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Fletcher, JS

Page history last edited by Jon 10 years ago

JS FletcherJoseph Smith Fletcher (1863-1935) was an English author. Born in Yorkshire, he married Rosamond Langbridge and worked as a journalist in London under the name 'Son of the Soil'. He wrote many other books including non-fiction. His book The Middle Temple Murder was praised by President Woodrow Wilson. His best-known detective is Roger Camberwell.


Mike Grost on JS Fletcher


A 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). This book was published by the firm of Herbert Jenkins, who was also a mystery writer in his own right.


Fletcher's plots seem to often revolve around clever swindles, a subject that interests him much more than murder. 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.


By contrast, Fletcher's work seems to have nothing in common with the Golden Age puzzle plots of his contemporaries. There is no attempt to build up Great Detectives in Fletcher. Detection itself, in any strict sense of the term, involving the uncovering of hidden truth, as opposed to mere pursuit of criminals, seems to be minimal. Fletcher's characters do not take part in a shared, cozy, upper class world, but instead seem to be enmeshed in some dangerous, thriller type situation. And puzzle plots are nearly completely absent. 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.


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. I much prefer the short story version to the novel. In general I have not enjoyed Fletcher's mystery novels. The oft-stated assertion that The Middle Temple Murder and The Charing Cross Mystery are good is not shared by me - I found both dull. His short stories are often much better. 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 twin brothers in "From Behind The Barrier".


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. 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.


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.


Several of Fletcher's works are available for download from Blackmask.




Andrewlina (1889)

The Winding Way (1890)

Old Lattimer's Legacy (1892)

At the Blue Bell Inn (1898) {short stories}

Pasquinado (1898) {short stories}

The Death That Lurks Unseen (1899) {short stories}

From the Broad Acres (1899) {short stories}

Morrison's Machine (1900)

The Golden Spur (1901)

The Three Days' Terror (1901)

The Investigators (1902)

The Air-Ship {short stories} (1903)

The Fear of the Night {short stories} (1903)

The Secret Way (1903)

The Diamonds (1904) {aka The Diamond Murders}

For Those Were Stirring Times! and other stories (1904) {short stories}

The Threshing Floor (1905)

The Ivory God {short stories} (1907)

Mr Poskitt {short stories} (1907)

The Queen of a Day (1907)

The Harvest Moon (1908)

Paradise Court (1908)

The Adventures of Archer Dawe, Sleuth-Hound (1909) aka The Contents of the Coffin {short stories}

The Mantle of Ishmael (1909)

Marchester Royal (1909)

The Wheatstack (1909) {short stories}

Hardican's Hollow (1910)

Mr Poskitt's Nightcaps (1910) {short stories}

The Aventures of Turco Bullworthy (1912) {short stories}

The Golden Venture (1912)

Perris of the Cherry Trees (1913)

The Secret Cargo] (1913)

The Marriage Lines (1914)

Paul Campenhaye, Specialist in Criminology (1914) aka The Clue of the Artificial Eye

The Ransom for London (1914)

The Shadow of Ravenscliffe (1914)

The Wolves and the Lamb (1914)

The King Versus Wargrave (1915)

The Annexation Society] (1916)

Families Repaired (1916)

The Lynne Court Spinney (1916) aka The Mystery of Lynne Court, And Sudden Death, Pedigreed Murder Case

Malvery Hold (1917) {aka The Mystery of the Hushing Pool}

The Perilous Crossways (1917)

The Rayner-Slade Amalgamation (1917)

The Amaranth Club (1918)

The Chestermarke Instinct (1918)

The Borough Treasurer (1919)

Droonin' Watter {aka Dead Man's Money} (1919)

The Middle Temple Murder (1919)

The Seven Days' Secret (1919)

The Talleyrand Maxim (1919)

The Valley of Headstrong Men (1919)

Exterior to the Evidence (1920)

The Herapath Property (1920)

The Lost Mr Linthwaite (1920)

The Orange-Yellow Diamond (1920)

Scarhaven Keep (1920)

The Root of All Evil (1921)

The Wrychester Paradise (1921) aka The Paradise Mystery

The Heaven-Kissed Hill (1922)

In the Mayor's Parlour (1922) aka The Time-Worn Town, Behind the Panel

The Markenmore Mystery (1922)

Ravensdene Court (1922)

The Ambitious Lady (1923)

The Charing Cross Mystery (1923)

The Copper Box (1923)

Many Engagements (1923) {short stories}

The Mazaroff Murder (1923) {aka The Mazaroff Mystery}

The Million-Dollar Diamond (1923) {aka The Black House in Harley Street}

The Mysterious Chinaman (1923) {aka The Rippling Ruby}

The Cartwright Gardens Murder (1923)

False Scent (1924)

The Kang-He Vase (1924)

The Safety Pin (1924)

The Secret of the Barbican (1924) {short stories}

The Bedford Row Mystery (1925) {aka The Strange Case of Mr Henry Marchmont}

The Great Brighton Mystery (1925)

The Mill of Many Windows (1925)

Sea Fog (1925)

Green Ink (1926) {short stories}

The Massingham Butterfly (1926) {short stories}

The Mortover Grange Mystery (1926) {aka The Mortover Grange Affair}

The Stolen Budget (1926) {aka The Missing Chancellor}

The Bartenstein Case (1927) {aka The Bartenstein Mystery}

The Green Rope (1927)

The Murder in the Pallant (1927)

The Passenger to Folkestone (1927)

Behind the Monocle (1928) {short stories}

Cobweb Castle (1928)

The Double Chance (1928)

The Wrist Mark (1928)

The Box Hill Murder (1929)

The House in Tuesday Market (1929)

The Matheson Formula (1929)

The Ravenswood Mystery (1929) {short stories} aka The Canterbury Mystery

The Secret of Secrets (1929)

The Borgia Cabinet (1930)

The Dressing-Room Murder (1930)

The Heaven-Sent Witness and other stories (1930) {short stories}

The Malachite Jar {Also published as: The Flamstock Mystery} (1930) {short stories}

The Marrendon Mystery, and other stories of crime and detection (1930) {short stories}

The South Foreland Murder (1930)

The Yorkshire Moorland Murder (1930)

The Guarded Room (1931)

The Man in No 3 (1931) {short stories}

Murder at Wrides Park (1931)

Murder in Four Degrees (1931)

Safe Number Sixty-Nine (1931) {short stories}

The Burma Ruby (1932)

The Man in the Fur Coat (1932) {short stories}

Murder in the Squire's Pew (1932)

Murder of the Ninth Baronet (1932)

The Solution of a Mystery (1932) {short stories}

Find the Woman (1933)

The Murder in Medora Mansions (1933) {short stories}

Murder of the Only Witness (1933)

The Mystery of the London Banker (1933) aka Murder of a Banker

Who Killed Alfred Snowe? (1933) aka Murder of the Lawyer's Clerk

The Ebony Box (1934)

Murder of the Secret Agent (1934)

The Carrismore Ruby (1935) {short stories}

The Eleventh Hour (1935)

Todmanhaw Grange (1937) aka The Mill House Murder [posthumously completed by 'Torquemada']


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