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Stagg, Clinton H

Page history last edited by Jon 14 years, 3 months ago

 Clinton Holland Stagg was an American writer. His series detective was Thornley Colton. Stagg was killed at the age of 26 in an automobile accident in Los Angeles, California.

 

Mike Grost on Clinton H Stagg

 

Stagg's writings about the blind detective Thornley Colton are tentatively placed among the scientific detectives, on the evidence of the one, likable, tale easily available today, "The Keyboard of Silence". Both Stagg's mystery plot, and the detective work by Colton, seem to be based in scientific or medical facts or theories. And the story takes place in the public realm familiar to us from Arthur B. Reeve. Stagg uses the same sort of embezzlement from a bank situation that another scientifically oriented detective writer, Mary Roberts Rinehart, used in The Circular Staircase (1907). While Rinehart set her story in a country house in the days following the embezzlement, Stagg set his tale in the bank itself, right at the time of the robbery. While Stagg's plot is based on science, he is not trying to show his readers technical wonders, or push the edge of the technological envelope, the way Reeve and Freeman are.

 

Stagg's story also reminds one more than a little of Stagg's other American contemporaries Jacques Futrelle and Thomas Hanshew, both of whom fall among the impossible crime specialists of their time. The story does not promote itself as an impossible crime tale, but it is indeed darned hard to figure out how this crime could have been committed. Futrelle also wrote a classic involving bank embezzlement: "The Man Who Was Lost".

 

Stagg's tale is also much more a full fledged puzzle plot detective story than are the works of S.H. Adams, for instance. Indeed, S.S. Van Dine clearly tagged Stagg as an intuitionist writer. Stagg was one of the authors burlesqued by Agatha Christie in Partners in Crime (1929); and this story in particular seems to be the subject of Christie's spoof. So for all its obscurity today, Stagg's work was fully known to some of the major intuitionist writers of the Golden Age. Van Dine also felt the compensating powers given to Colton by his creator were unbelievable, and that he suffered in realism compared with Bramah's blind sleuth Max Carrados. Christie's parody also hints at a lack of realism in Colton's treatment. I would extend these remarks to a broader criticism, that not only the treatment of blindness, but many aspects of Stagg's writing, suffer from implausibility. Still, even if implausible, it is joyously inventive, and I am looking forward to more of Stagg's fiction.

 

Who was the First Blind Detective?

 

Stagg invented blind sleuth Thonley Colton for a series of short stories. The stories were collected in book form in 1915. At least some of the Colton tales first appeared as a series in People's Ideal Fiction Magazine in early 1913. It is hard to know who the first blind detective in fiction was. The other early blind sleuth, Ernest Bramah's detective Max Carrados, also appeared at roughly the same time. At least some of the short stories in Bramah's first collection about Max Carrados were first published in late 1913 in the periodical News of the World. The collection, entitled Max Carrados, then appeared in book form in 1914. Until there is a full bibliography of periodical appearances for each writer, it will be hard to establish priority. Warning to readers: the common assertions by several mystery historians that Max Carrados is the "first blind detective in literature" cannot be firmly backed up by what we know today about the subject. Thornley Colton could well be the first blind detective of fiction. Isabel Ostrander also created the blind sleuth Damon Gaunt, who appeared in the pleasant-enough but fairly ordinary mystery novel At One-Thirty (1915); he seems just a bit later than Thornley Colton and Max Carrados, although it is possible that he too might have appeared earlier in some periodical. MacHarg and Balmer also produced a mystery novel with a blind hero, The Blind Man's Eyes (1916). Later, in the 1930's, Baynard Kendrick will create famed blind detective Captain Duncan Maclain.

 

Bibliography

 

Thornley Colton, Blind Detective aka Thornley Colton, Blind Reader of Hearts

The Silver Sandals

 

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