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Reeve, Arthur

Page history last edited by Jon 9 years, 12 months ago

Arthur ReeveArthur Benjamin Reeve (1880-1936) was an American author of mystery fiction and the inventor of the first scientific detective, Craig Kennedy. Reeve was born in New York State and graduated from Princeton University in 1903. He went on to study law, but became a journalist. Reeve wrote a series of articles on scientific detection and went on to create Craig Kennedy, 'the American Sherlock Holmes', whose exploits are chronicled by his faithful Watson, the journalist Walter Jameson. Although some of Kennedy's scientific solutions are far-fetched and a few even border on the occult, many are founded in fact and quite possible given the technology of the day. During WWI Reeve established a spy and crime detection laboratory in Washington, D.C.


Many of Reeve's works, including the Craig Kennedy stories, are available from ManyBooks.



Mike Grost on Arthur Reeve


Arthur B. Reeve's stories deal with High Technology way back when. The Silent Bullet (1911) is still exhilarating, with its picture of advanced technology opening limitless frontiers for humankind. Many of its technological images are still relevant; in fact, much of the book seems more plausible today than it might have seemed to more skeptical readers back then. Reeve's book is a climax of a whole tradition of scientific detective stories.


S.S. Van Dine started a tradition, followed by Ellery Queen and other later commentators, of slamming Reeve's work, and suggesting that it is less "realistic" than R. Austin Freeman's. This is a complex issue. Freeman's work tends to deal with detection using small, scientifically accurate facts. In this sense there is probably more accuracy in Freeman's work. Freeman's cases tend to be ordinary crimes, and only the detection draws on scientific methods. These detective methods are presented with meticulous, accurate care. They form a realistic picture of the best aspects of scientific lab work used in crime detection of their era.


Reeve tends to deal with sweeping advances in technology, and use these as the center of his mystery plots. Reeve undoubtedly oversteps the bounds of accuracy on several occasions. But his work is inspiring in the way Freeman's is not. In Reeve one gets the sense of massive waves of technological advance breaking on humanity's shores. These advances will change the way in which people live. It is easy to understand why The Silent Bullet caused a sensation on both sides of the Atlantic in the 1910's. It paints an electrifying picture of the march of science. Sam Moskowitz has aptly linked Reeve's popularity to the eventual rise of Hugo Gernsback and the first American science fiction magazines. His work certainly seems ancestral to the sense of wonder found in 1930's and 1940's sf. The stories in The Poisoned Pen are a direct continuation of the Craig Kennedy series in The Silent Bullet. Although not quite as intense, they too are often outstanding works of detective literature.


In the first two volumes of Kennedy tales, the detective gathers all the suspects together at the end of the story, then reveals the identity of the killer to them during his final speech solving the crime. This is a plot device that will be greatly reused by later writers. Reeve is the first writer known to me systematically to adopt this approach.


Reeve's third Craig Kennedy collection, The Dream Doctor (1913-1914), continues the scientific detection of the first two. Especially interesting in it are "The Phantom Circuit" and "The Green Curse". These inventive stories show the possibilities of technological variations on the telephone, utilized both for crime and detection. Both stories differ from most earlier Kennedy tales in that they have suspense-oriented climaxes, instead of the pick-the-killer finales of earlier Reeve stories. The finale of "The Green Curse" is especially well done. Both stories also have criminals from outside of the characters depicted in the story; Reeve experiments here with sinister European radical groups as villains. "The Kleptomaniac" is another story in the same telephone-oriented approach, but it is not quite as inventive. It includes an early description of a wire recorder, later a much used device in real life.


Arthur B. Reeve's Constance Dunlap stories (1913-1914) often seem to deal with mental states. "The Dope Fiends" depicts cocaine usage. It is a full early map to how both drug addiction and drug use are portrayed in literature. There are the lying addicts, willing to do anything for a fix; the sleazy low level dealers, cheaply hip, who could have stepped right out of Miami Vice; the crooked pharmacist; the Dr. Feelgoods; and the man higher up behind it all, the one the detectives really want to catch. There is also a complete portrait of the economics of the trade. The emphasis on top criminals probably came from Reeve's fictional role model, MacHarg and Balmer's The Achievements of Luther Trant (1909), which includes the classic "The Man Higher Up". The depiction of cocaine is also strikingly modern: the temporary exhilaration, the association with the popular performing arts, in this case exotic dancing, and the delusory sense of unlimited potential for success. There is also the dependency on ever greater doses of the drug, and the negative reactions from repeated use. It is hard to see anything in subsequent literature that extends this portrait. One wonders where Reeve got his information.


Other stories in Constance Dunlap are the pioneer depiction of Freud's ideas in literature, and perhaps Reeve started with Freud on cocaine, and went on to other sources, such as the police. Reeve describes cocaine as being only recently outlawed in this story, so perhaps it was much on the public mind. Here as elsewhere Reeve is completely modern in tone. Drugs, such as mescal, make prominent appearances in some of the Craig Kennedy stories. Later, in the 1930's, both Dorothy Sayers and Agatha Christie will include the dope trade in their stories, with a singular lack of realism: both make it sound like a Satanic cult participated in mainly by rich members of Cafe society, and sold by ingenious if implausible drug supply networks whose literary source seems to be cheap spy thrillers. The sorts of spy rings prominent in English fiction, with secret warehouses, ingenious means of transporting secret documents, members with aliases, and odd communication schemes have simply been adapted by 1930's British writers to form a portrait of drug cartels. Reeve is far more realistic, and leaves behind a grim portrait of some of the human wreckage caused by the drug traffic.


The drugstores here and in Morley's The Haunted Bookshop (1919) are so sinister that one wonders what ordinary people thought about them in the teens. Later in the 30's Mary Roberts Rinehart will depict them mainly as well lit places that are open all night and where one can make a telephone call: this suggests urban alienation and the sort of loneliness shown in Edward Hopper's painting Nighthawks (1942).


Reeve's work in these tales is more cynical than his Craig Kennedy stories. Those tales often depicted the well to do as corrupt, and had plenty of social commentary. But they usually showed the police as honest. Here there is Drummond, a crooked cop, who makes deals with and shakes down the drug dealers. Constance Dunlop herself is a reformed thief, and her friends are deep in vice and drug use. It is a very dark portrait, and definitive in its condemnation of drug use. I liked the world of the heroic, idealistic Kennedy better, but have to admit that this one has compelling qualities, too.


The Panama Plot (collected 1918) starts out with six tales set in Latin America, followed by four US laid tales. The Latin American stories have some common features. All have detailed Backgrounds, dealing with life in the countries they are set. Several deal with shipping. The murders in the story are almost all poisoning cases. Reeve takes a double point of view on these poisons: he shows their unusual symptoms, and builds scientific detective stories out of these. He also looks at the sources of the poisons, and how they fit into the economic life and industries of the various countries. Finally, there is a good deal of spy material here - the stories are set at the era of first involvement of the USA in World War I in 1917. These stories are as knowledge based as Reeve's earlier fiction - they are packed with information on Latin America, shipping and poisons - but they do not deal with scientific advances, the way the first two volumes of Craig Kennedy stories do. Instead, they are based on general scientific and social knowledge. The tales are somewhat on the middle level of Reeve's achievement. They all tend to be weak as mystery stories, with the exception of "The Black Diamond". The identity of the criminal in them is often arbitrary. However, the knowledge makes a good reading experience.




The Silent Bullet (1912) aka The Black Hand

The Poisoned Pen (1912)

Constance Dunlap, Woman Detective (1913)

The Dream Doctor (1914)

Guy Garrick (1914)

The Gold of the Gods(1915)

The Exploits of Elaine (1915)

The War Terror (1915) {aka Craig Kennedy, Detective)

The Ear In The Wall (1916)

The Romance of Elaine (1916)

The Triumph of Elaine (1916)

The Adventuress (1917)

The Treasure Train (1917)

The Panama Plot (1918)

The Soul Scar (1919)

The Master Mystery (1919) written with John W. Grey

The Mystery Mind (1920) written with John W. Grey

The Film Mystery (1921)

Craig Kennedy Listens In (1923)

Atavar (1924)

The Fourteen Points (1925)

Craig Kennedy on the Farm (1925)

The Radio Detective (1926)

Pandora (1926)

The Kidnap Club (1932)

The Clutching Hand (1934)

Enter Craig Kennedy (1935)

The Stars Scream Murder (1936)


Comments (1)

Jon said

at 7:41 am on Dec 14, 2009

Doug and other friends,

If you visit Leonaur’s page, you will see they are going to reprint the
entire Craig Kennedy saga in the next few months!

Enrique F. Bird Picó

And there are at least 2 recent volumes of previously uncollected stories -- will they I wonder arrange to add those:

>From Ghouls to Gangsters, The Career of Arthur B. Reeve, 2 volumes, ed. John Locke. Elkhorn, CA: Off-Trail Publications, 2007.

Dead Men Tell Tales and Other Stories of Craig Kennedy, Scientific Detective. Normal, IL: Black Dog Books, 2008.

Doug G

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