reconstruct the crime. What did happen during those 6 seconds of darkness, when shots rang out and a millionaire was killed? The detailed investigation of the crime and its attendant events takes up the entire rest of the book. It anticipates such writers as Ellery Queen, who also investigated crime scenes in depth. However Cohen's work differs from Christie, Queen, and Carr and other Golden Age writers with not being fully "fair play". While the solution is logical, the story does not provide all the clues that would allow the reader to deduce the solution in advance. One has to simply watch the detectives work it all out, as they gradually acquire evidence. The detectives do largely share their knowledge and theories with the reader as they go, which helps make this a satisfying reading experience.

The victim headed up a civic reform party, and the book plays out against a background of civic corruption. This was very common in American detective stories of the period - see Rinehart's The Window at the White Cat (1909), or Richard Harding Davis' "The Frame Up" (1915). There is considerable realism in all these tales. Yet the atmosphere of the Cohen book is still quite removed from Hammett and the Black Mask school. The milieu of the book is the squad room, the precinct house, and the police raid, not the private detective agency, and even the book's private eye lead character David Carroll works closely with the police throughout the tale. There is more emphasis on machine politics in these writers, and less on purely underworld characters or "open cities" like Red Harvest's Poisonville. One can argue that Rinehart and Cohen are more realistic than Hammett in their depiction of civic corruption, although this idea will seem anathema to critics who regard Hammett as the ne plus ultra of realism.

Cohen's book reads like the wind. I downed it all in 3 1/2 hours, while lingering over a Chinese buffet lunch. (I stopped eating after the first hour!) It is full of twists, and vivid detail. There are passages that comment reflexively on detectives, and detective storytelling traditions.

Gray Dusk

Gray Dusk (1919) is a minor novel, also starring private investigator David Carroll. It shows features of the Anna Katherine Green tradition. The murder takes place at an isolated, out of the way locality. The main characters were involved in violently emotional encounters in the days leading up to the murder, and the killing looks as if it were a crime of extreme passion. There is a smalltown, rural milieu. The sinister crime scene contains enigmatical clues that are investigated by the detective - reconstructing what happened during the time and place of the crime becomes a central feature of the investigation. The author eventually drags in minor characters out of nowhere to serve as additional suspects. The true solution of the crime, as it is eventually revealed, involves features of accident and hideous coincidence. All of these aspects seem right out of Green.

Coincidence is often seen simply as an artistic flaw. However, coincidence in Green and Cohen is viewed somewhat differently. These writers see coincidences, which do sometimes happen in real life, as the causal source of serious problems, often tragic and even mysterious. So the mystery plots of the stories often start with some terrible coincidence occurring, a bad event that causes all sorts of further problems and mystification.

The exhaustive search of the crime scene for physical clues is also part of the Green tradition. In Green these often vanish in strange mysterious ways - see Green's Violet Strange stories, "The Second Bullet" or "Missing: Page Thirteen".

Epic Peters

Cohen's Pullman porter, Epic Peters, is one of the more sympathetically drawn black characters created by a white author in his era. His railroad adventures appeared in the Saturday Evening Post in the 1920's. In one of the stories, "A Toot for a Toot", Peters encounters a crook on a train. It is not primarily a mystery story per se, but then neither are the Jim Hanvey stories listed above. Although Hanvey is a private detective, these tales are better described as complex plots involving intrigue surrounding crime and criminals. "Toot" can also be seen as Green like in some ways. It employs both intensive searches, and coincidence, although in a lighter hearted mode that most of Green.

Dangerous Lady

Dangerous Lady (1946) is a very late novel in the Green tradition. The first murder takes place at night, at an out of the way rendezvous, just as in Green. The architecture of the house in which it takes place recalls Grey Dusk, with its hall leading from the front of the building to the back. Eventually there is a sinister wedding, another Green tradition.

This novel, like other Cohen works, includes a heroine who won't speak up and share what she knows, at any price - such secret keepers are common in Rinehart. I know this is a plot creation device, but it always annoyed me - clearly everyone would be better off here if the heroine had blabbed, if not to the hero, at least to the FBI.

The first half or so (Chapters 1 - 15) of this novel is gripping, but then it runs out of steam.

There is a night club cum gambling hall in the story, but it doesn't play the same role as in hard-boiled tales. In writers like Raymond Chandler, such night clubs tend to be sinister, and centers of moral corruption within the tale. In Cohen, however, the denizens of the night club, while trampy and lower class, are refreshingly more honest than the country club types around whom most of the story revolves. They form a straightforward, welcome relief from the sinister, upper class characters with secrets who dominate much of the novel. I particularly like the torch singer, Fern Meredith.

Ralph Durand

Artful Jane: a short story

Ralph Durand's "Artful Jane" (1929) is a late short story in the Rogue cycle. Here a young, inexperienced policeman has a battle of wits with some smugglers. The tale is nicely done.

The tale seems quite Agatha Christie-ish somehow. This is perhaps because the crooks have some schemes of misdirection, which recall that great master of misdirection Christie.

The story gains extra suspense from the Rogue tradition: one is never sure till the tale's end, whether the policeman or the crooks are going to win. In traditional Rogue tales, the bad guys always outwitted the police, but in this story, the policeman is the protagonist, so one suspects that he might win...

Harold MacGrath

The Blue Rajah Murder

Harold MacGrath's The Blue Rajah Murder (1929-1930) is about a blue diamond named the Blue Rajah; it is not about a Rajah who is blue. The book has an unusual construction. It consists of two long novellas, "Impromptu" and "Presto!", with independent plots, but which deal with the same characters. This means it is essentially a Story Sequence, a familiar form in the mystery and science fiction fields, but a sequence with only two stories, which is much more unusual. The first and much better of the two novellas is a murder mystery, justifying the title, but the second is closer to a pure thriller. The mystery in this first novella "Impromptu" is completely solved by the end of the story, so it can serve as a stand-alone tale.

The protagonist of MacGrath's novella is a young man out to steal the Blue Rajah; and the story falls into the Rogue tradition. As usual in such tales, the theft is committed against an elegant society background, and the hero is a person of great polish and accomplishments. He is so accomplished, in fact, that he is a virtual superman. Just as Packard's Jimmie Dale was an artist, here the hero is a gifted classic pianist. Most writers today would not dream of creating such a multi-talented hero, at least not with a straight face; his only modern rival is the gifted spoof hero of the film The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across The Eighth Dimension (1984), who was a race car diver, particle physicist, rock star and neurosurgeon! Buckaroo Banzai was apparently a spoof of Lesrter Dent's Doc Savage, who also ultimately came out of the Packard tradition. I thoroughly enjoyed Buckaroo Banzai, and wound up liking the hero of this tale too. At least such heroes uphold the idea of civilization.

"Impromptu" shows a passion for fishing that recalls Lee Thayer's Q.E.D. (1921). Both writers also love country streams and woodland scenery, where the fishing takes place. Perhaps the 1920's was an era of great enthusiasm for fishing as a sport. In both books, a love of fishing is shared by women as well as men. MacGrath seems to like gadgets. In addition to the fishing equipment, there is the trick safe and the player piano.

"Impromptu" is a pleasant if minor tale. Everything in the story works. MacGrath has shown good craftsmanship, with all aspects of his story dovetailing. MacGrath somehow conveys the feel of a writer of adventure stories and romances who has decided to write a mystery. He is at least as interested in the love story and the Rogue elements here as he is in the murder mystery itself.

Our hero and his background are not fully explained at the start of the tale; only gradually do we learn more about him. This is the same paradigm used in the first Jimmie Dale tale. Both of these writers do ingenious things with their mysterious protagonists. Other Packard like features in this story: a thief hero; the importance of romance; and the artistic gifts of the hero. There is a certain quantity of sentiment in both writers, as well, that is different from the calm, rationalistic approach of much Golden Age detective fiction. Both writers' heroes are struggling to move towards some ultimate fate, a resolution of all the different issues in their lives and emotions. This is different from most detective heroes, who are already doing the detective work they were born to do.

Joseph Szebenyei

The Master of the Conjurers' Guild: a short story

Rogue fiction gradually disappeared after World War I. Joseph Szebenyei's "The Master of the Conjurers' Guild" (1930) shows traces of it, although the story is not narrated from the criminals' point of view, but from a reporter trying to track him down. This is a beautiful story, with many clever plot twists, and a sweetness that is not always present in mystery fiction.

"The Master of the Conjurers' Guild" is one of several stories involving phony police. Please see my list of Fake Policemen.

This tale is set in Vienna, and was published in Adventure, a magazine that encouraged exotic foreign settings for its tales, unlike most mystery publishers of the era, who wanted their detective stories set firmly at home, among surroundings familiar to the reader. Blochman and Stribling also published in this magazine.

"The Master of the Conjurers' Guild" was reprinted by Carolyn Wells in her anthology Best American Mystery Stories (1931).

Virgil Markham

The Devil Drives

"My poor body, madam, requires it: I am driven on by the flesh; and he must needs go that the devil drives."

Shakespeare, All's Well That Ends Well, Act 1, Scene 3

Influenced by the 1910's. Virgil Markham's The Devil Drives (1932) is a novel somewhat out of its time. Its prison opening reminds one of the jailbreak in Jack Boyle's "Boston Blackie's Mary" (1917), although it is told from the point of view of the warden, not the inmates, unlike Boyle's tale.

And the subsequent underworld scenes recall Frank L. Packard's The Adventures of Jimmie Dale (1914 - 1915). Both Packard and Markham write about respectable heroes who take on new identities as low life tough guys, and who infiltrate the New York underworld. Both men use disguise, another Packard favorite. The numerous other characters in Markham stories with multiple identities also recall Packard. So does the prominence of safecracking in the tale, and the secrets contained therein: Packard's hero was mainly a safe cracker. The names of Markham's bad guys, such as Raffy the Guk, recall such Packard monikers as Larry the Bat. Both Packard and Markham describe the underworld as a place full of shadowy figures, hiding out away from respectable people. There is also a certain tone of Romance in Packard and Markham, a feeling that entering the underworld is a great adventure.

This gives Markham's story the flavor of a story written nearly twenty years before 1932. Chapter 6 of The Devil Drives refers, by plot but not by name, to G.K. Chesterton's story "The Queer Feet" (1910), another late Edwardian reference. Later on, Markham's detective Inspector Veen talks about Rudyard Kipling's "The Return of Imray" (Chapter 18) and Thomas Bailey Aldrich's "Marjorie Daw" (Chapter 19), even older references.

Not Black Mask. Although Markham's novel was published by Alfred A Knopf, who were also Dashiell Hammett's publishers, there seems little sign that Markham had ever read Black Mask, or absorbed any of its conventions of hard-boiled writing.

Not Golden Age. The Devil Drives also completely fails to observe the conventions of the Golden Age novel, with an opening murder, a detective, and a closed circle of suspects. Indeed, for its first half no murder is committed at all; the hero instead tries to track down a secret which seems like a plot device out of a romantic melodrama.

The Rogue story seems to have served as an alternative paradigm during the 1920's and 1930's, a different model for writers like Virgil Markham, J.S. Fletcher and Harold MacGrath, who all published mysteries that bore no resemblance to the typical Golden Age detective stories of their day.

Locked Room. The locked room puzzle of The Devil Drives is a new wrinkle on the locked room story. I don't know if it is fair play; surely the police would have figured it out after investigation. Still, it is something that I haven't seen elsewhere, and is a mildly interesting idea. If The Devil Drives were a short story concentrating on its locked room puzzle, it would be an anthology standard. Unfortunately, this plot is embedded in a not very good novel, one that meanders all over the place without much point or interest. The book cannot be recommended as a whole.

Inspector Rusby's Finale

Virgil Markham's Inspector Rusby's Finale (1933) is set in Britain, has a Scotland Yard Inspector as its hero, and gives every appearance of being a British Golden Age mystery novel. But its author was in fact American.

The Main Premise. I didn't like Inspector Rusby's Finale. Its main premise or plot twist (Chapter 1.3) seems nightmarish and disturbing. I often enjoy and admire detective stories with surrealistic events or twists. But something about Inspector Rusby's Finale made me nervous instead. It was an unpleasant experience.

Admittedly, someone else might have a different emotional reaction.

This main premise is not all that clever, considered as a mystery plot. I guessed its solution almost immediately.

The premise does benefit mildly from a couple of later accounts:

BIG SPOILERS. The premise bears a broad family resemblance to that of the play Seven Keys to Baldpate (1913) by George M. Cohan. Markham's plot is different and original though. But I enjoyed Seven Keys to Baldpate much more.

Influenced by Bentley. The title recalls a much better novel, by Trent's Last Case (1913) by E. C. Bentley. SPOILERS. Both books:

James Howard Wellard

James Howard Wellard was a prolific author of nonfiction books, often about ancient history, exotic places, or the military. He also wrote mainstream novels. There are only seven reviews on Goodreads as of this writing, and he has sunk into obscurity.

The Snake in the Grass

James Howard Wellard's The Snake in the Grass (1942) in mainly a mediocre mystery novel. It is set in a fancy resort for the wealthy. By 1942, it had become a mystery cliche to suggest such resorts were filled with grifters, crooks and gigolos seeking to prey on the well-to-do. Another cliche had such resorts attract apparently upper class people themselves who were putting on a false front or harboring secrets. Both ideas show up in The Snake in the Grass. Occasionally, Wellard creates a good portrait of one of his fancy crooks, such as Fothergill's satisfaction with his tuxedo (start of Chapter 9). Such grifters in upper class clothes recall the Rogue tradition.

Much is made of how the resort's manager is an expert on hotel guests, and can spot trouble-makers and phonies at a glance (start of Chapter 4). But as the novel progresses, we see that he has not in fact tumbled to the facts about the central couple! This failure to understand them seems implausible.

The Snake in the Grass suddenly becomes much more interesting, in a section portraying black waiters at the resort (Chapter 7). We get a startling look at the oppression of African-Americans, and the struggle of ambitious, intelligent black men to obtain an education despite huge obstacles. This portrait perhaps reflects the early Civil Rights struggles of the era. This section, while imperfect, is much better than anything else in The Snake in the Grass. It recalls a little bit the equally surprising look at the black resort waiters in Rex Stout's Too Many Cooks (1938). Wellard's treatment, compared to Stout's is more inflammatory, violent and bitter. Unfortunately, it is also less dignified in its treatment of the characters. There is a little bit more about the waiter (start of Chapter 25), detailing his defamation in the racist white press, and the lynch hysteria inflamed against him there.

The Snake in the Grass has a murder mystery puzzle plot. SPOILER. The solution depends on an alibi gimmick that is an old dodge.

Undercover Operatives

Rogue fiction survived longest in its spy manifestations - spies are still impersonating people.

The undercover detective craze of 1980's television has some features of the school. I first noticed undercover cops on episodes of "Today's FBI" in 1981. This series was an excellent attempt to put some pizzazz in the FBI tale, but it never clicked in the ratings. The agents showed tremendous cool in their undercover work. Soon, everyone was going undercover on American TV. The trend climaxed with "Wiseguy", one of the best of all 80's police shows. The FBI agent in "Wiseguy" spent his entire life deep undercover, in a continuing series of shows, not individual episodes.

These 1980's shows were probably influenced by the Semi-Documentary Crime Films of the late 1940's, such as Anthony Mann's T-Men (1947), William Keighley's The Street With No Name (1948) and Gordon Douglas' I Was a Communist for the FBI (1951). Such films regularly featured FBI or Secret Service agents undercover. "Wiseguy" seems directly in the tradition of The Street With No Name, and I Was a Communist for the FBI.

Undercover tales allow all the plot twists and excitement of con artists, but with none of the moral guilt - the agent is a good guy, not a bad one. And like the tales of the hero with a secret identity, they allow for profound issues of the individual vs. society.

There are other, perhaps parallel traditions that could be operating as well. A school of detective fiction seems to have started with highly fictionalized accounts of Pinkerton detectives in the 1870's, which led to Nick Carter and other private detectives of the dime novels a decade later. These detectives emphasized their mastery of disguise, and their ability to work undercover as investigators. Even Conan Doyle sometimes wrote in this tradition: the second part of The Valley of Fear (1914) describes an undercover Pinkerton agent who infiltrates a Molly Maguire-like group. Fletcher and Kitchin could have drawn on this school, as well as the Rogues. Hammett's Continental Op went undercover in some of his early cases, such as "Zigzags of Treachery" (1924), but as the series developed he mainly stayed in his own identity.

The early American film star Francis X. Bushman frequently played detective roles on screen: