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Bodkin, M McDonnell

Page history last edited by PBworks 16 years, 3 months ago

Matthias McDonnell Bodkin (1850-1933) was an Irish barrister who was appointed a judge and also served as a member of the Irish parliament. He married Arabella Norman in 1885. His most famous character is the detective Paul Beck, who appears in a series of stories and eventually marries another of Bodkin's series characters, Dora Myrl.


Mike Grost on M McDonnell Bodkin


M. McDonell Bodkin's works show several similarities with those of the later writer Ernest Bramah. There is an emphasis on impossible crimes. These crimes tend to be committed with mechanical devices, ingenious bad machines that operate on their own, after they are set up, and which kill people or otherwise commit some crime. Secondly, there is an emphasis on rogues in their fictions. The identity of the bad guy is often fairly obvious in their tales. A great deal of emphasis is laid on constructing a colorful personality for this villain, a character portrait mixing comic elements and appealingly gaudy traits with sinister aspects, usually motivated by a rogue's desire for more money. These rogues are often designed to have reader sympathy, to a degree, like such later popular villains as J.R. Ewing. Thirdly, there is an emphasis on a sophisticated comic tone. The descriptive writing is debonair. There are bon mots, and attempts at clever little philosophical comments and social observations.


The rogue in Bodkin's story "The Vanishing Diamonds" (1897) has some distinctive personality traits. Bodkin's detective Paul Beck is his friend, and Beck is in the habit of going to him for advice on solving his cases. Beck thinks this man would have made a great detective, and finds it a pity that he choose the profession of a magician instead. The advice is often given over meals the two men share, meals that take place in the rather ordinary, middle class restaurants the magician-rogue favors. The rogue follows cases through newspaper clippings, as well as from information delivered to him by Beck. To illustrate one of his points about unraveling a crime, the magician makes knots in a piece of string, and unties them. Does this sound like anyone we know? It sure reminds one of The Old Man in the Corner, Baroness Orczy's armchair sleuth, who debuted four years later in 1901.


One of the stories in Bodkin's The Quests of Paul Beck (collected in book form in 1908), takes place on a huge ocean liner called Gigantic. This is four years before the actual ocean liner Titanic sailed - and sank. At first glance this looks prescient, even clairvoyant. Actually, plans for a Titanic like ship had been highly publicized for years. And these plans referred to the ship under its original name, Gigantic. Long before Bodkin, the American author Morgan Robertson published a whole novel called Futility (1898), about a huge, "unsinkable" ocean liner called Titan, that promptly hits an iceberg and goes down. It was an attack on the shipowners' disregard for public safety that affected the building of the actual Titanic. Readers can get much more information about this from Martin Gardner's book, The Wreck of the Titanic Foretold? (1986). Bodkin was far more optimistic about the whole Titanic enterprise, incorrectly as it turns out. His ship sails smoothly on over all obstacles. Bodkin's fiction shows a fascination with trains, bicycles, ships and other modern, high tech forms of transportation. Bodkin was not alone in this. His fellow impossible crime writer, Jacques Futrelle, actually sailed on the maiden voyage of the Titanic. After seeing his wife May Futrelle to safety in a life boat, he went down with the ship, taking the manuscripts of several unpublished Thinking Machine stories with him.


Dora Myrl, Bodkin's "Lady Detective", shows some similarity with Grant Allen's Lois Cayley, whose adventures appeared in the Strand Magazine in 1898. This was apparently before Dora Myrl, whose stories were collected in book form in 1900, although I don't know their original magazine publication date. The scenes in "How he Cut his Stick" in which Dora Myrl trails the male villain by bicycle, remind one of the bicycle race in which Miss Cayley tries to catch up with a male cyclist. Both Lois Cayley and Dora Myrl seem to be "new women". Both are in business, and both make much money off of their efforts. Both deal with male businessmen on a position of equality, both constantly impress men with their intelligence and ability, both wind up being highly respected by the men around them. Both also have to rescue young male heroes in the stories, who while very likable, wind up seeming a lot less competent that the heroine. This whole approach marks these women as the precursors to the highly able heroines of the 1990's.




Pat O'Nine Tales and One Over (1894)

White Magic (1897)

Paul Beck, the Rule of Thumb Detective (1897)

A Stolen Life (1898)

Dora Myrl, the Lady Detective (1900)

A Modern Robin Hood (1903)

The Capture of Paul Beck (1909)

The Quests of Paul Beck (1910)

Young Beck, a Chip Off the Old Block (1911)

His Brother's Keeper (1913)

The Test (1914)

Behind the Picture (1914)

Pigeon Blood Rubies (1915)

Old Rowley (1916)

Kitty the Madcap (1927)

Paul Beck, Detective (1929)

Guilty or Not Guilty? (1929)


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