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The Great Detective Stories by WH White

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The Great Detective Stories (1927) By Willard Huntington Wright


There is a tendency among modern critics to gauge all novels by a single literary standard — a standard, in fact, which should be applied only to novels that patently seek a niche among the enduring works of imaginative letters. That all novels do not aspire to such exalted company is obvious; and it is manifestly unfair to judge them by a standard their creators deliberately ignored. Novels of sheer entertainment belong in a different category from those written for purposes of intellectual and æsthetic stimulation; for they are fabricated in a spirit of evanescent diversion, and avoid all the deeper concerns of art.


The novel designed purely for entertainment and the literary novel spring, in the main, from quite different impulses. Their objectives have almost nothing in common. The mental attitudes underlying them are antipathetic: one is frankly superficial, the other sedulously profound. They achieve diametrically opposed results; and their appeals are psychologically unrelated; in fact, they are unable to fulfil each other's function; and the reader who, at different times, can enjoy both without intellectual conflict, can never substitute the one for the other. Any attempt to measure them by the same rules is as inconsistent as to criticize a vaudeville performance and the plays of Shakespeare from the same point of view, or to hold a musical comedy to the standards by which we estimate the foremost grand opera. Even Schnitzler's Anatol may not be approached in the same critical frame of mind that one brings to Hauptmann's The Weavers; and if The Mikado or Pinafore were held strictly to the musical canons of Parsifal or Die Meistersinger, they would suffer unjustly. In the graphic arts the same principle holds. Forain and Degas are not to be judged by the æsthetic criteria we apply to Michelangelo's drawings and the paintings of Rubens.


There are four distinct varieties of the "popular," or "light," novel — to wit: the romantic novel (dealing with young love, and ending generally either at the hymeneal altar or with a prenuptial embrace); the novel of adventure (in which physical action and danger are the chief constituents: sea stories, wild-west yarns, odysseys of the African wilds, etc.); the mystery novel (wherein much of the dramatic suspense is produced by hidden forces that are not revealed until the denouement: novels of diplomatic intrigue, international plottings, secret societies, crime, pseudoscience, specters, and the like); and the detective novel. These types often overlap in content, and at times become so intermingled in subject-matter that one is not quite sure in which category they primarily belong. But though they may borrow devices and appeals from one another, and usurp one another's distinctive material, they follow, in the main, their own special subject, and evolve within their own boundaries.


Of these four kinds of literary entertainment the detective novel is the youngest, the most complicated, the most difficult of construction, and the most distinct. It is, in fact, almost sui generis, and, except in its more general structural characteristics, has little in common with its fellows — the romantic, the adventurous, and the mystery novel. In one sense, to be sure, it is a highly specialized offshoot of the last named; but the relationship is far more distant than the average reader imagines.




If we are to understand the unique place held in modern letters by the detective novel, we must first endeavor to determine its peculiar appeal: for this appeal is fundamentally unrelated to that of any other variety of fictional entertainment. What, then, constitutes the hold that the detective novel has on all classes of people — even those who would not stoop to read any other kind of "popular" fiction? Why do we find men of high cultural attainments — college professors, statesmen, scientists, philosophers, and men concerned with the graver, more advanced, more intellectual problems of life — passing by all other varieties of bestseller novels, and going to the detective story for diversion and relaxation?


The answer, I believe, is simply this: the detective novel does not fall under the head of fiction in the ordinary sense, but belongs rather in the category of riddles: it is, in fact, a complicated and extended puzzle cast in fictional form. Its widespread popularity and interest are due, at bottom and in essence, to the same factors that give popularity and interest to the cross-word puzzle. Indeed, the structure and mechanism of the cross-word puzzle and of the detective novel are very similar. In each there is a problem to be solved; and the solution depends wholly on mental processes — on analysis, on the fitting together of apparently unrelated parts, on a knowledge of the ingredients, and, in some measure, on guessing. Each is supplied with a series of overlapping clues to guide the solver; and these clues, when fitted into place, blaze the path for future progress. In each, when the final solution is achieved, all the details are found to be woven into a complete, interrelated, and closely knitted fabric.


There is confirmatory evidence of the mechanical impulse that inspires the true detective novel when we consider what might almost be called the dominant intellectual penchant of its inventor. Poe, the originator of the modern detective story, was obsessed with the idea of scientific experimentation. His faculty for analysis manifested itself in his reviews and in the technicalities of his poetry; it produced Maelzel's Chess-Player; it led him into the speculative ramifications of handwriting idiosyncrasies in A Chapter on Autography; it brought forth his exposition of cryptograms and code-writing in Cryptography; and it gave birth to his acrostic verses. His four analytic stories — The Murders in the Rue Morgue, The Mystery of Marie Rogêt, The Gold-Bug, and The Purloined Letter — were but a literary development, or application, of the ideas and problems which always fascinated him. The Gold-Bug, in fact, was merely a fictional presentation of Cryptography. (Incidentally, the number of detective stories since Poe's day that have hid their solutions in cipher messages is legion.)


There is no more stimulating activity than that of the mind; and there is no more exciting adventure than that of the intellect. Mankind has always received keen enjoyment from the mental gymnastics required in solving a riddle; and puzzles have been its chief toy throughout the ages. But there is a great difference between waiting placidly for the solution of a problem, and the swift and exhilarating participation in the succeeding steps that lead to the solution. In the average light novel of romance, adventure, or mystery, the reader merely awaits the author's unraveling of the tangled skein of events. True, during the waiting period he is given emotion, wonder, suspense, sentiment and description, with which to occupy himself; and the average novel depends in large measure on these addenda to furnish his enjoyment. But in the detective novel, as we shall see, these qualities are either subordinated to ineffectuality, or else eliminated entirely. The reader is immediately put to work, and kept busy in every chapter, at the task of solving the book's mystery. He shares in the unfoldment of the problem in precisely the same way he participates in the solution of any riddle to which he applies himself.


Because of this singularity of appeal the detective novel has gone its own way irrespective of the progressus of all other fictional types. It has set its own standards, drawn up its own rules, adhered to its own heritages, advanced along its own narrow-gage track, and created its own ingredients as well as its own form and technic. And all these considerations have had to do with its own isolated purpose, with its own special destiny. In the process of this evolution it has withdrawn farther and farther from its literary fellows, until to-day it has practically reversed the principles on which the ordinary popular novel is based.


A sense of reality is essential to the detective novel. The few attempts that have been made to lift the detective-story plot out of its naturalistic environment and confer on it an air of fancifulness have been failures. A castles-in-Spain atmosphere, wherein the reader may escape from the materiality of every day, often gives the average popular novel its charm and readability; but the objective of a detective novel — the mental reward attending its solution — would be lost unless a sense of verisimilitude were consistently maintained, — a feeling of triviality would attach to its problem, and the reader would experience a sense of wasted effort. This is why in cross-word puzzles the words are all genuine: their correct determination achieves a certain educational, or at least serious, result. The "trick" cross-word puzzle with coined words and purely logomachic inventions (such as filling four boxes with e's — e-e-e-e — for the word "ease," or with i's — i-i-i-i — for the word "eyes," or making u-u-u-u stand for the word 'use") has never been popular. The philologic realism, so to speak, is dissipated. A.E.W. Mason has said somewhere that Defoe would have written the perfect detective story. He was referring to Defoe's surpassing ability to create a realistic environment.


This rule of realism suggests the common literary practice of endowing mises en scène with varying emotional pressures. And here again the detective novel differs from its fictional confrères; for, aside from the primary achievement of a sense of reality atmospheres, in the descriptive and psychic sense, have no place in this type of story. Once the reader has accepted the pseudo-actuality of the plot, his energies are directed (like those of the detective himself) to the working out of the puzzle; and his mood, being an intellectual one, is only distracted by atmospheric invasions. Atmospheres belong to the romantic and the adventurous tale, such as Poe's The Fall of the House of Usher and Scott's Ivanhoe, and to the novel of mystery — Henry James's The Turn of the Screw and Bram Stoker's Dracula, for instance.


The setting of a detective story, however, is of cardinal importance. The plot must appear to be an actual record of events springing from the terrain of its operations; and the plans and diagrams so often encountered in detective stories aid considerably in the achievement of this effect. A familiarity with the terrain and a belief in its existence are what give the reader his feeling of ease and freedom in manipulating the factors of the plot to his own (which are also the author's) ends. Hampered by strange conditions and modes of action, his personal participation in the story's solution becomes restricted and his interest in its sequiturs wanes. A detective novel is nearly always more popular in the country in which it is laid than in a foreign country where the conditions, both human and topographic, are unfamiliar. The variations between English and American customs and police methods, and mental and temperamental attributes, are, of course, not nearly so marked as between those of America and France; and no sharp distinction is now drawn between the English and the American detective tale. But many of the best French novels of this type have had indifferent sales in the United States. Gaston Leroux's The Mystery of the Yellow Room, The Perfume of the Lady in Black, and The Secret of the Night have never had their deserved popularity in this country because of their foreign locales; but The Phantom of the Opera, by the same author, which is a sheer mystery story, has been a great success here, due largely to that very unfamiliarity of setting that has worked against the success of his detective novels.




In the matter of character-drawing the detective novel also stands outside the rules governing ordinary fiction. Characters in detective stories may not be too neutral and colorless, nor yet too fully and intimately delineated. They should merely fulfil the requirements of plausibility, so that their actions will not appear to spring entirely from the author's preconceived scheme. Any closely drawn character analysis, any undue lingering over details of temperament, will act only as a clog in the narrative machinery. The automaton of the cheap detective thriller detracts from the reader's eagerness to rectify the confusion of the plot; and the subtly limned personality of the "literary" detective novel shunts the analytic operations of the reader's mind to extraneous considerations. Think back over all the good detective stories you may have read, and try to recall a single memorable personality (aside from the detective himself). And yet these characters were of sufficient color and rotundity to enlist your sympathetic emotions at the time, and to drive you on to a solution of their problems.


The style of a detective story must be direct, simple, smooth, and unencumbered. A "literary" style, replete with descriptive passages, metaphors, and word pictures, which might give viability and beauty to a novel of romance or adventure, would, in a detective yarn, produce sluggishness in the actional current by diverting the reader's mind from the mere record of facts (which is what he is concerned with), and focussing it on irrelevant æsthetic appeals. I do not mean that the style of the detective novel must be bald and legalistic, or cast in the stark language of commercia1 documentary exposition; but it must, like the style of Defoe, subjugate itself to the function of producing unadorned verisimilitude. No more is gained by stylizing a detective novel than by printing a cross-word puzzle in Garamond Italic, or Cloister Cursive, or the Swash characters of Caslon Old-style.


The material for the plot of a detective novel must be commonplace. Indeed, there are a dozen adequate plots for this kind of story on the front page of almost any metropolitan daily paper. Unusualness, bizarrerie, fantasy, or strangeness in subject-matter is rarely desirable; and herein we find another striking reversal of the general rules applying to popular fiction; for originality and eccentricity of plot may give a novel of adventure or mystery its main interest. The task confronting the writer of detective fiction is again the same confronting the cross-word-puzzle manufacturer — namely, the working of familiar materials into a difficult riddle. The skill of a detective story's craftsmanship is revealed in the way these materials are fitted together, the subtlety with which the clues are presented, and the legitimate manner in which the final solution is withheld.


Furthermore, there is a strict ethical course of conduct imposed upon the author. He must never once deliberately fool the reader: he must succeed by ingenuity alone. The habit of inferior writers of bringing forward false clues whose purpose is to mislead is as much a form of cheating as if the cross-word-puzzle maker should print false definitions to his words. The truth must at all times be in the printed word, so that if the reader should go back over the book he would find that the solution had been there all the time if he had had sufficient shrewdness to grasp it. There was a time when all manner of tricks, deceits, and far-fetched devices were employed for the reader's befuddlement; but as the detective novel developed and the demand for straightforward puzzle stories increased, all such methods were abrogated, and to-day we find them only in the cheapest and most inconsequential examples of this type of fiction.


In the central character of the detective novel — the detective himself — we have, perhaps, the most important and original element of the criminal-problem story. It is difficult to describe his exact literary status, for he has no counterpart in any other fictional genre. He is, at one and the same time, the outstanding personality of the story (though he is concerned in it only in an ex-parte capacity), the projection of the author, the embodiment of the reader, the deus ex machina of the plot, the propounder ot the problem, the supplier of the clues, and the eventual solver of the mystery. The life of the book takes place in him, yet the life of the narrative has its being outside of him. In a lesser sense, he is the Greek chorus of the drama. All good detective novels have had for their protagonist a character of attractiveness and interest, of high and fascinating attainments — a man at once human and unusual, colorful and gifted. The buffoon, the bungler, the prig, the automaton — all such have failed. And sometimes in an endeavor to be original an otherwise competent writer, misjudging the psychology of the situation, has presented us with a farcical detective or a juvenile investigator, only to wonder, later on, why these innovations failed. The more successful detective stories have invariably given us such personalities as C. Auguste Dupin, Monsieur Lecoq, Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Thorndyke, Rouletabille, Dr. Fortune, Furneaux, Father Brown, Uncle Abner, Richard Hannay, Arsène Lupin, Dawson, Martin Hewitt, Max Carrados and Hanaud — to name but a few that come readily to mind. All the books in which these characters appear do not fall unqualifiedly into the true detective-story category; but in each tale there are sufficient elements to permit broadly of the detective classification. Furthermore, these Œdipuses themselves are not, in every instance, authentic sleuths: some are doctors of medicine, some professors of astronomy, some soldiers, some journalists, some lawyers, and some reformed crooks. But their vocations do not matter, for in this style of book the designation "detective" is used generically.


We come now to what is perhaps the outstanding characteristic of the detective novel: its unity of mood. To be sure, this is a desideratum of all fiction; but the various moods of the ordinary novel — such as love, romance, adventure, wonder, mystery — are so closely related that they may be intermingled or alternated without breaking the thread of interest; whereas, in the detective novel, the chief interest being that of mental analysis and the overcoming of difficulties, any interpolation of purely emotional moods produces the effect of irrelevancy — unless, of course, they are integers of the equation and are subordinated to the main theme. For instance, in none of the best detective novels will you find a love interest, — Sherlock Holmes in mellow mood, holding a lady's hand and murmuring amorous platitudes, would be unthinkable. And when a detective is sent scurrying on a long-drawn-out adventure beset with physical dangers, the reader fumes and frets until his hero is again in his armchair analyzing clues and inquiring into motives.


In this connection it is significant that the cinematograph has never been able to project a detective story. The detective story, in fact, is the only type of fiction that cannot be filmed. The test of popular fiction — namely, its presentation in visual pictures, or let us say, the visualizing of its word-pictures — goes to pieces when applied to detective stories. The difficulties confronting a motion-picture director in the screening of a detective tale are very much the same as those he would encounter if he strove to film a crossword puzzle. The only serious attempt to transcribe a detective story onto the screen was the case of Sherlock Holmes; and the effort was made possible only by reducing the actual detective elements to a minimum, and emphasizing all manner of irrelevant dramatic and adventurous factors; for there is neither drama nor adventure, in the conventional sense, in a good detective novel.




The origin of the detective novel need not concern us greatly. Like all species of popular art, its beginnings are probably obscure and confused. Enthusiastic critics have pointed to certain tales in the Old Testament (such as Daniel's cross-examination of the elders in the story of Susanna) as examples of early crime-detection. But if we were to extend our search into antiquity we would probably find few ancient literatures that would not supply us with evidence of a sort. Persian sources are particularly rich in stories that might be drawn into the detectival category. The Turkish and the Sanscrit likewise furnish material for the ancient-origin theory. And, of course, the Arabian The Thousand Nights and a Night offers numerous exhibits of criminological fiction. Herodotus, five centuries B.C., recounted what might be termed a detective tale in the story of King Rhampsinitus's treasure-house — a story of a skilfully planned theft, the falsifying of clues (no less an act than decapitation), the setting of traps for the criminal, the clever eluding of these snares, and — what should delight the modern romanticist — a "happy ending" when the scalawag wins the hand of the princess. This ancient Greek tale, by the way, might also be regarded as the inspiration for the common modern device of having a crime committed in a locked and sealed room. But even the story of Rhampsinitus was not solely Egyptian: Charles Johnston, of the Royal Asiatic Society, has variously traced it, both in its general plot and its details, to the Thibetan, the Italian, and the Indian. And we may find it, in its essentials, retold in modern English and staring at us, in gaudy wrappers, from the shelves of our favorite bookstore. Another tale of Herodotus to which might be traced the prevalent cipher-message device of the nineteenth-century detective-story writer is the one which relates of the code pricked by Histiaios on the bald head of his slave in order to convey a secret message to Aristagoras. Chaucer has retold, in The Tale of the Nun's Priest, a story from Cicero's De Divinatione; and the Gesta Romanorum has long been a mine of suggestions for the modern writer of crime-mystery fiction.


Antiquity unquestionably was familiar with all manner of tales and legends that might be academically regarded as the antecedents of the modern detective story; and it is interesting to note that the current connotation of the word clue (or clew) is derived from the thread with which Ariadne supplied Theseus to guide him safely from the Cretan labyrinth after he had slain the Minotaur. However, all such genealogical researches for the remote forebears of the modern crime story may best be left to the antiquary, for they are irrelevant to our purpose, which is to trace the origin and history of the specialized branch of literary form called the detective novel. While many such tales may be unearthed in the ancient records of imaginative narrative, they did not become unified into a type until toward the latter half of the nineteenth century; and it is from that time that the entire evolution of this literary genre has taken place.


It would be possible, no doubt, to find indications of the later detective novel in many books during the early decades of the last century. Poe, however, is the authentic father of the detective novel as we know it to-day; and the evolution of this literary type began with The Murders in the Rue Morgue (1841), The Mystery of Marie Rogêt (1842), The Gold-Bug (1843), and The Purloined Letter (1845). In these four tales was born a new and original type of fictional entertainment; and though their structure has been modified, their method altered, their subject-matter expanded, and their craftsmanship developed, they remain to-day almost perfect models of their kind; and they will always so remain, because their fundamental psychological qualities — the very essence of their appeal — embody the animating and motivating forces in this branch of fiction. One can no more ignore their basic form when writing a detective novel to-day than one can ignore the form of Haydn when composing a symphony, or the experimental researches of Monet and Pissarro when painting an impressionist painting.


For fifteen years after Poe there was little detective-story fiction of an influential nature. Desultory and ineffectual attempts were made to carry on the Auguste Dupin idea, chiefly in France, where Poe's influence was very great. Perhaps the most noteworthy is to be found in Dumas' Le Vicomte de Bragelonne (1848) where D'Artagnan enacts the role of detective. But even here the spirit of adventure overrides the spirit of deduction, — Le Vicomte de Bragelonne is, after all, a sequel to Les Trois Mousquetaires. Five years later, in 1853, came Dickens's Bleak House; and in this novel appeared England's first authentic contribution to modern detective fiction. This novel, to be sure, contains many elements which to-day would not be tolerated in a strict detective story; and its technic, as was inevitable, is more suited to the novel of manners; but Inspector Bucket (who, by the way, was drawn from Dickens's personal friend, Inspector Field of the Metropolitan Police Force of London) is a character who deserves to rank with Dupin and the famous fictional sleuths who came later. In The Mystery of Edwin Drood (which unfortunately remained unfinished at the time of Dickens's death in 1870) we have a straightaway detective story which might almost be used as a model for this type of fiction.


But ten years of criminal waters, so to speak, had passed under the detectives' bridge when The Mystery of Edwin Drood appeared; and Dickens cannot be regarded as, in any sense, a precursor, or even developer, of the crime-mystery technic. In 1860 Wilkie Collins's The Woman in White had been published; and The Moonstone had followed eight years later, two years before the world was aware of the mysterious murder of Edwin Drood and the ensuing unresolved melodrama amid the picturesque purlieus of old Rochester and the opium dens of Shadwell. Indeed, it was Wilkie Collins who carried on the tradition of Poe in England, and, by giving impetus to the detective-story idea and purifying its technic, paved the way for Gaboriau. Sergeant Cuff, though we hear his name but seldom to-day, deserves a larger and more conspicuous niche among the literary immortals of crime detection, for few of his later brethren have proved themselves more efficient than did he when called upon to solve the mystery of the great diamond which Colonel Herncastle had secured. But Collins, because of the nature of his numerous other books, will always be classed as a dealer in adventures and mysteries, despite his contributions to the evolution of strictly problematic crime literature. At that early date the analytical crime story was not considered worthy of any writer's entire time and energy.




It was not until the appearance of Gaboriau's L'Affaire Lerouge (The Widow Lerouge) in 1866, that the first great stride in the detective novel's development was taken. This book was the first of a long series of detective novels by Gaboriau, in which the protagonist, Monsieur Lecoq, proved himself a worthy successor to Poe's Auguste Dupin. If we call Poe the father of detective fiction, Gaboriau was certainly its first influential tutor. He lengthened its form along rigid deductional lines, and complicated and elaborated its content. Le dossier No. 113 ([File No. 113]), published in 1867, has deservedly become a classic of its kind; and Monsieur Lecoq, which appeared in 1869, will, despite the remarkable fact that the criminal in the end outwits and eludes the sleuth, always remain one of the world's foremost detective stories. With Gaboriau's L'Argent des autres (Other People's Money), published posthumously in 1874 (Gaboriau died in 1873), the detective novel was permanently launched, and during the past fifty years it has taken a conspicuous and highly popular place in the fictional field.


But though Gaboriau remains to-day the foremost writer of detective fiction during the period following Poe and Collins, mention should in justice be made of that other French exponent of the roman policier, Fortuné du Boisgobey, whose name is often bracketed with Gaboriau's. Boisgobey was a prolific writer of detective fiction, and his work had the undoubted effect of popularizing this type of story in France. Moreover, there is no doubt that he influenced Conan Doyle, if, indeed, Doyle did not go to him for actual suggestions. Boisgobey's first detective work was Le Forçat colonel, which appeared in 1872; and this was followed by Les gredins, La tresse blonde, Les Mystères du nouveau Paris, Le billet rouge, Le Cri du Sang, La bande rouge, and others. La main froide was published as late as 1889.


Five years after the death of Gaboriau another writer of detective tales entered the field — the American, Anna Katharine Green — and this author has hewed to the line for nearly half a century, producing a large number of some of the best-known detective novels in English. The Leavenworth Case, which appeared in 1878, had a tremendous popularity; but its importance lay in the fact that it went far toward familiarizing the English-speaking public with this, as yet, little-known genre, rather than in any inherent contribution made by it to the genre's evolution. This book and the numerous other detective novels written by the same author appear to many of us to-day, who have become accustomed to the complex, economical and highly rarified technic of detective fiction, as over-documented and as too intimately concerned with strictly romantic material and humanistic considerations. However, their excellent style, their convincing logic, and their sense of reality give them a literary distinction almost unique in the American criminal romance since Poe; and Mrs. Rohlf's detective, Ebenezer Gryce, is as human and convincing a solver of mysteries as this country has produced. There is little doubt that the novels of Anna Katharine Green have played a significant part in the historical evolution of the fiction of crime detection: certainly no roster of the foremost examples of this branch of literature would be complete without the inclusion of such books of hers as Hand and Ring, Behind Closed Doors, The Filigree Ball, The House of the Whispering Pines, and The Step on the Stair.


A book which played a peculiar part in the history of the detective novel is The Mystery of a Hansom Cab by Fergus Hume. This story, based on the technic of Gaboriau and influenced by the writings of Anna Katharine Green, represents what is perhaps the greatest commercial success in the history of modern detective fiction, and throws an interesting light on the English public's avidity for this type of literary diversion during the closing years of the nineteenth century. The Mystery of a Hansom Cab has sold over half a million copies to date, and the record of its early editions is eloquently indicative of the fact that the detective novel as a definite genre had, even at that time, made a place for itself in the Hall of Letters. The book, however, added nothing new to the technic or the subject-matter of detective fiction, but adhered sedulously to the lines already laid down.


Not until the appearance of A Study in Scarlet in 1887 (which, incidentally, was the same year in which The Mystery of a Hansom Cab appeared), and The Sign of Four in 1890, did the detective novel take any definite forward step over Gaboriau. In these books and the later Sherlock Holmes vehicles Conan Doyle brought detective fiction into full-blown maturity. He adhered to the documentary and psychological scaffolding that had been erected by Poe and strengthened by Gaboriau, but clothed it in a new exterior, eliminating much of the old decoration, and designing various new architectural devices. In Doyle the detective story reached what might be termed a purified fruition; and the numerous changes and developments during the past two decades have had to do largely with detail, with the substitution of methods, and with variations in documentary treatment — in short, with current modes.


But in as vital, intimate, and exigent a type of entertainment as detective fiction, these modes are of great importance: they mark the distinction between that which is modern and up-to-date and that which is old-fashioned, just as do the short skirt and the long skirt in sartorial styles. The Sherlock Holmes stories are now obsolescent: they have been superseded by more advanced and contemporaneously alive productions in their own realm. And the modern detective-story enthusiast would find it hard sledding to read Gaboriau to-day — even Monsieur Lecoq and Le dossier No. 113. Poe's four analytic tales are a treasure-trove for the student rather than a source of diversion for the general reader. The romantic and adventurous atmosphere we find in The Gold-Bug has now been eliminated from the detective tale; and the long introduction to The Murders in the Rue Morgue (really an apologia), and the unnecessary documentation in The Mystery of Marie Rogêt, act only as irritating encumbrances to the modern reader of detective fiction. Even in The Purloined Letter — the shortest of the four stories — there is a sesquipedalian and somewhat ponderous analysis of philosophy and mathematics, which is much too ritenendo and grandioso for the devotees of this type of fiction to-day.




The first detective of conspicuous note to follow in the footsteps of Sherlock Holmes was Martin Hewitt, the creation of Arthur Morrison. Hewitt is less colorful than Holmes, less omnipotent, and far more commonplace. He was once, Mr. Morrison tells us, a lawyer's clerk, and some of the dust of his legal surroundings seems always to cling to him. But what he loses in perspicacity and incredible gifts, he makes up for, in large measure, by verisimilitude. His problems as a whole are less melodramatic and bizarre than those of Holmes, except perhaps those in The Red Triangle; and his methods are not as spectacular as those of his Baker Street predecessor. An obvious attempt has been made by Mr. Morrison to give to detective fiction an air of convincing reality; and by his painstaking and even scholarly style he has sought to appeal to a class of readers that might ordinarily repudiate all interest in so inherently artificial a type of entertainment.


In R. Austin Freeman's Dr. Thorndyke the purely scientific detective made his appearance. Test tubes, microscopes, Bunsen burners, retorts, and all the obscure paraphernalia of the chemist's and physicist's laboratories are his stock in trade. In fact, Dr. Thorndyke rarely attends an investigation without his case of implements and his array of chemicals. Without his laboratory assistant and jack-of-all-trades, Polson, — coupled, of course, with his ponderous but inevitable medico-legal logic — he would be helpless in the face of mysteries which Sherlock Holmes and Monsieur Lecoq might easily have clarified by a combination of observation, mental analysis, and intuitive genius. Dr. Thorndyke is an elderly, plodding, painstaking, humorless and amazingly dry sleuth, but so original are his problems, so cleverly and clearly does he reach his solutions, and so well written are Dr. Freeman's records, that the Thorndyke books rank among the very best of modern detective fiction. The amatory susceptibilities of his recording coadjutors are constantly intruding upon the doctor's scientific investigations and the reader's patience; but even with these irrelevant impediments most of the stories march briskly and competently to their inevitable conclusions. Of all the scientific detectives Dr. Thorndyke is unquestionably the most convincing. His science, though at times obscure, is always sound: Dr. Freeman writes authoritatively, and the reader is both instructed and delighted.


Craig Kennedy, the scientific detective of Arthur B. Reeve, on the other hand, is far less profound: he is, in fact, a pseudo-scientist, utilizing all manner of strange divining machines and speculative systems, and employing all the latest "discoveries" in the realm of fantastic and theoretic physical research. He is not unlike a composite of all the inventors and ballyhoo doctors of science who regularly supply sensational research copy for the Sunday Supplement magazines. But Mr. Reeve's stories, despite their failure to adhere to probability and to the accepted knowledge of recognized experimenters in the scientific fields, are at times ingenious and interesting, and there is little doubt that they have had a marked influence on modern detective fiction. They are unfortunately marred by a careless journalistic style. Among the many Craig Kennedy volumes may be mentioned The Poisoned Pen, The Dream Doctor, The Silent Bullet and The Treasure-Train as containing the best of Mr. Reeve's work.


Better written, conceived with greater moderation, and clinging more closely to human probabilities, are John Rhode's novels dealing with Dr. Priestley's adventures — Dr Priestley's Quest, The Paddington Mystery, and The Ellerby Case. Dr. — or, as he is generally referred to in Mr. Rhode's text, Professor — Priestley has many characteristics in common with Dr. Thorndyke. He is a schoolman, fairly well along in years, without a sense of humor, and inclined to dryness; but he is more of the intellectual scientist, or scientific thinker, than Dr. Freeman's hero. ("Priestley, cursed with a restless brain and an almost immoral passion for the highest branches of mathematics, occupied himself in skirmishing round the portals of the universities, occasionally flinging a bomb in the shape of a highly controversial thesis in some ultra-scientific journal.") His detective cases to date have been few, and he suffers by comparison with the superior Dr. Thorndyke.




The purely intellectual detective — the professor with numerous scholastic degrees, who depends on scientific reasoning and rarefied logic for the answer to his problems — has become a popular figure in the fiction of crime detection. His most extravagant personification — what might almost be termed the reductio ad absurdum of this type of super-sleuth — is to be found in Jacques Futrelle's Professor Augustus S.F.X. Van Dusen, PH.D., LL.D., F.R.S., M.D., etc. The first book to recount the criminal mysteries that came under Professor Van Dusen's observation was The Thinking Machine, later republished as The Problem of Cell 13; and this was followed by another volume of stories entitled The Thinking Machine on the Case. These tales, despite their improbability — and often impossibility — nevertheless constitute attractive diversion of the lighter sort.


G.K. Chesterton's Father Brown — a quiet, plain little priest who is now definitely established as one of the great probers of mysteries in modern detective fiction — is also what might be called an intellectual sleuth, although the subtleties of his analyses depend, in large measure, on a kind of spiritual intuition — the result of his deep knowledge of human frailties. Although Father Brown does not spurn material clues as aids to his conclusions, he depends far more on his analyses of the human heart and his wide experience with sin. At times he is obscure and symbolic, even mystical; and too often the problems which Mr. Chesterton poses for him are based on crimes that are metaphysical and unconvincing in their implications; but Father Brown's conversational gifts — his commentaries, parables and observations — are adequate compensation for the reader's dubiety. The fact that Father Brown is concerned with the moral, or religious, aspect, rather than the legal status, of the criminals he runs to earth, gives Mr. Chesterton's stories an interesting distinction.


Similar in methods, but quite different in results, are the excellent stories by H. C. Bailey setting forth the cases of Dr. Reginald Fortune. Dr. Fortune is an adjunct of Scotland Yard, a friend and constant companion of Stanley Lomas who is a chief of the Criminal Investigation Department. Like Father Brown, Dr. Fortune is highly intuitional; and his final results depend on logic and his knowledge of men rather than on the evidential and circumstantial indications of the average official police investigation. And like Father Brown he has a gift for conversation and repartee that makes even the most sordid and unconvincing of his cases interesting, if not indeed fascinating. In addition, he is a man of amazing gifts, with a wide range of almost incredible knowledge; but so competent is Mr. Bailey's craftsmanship that Dr. Fortune rarely exceeds the bounds of probability. He has, in fact, in a very short time (the first Fortune book, [Call Mr. Fortune], appeared in 19l9) made a permanent and unquestioned place for himself among the first half-dozen protagonists of detective fiction.


Hercule Poirot, Agatha Christie's pompous little Belgian sleuth, falls in the category of detectival logicians, and though his methods are also intuitional to the point of clairvoyance, he constantly insists that his surprisingly accurate and often miraculous deductions are the inevitable results of the intensive operation of "the little gray cells." Poirot is more fantastic and far less credible than his brother criminologists of the syllogistic fraternity, Dr. Priestley, Father Brown and Reginald Fortune; and the stories in which he figures are often so artificial, and their problems so far fetched, that all sense of reality is lost, and consequently the interest in the solution is vitiated. This is particularly true of the short stories gathered into the volume Poirot Investigates. Poirot is to be seen at his best in The Mysterious Affair at Styles and The Murder on the Links. The trick played on the reader in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is hardly a legitimate device of the detective-story writer; and while Poirot's work in this book is at times capable, the effect is nullified by the dénouement.


Of an entirely different personality, yet with dialectic methods broadly akin to Father Brown's and Dr. Priestley's, is Colonel Gore in Lynn Brock's The Deductions of Colonel Gore and Colonel Gore's Second Case. Colonel Gore, though ponderous and verbose, is well projected, and the crimes he investigates are well worked-out and admirably, if a bit too leisurely, presented. The various characterizations of the minor as well as the major personages of the plots, and the long descriptions of social and topographical details, tend to detract from the problems involved; but the competency of Mr. Brock's writing carries one along despite one's occasional impatience. This fault is not to be found in Ernest M. Poate's Behind Locked Doors and The Trouble at Pinelands. But Mr. Poate errs on the side of amatory romance, and in Behind Locked Doors he introduces a puppy love affair which both mars and retards what otherwise might have been one of the outstanding modern detective novels. Even as it stands it must be given high rank; and the figure of Dr. Bentiron — an eccentric but lovable psychopathologist — will long remain in the memory of those who make his acquaintance.


No list of what we may call the deductive detectives would be complete without the name of A.E.W. Mason's admirable Hanaud of the French Sûreté. Hanaud may almost be regarded as the Gallic counterpart of Sherlock Holmes. The methods of these two sleuths are similar: each depends on a combination of material clues and spontaneous thinking; each is logical and painstaking; and each has his own little tricks and deceptions and vanities. The two Hanaud vehicles, At the Villa Rose and The House of the Arrow, are excellent examples of detective fiction, carefully constructed, consistently worked out, and pleasingly written. They represent — especially the latter — the purest expression of this type of literary divertissement; and Hanaud himself is a memorable and engaging addition to the great growing army of fictional sleuths. The psychological methods of crime detection, combined with an adherence to the evidences of reality, are also followed in S.S. Van Dine's The Benson Murder Case and [The "Canary" Murder Case], wherein Philo Vance, a young social aristocrat and art connoisseur, enacts the role of criminologist and investigator.


Although the blind detective is a comparatively recent innovation in crime-mystery fiction, his methods belong necessarily to the logic-cum-intuition school, despite the fact that all his processes and conclusions are accounted for on strictly material and scientific grounds. In the various attempts at novelty made by recent detective-story writers the sightless crime specialist has been frequently introduced, so that now he has become a recognized and accepted type. The most engaging and the most easily accepted of these unique detectives is Ernest Bramah's Max Carrados, who made his appearance in a volume bearing his name for title in 1914. To be sure, he was endowed with gifts which recalled the strange powers of the citizens of H.G. Wells's The Country of the Blind, but so accurately and carefully has Mr. Bramah projected him that he must be given a place in the forefront of famous fictional sleuths. Far more miraculous, and hence less convincing, is the blind detective, Thornley Colton, who appears in a book which also bears his name for title, by Clinton H. Stagg.


As soon as the detective story became popular it was inevitable that the woman detective would make her appearance; and today there are a score or more of female rivals of Sherlock Holmes. The most charming and capable, as well as the most competently conceived, is Violet Strange, who solves eight criminal problems in Anna Katharine Green's The Golden Slipper. Lady Molly, in Lady Molly of Scotland Yard by the Baroness Orczy, is somewhat more conventional in conception but sufficiently entertaining to be regarded as a worthy deductive sister of Violet Strange. George R. Sims, in Dorcas Dene, Detective, has given us a feminine investigator of considerable quality; and Arthur B. Reeve's Constance Dunlap has resources and capabilities of a high, even if a too melodramatic, order. Millicent Newberry, in Jeanette Lee's The Green Jacket, is an unusual and appealing figure — more a corrector of destinies, perhaps, than a detective. And Richard Marsh's Judith Lee, in a book called simply Judith Lee, while not technically a sleuth, happens upon the secret of many crimes through her ability as a lip-reader.




So individual and diverse has become the latter-day fictional detective that even a general classification is well-nigh impossible. In Robert Barr's The Triumphs of Eugène Valmont we have an Anglicized Frenchman of the old school who undertakes private investigations of a too liberal latitude to qualify him at all times as a crime specialist; but, despite his romantic adventurings and his glaring failures, he unquestionably belongs in our category of famous sleuths if only for the care and excellence with which Mr. Barr has presented his experiences. Then there is the fat, commonplace, unlovely and semi-illiterate, but withal sympathetic and entertaining, Jim Hanvey of Octavus Roy Cohen's book, Jim Hanvey, Detective, who knows all the crooks in Christendom and is their friend; the nameless logician in the Baroness Orczy's The Old Man in the Corner and The Case of Miss Elliott, who sits, shabby and indifferent, at his cafe table and holds penetrating post mortems on the crimes of the day; Malcolm Sage, of Herbert H. Jenkins's Malcolm Sage, Detective, a fussy, bespectacled bachelor who runs a detective agency and uses methods as eccentric as they are efficient; Lord Peter Wimsey, the debonair and deceptive amateur of Dorothy L. Sayers's Whose Body?; Jefferson Hastings, the pathetic, ungainly old-timer of the Washington Police, whose mellow insight and shrewd deductions make first-rate reading in The Bellamy Case, The Melrose Mystery and No Clue! by James Hay, Jr.; and Inspectors Winter and Furneaux — that amusing and capable brace of co-sleuths in Louis Tracy's long list of detective novels.


The alienist detective is not a far cry from the pathologist detective, and though there have been several doctors with a flair for abnormal psychology who have enacted the role of criminal investigator, it has remained for Anthony Wynne to give the psychiatrist a permanent place in the annals of detection. In his Dr. Hailey, the Harley Street specialist, (the best of whose cases is related in The Sign of Evil,) we have an admirable detective character who mingles neurology with psychoanalysis and solves many crimes which prove somewhat beyond the ken of the Scotland Yard police. It was Henry James Forman, however, I believe, who gave us the first strictly psychoanalytical detective novel in Guilt — a story which, despite its unconventional ending and its singularity of material, makes absorbing reading.


The reporter sleuth — or "journalistic crime expert" — has become a popular figure in detective fiction on both sides of the Atlantic, and to enumerate his various personalities and adventures would be to fill several small type pages with tabulations. Most famous of this clan is Rouletabille of Gaston Leroux's excellent detective novels, although J. S. Fletcher has created an engaging rival to the little French reporter in the figure of Frank Spargo who solves the gruesome mystery in The Middle Temple Murder. Another reporter detective of memorable qualities and personality is Robert Estabrook in Louis Dodge's Whispers; and very recently there has appeared a book by Harry Stephen Keeler — Find the Clock — in which a Chicago reporter named Jeff Darrell acquires the right to sit among the select company of his fellow detective-journalists.


One of the truly outstanding figures in detective fiction is Uncle Abner, whose criminal adventures are recounted by Melville Davisson Post in Uncle Abner, Master of Mysteries, and in a couple of short stories included in the volume, The Sleuth of [St. James's Square]. Uncle Abner, indeed, is one of the very few detectives deserving to be ranked with that immortal triumverate, Dupin, Lecoq and Holmes; and I have often marveled at the omission of his name from the various articles and criticisms I have seen dealing with detective fiction. In conception, execution, device and general literary quality these stories of early Virginia, written by a man who thoroughly knows his métier and is also an expert in law and criminology, are among the very best we possess. The grim and lovable Uncle Abner is a vivid and convincing character, and the plots of his experiences with crime are as unusual as they are convincing. Mr. Post is the first author who, to my knowledge, has used the phonetic misspelling in a document supposedly written by a deaf and dumb man as a proof of its having been forged. (The device is found in the story called An Act of God.) If Mr. Post had written only Uncle Abner he would be deserving of inclusion among the foremost of detective-fiction writers, but in The Sleuth of St. James's Square, and especially in Monsieur Jonquelle, he has achieved a type of highly capable and engrossing crime-mystery tale. The story called The Great Cipher in the latter book is, with the possible exception of Poe's The Gold-Bug, the best cipher story in English.


Another distinctive detective, but one of an entirely different character, is Chief Inspector William Dawson of Bennett Copplestone's The Diversions of Dawson and The Lost Naval Papers — the latter a series of secret-service stories. There is humor in Mr. Copplestone's delineation of Dawson, but the humor is never flippant and does not, in any sense, detract from the interest of the cases in which this rather commonplace, but none the less remarkable, Scotland Yard master of disguise plays the leading rôle. In fact, the humor is so skilfully interwoven in the plots, and is presented with such consummate naturalness, that it heightens both the character drawing of Dawson and the fascination of the problems he is set to solve. The literary quality of Mr. Copplestone's books is of a high order, and goes far toward placing them among the best of their genre that England has produced. Dawson, for all his shortcomings and conventional devices, is a figure of actuality, with the artificial mechanics of his craft reduced to a minimum.


John Buchan's Richard Hannay, who runs through a series of novels (The Thirty-Nine Steps, Greenmantle, Mr. Standfast and The Three Hostages), is a figure of unforgettable attraction — slow-moving yet shrewd, sentimental yet efficient — although only in the last named of the four books does he play a strictly detectival role, his other "cases" being of a purely adventurous or secret-service nature. A delightful type of detective — debonair, whimsical, yet withal penetrating — is Antony Gillingham of A.A. Milne's The Red House Mystery — one of the best detective stories of recent years, as well developed as it is well written. I regret that Mr. Milne has seen fit to let his reputation as a writer of detective tales rest on this single volume. Philip Trent, the somewhat baffled nemesis of E.C. Bentley's Trent's Last Case, is highly engaging, despite the fact that his elaborate deductions, based on circumstantial evidence, lead him woefully astray. Mr. Bentley's book, though unconventional in conception, is, in its way, a masterpiece. Another detective deserving of mention alongside of Antony Gillingham and Philip Trent is Anthony Gethryn, the solver of the criminal riddle in Philip MacDonald's entertaining book, The Rasp — which, incidentally, is Gethryn's sole vehicle of deduction.




Eden Phillpotts has written some of the best detective stories in English. Not only has he proved himself a student of this type of literary entertainment, but he has brought to his task a lifelong experience in the craft of writing. The Grey Room was the first of his essays in this field, and, for all its unconventionality of structure, immediately took its place among the leading mystery stories of the day. This was followed by The Red Redmaynes (a more elaborately worked-out detective novel), A Voice from the Dark, and Jig-Saw. Both in craftsmanship and ingenuity Mr. Phillpotts's detective tales — all of which are of a high order — seem intimately related to the novels of Harrington Hext — The Thing at Their Heels, Who Killed Cock Robin?, The Monster, and Number 87. (The last is a scientific mystery story rather than a straight detective novel.) Who Killed Cock Robin? is of conventional pattern and technic, but its adroitness entitles it to the first rank; The Monster, for sheer cleverness and suspense, has few equals in contemporary detective fiction; and The Thing at Their Heels, though ignoring the accepted canons of detective-story writing, must be placed in this category with an asterisk of distinction marking it.


A popular and prolific novelist who has long been regarded as a detective-story writer is E. Phillips Oppenheim; but while he has written several books of detective stories, they represent his secondary work, and have little place in a library devoted to the best of crime-problem fiction. Mr. Oppenheim is primarily a writer of mystery romances and stories of diplomatic intrigue; the latter, in fact, are his forte. Even in his best-known so-called detective books — such as Peter Ruff, The Double Four, The Yellow Crayon, and The Honorable Algernon Knox, Detective — the complications of international diplomacy and of the secret service greatly overbalance the criminological research and deductions that are essential to the true detective story. Nicholas Goade, Detective comes nearer to the detectival technic than any of Mr. Oppenheim's other books; but aside from its being a careless and inferior work, it is filled with irrelevancies of a romantic and adventurous nature. Nor are its criminal problems of any particular originality.


Among the most entertaining and adroitly written of modern detective novels must be placed Ronald A. Knox's two semi-satirical books, The Viaduct Murder and The Three Taps. These stories attain to a high literary level, and though the amateur detective of the first fails in his deductions, and the "murder" in the second proves to be a disappointment — both of which devices are contrary to all the accepted traditions of the detective-story technic — these two books sedulously and intelligently follow the clues of their problems to a logical solution, and unflaggingly hold the reader's interest and admiration. Two other writers of marked literary capacity have tried their hand at the detective novel — Arnold Bennett and Israel Zangwill — with entertaining, if not wholly satisfactory, results. Mr. Bennett's The Grand Babylon Hotel, though a detective story only through association and implication, contains several adventures that bring the book broadly within the detective category. Mr. Zangwill's The Big Bow Mystery is more in line with the tradition of the detective novel, despite the fact that its theme contraverts one of the basic principles of crime-problem fiction.


Mrs. Belloc Lowndes has made two interesting and noteworthy contributions to criminal literature: indeed, any review of the more important detective stories would be incomplete without an inclusion of her The Chink in the Armour and The Lodger, the latter dealing with the famous Jack-the-Ripper murders. Burton E. Stevenson has also given us several first-rate detective novels of orthodox pattern — The Halladay Case, The Gloved Hand, The Marathon Mystery, and The Mystery of the Boule Cabinet — the last being particularly well conceived and executed. Edgar Wallace has written too much and too rapidly, with too little attention to his problems and too great an insistence on inexpensive "thrills," to be included in the roster of the ablest detective-tale authors; but The Clue of the New Pin — one of his earlier books — should be mentioned here because of the ingenious device used by the criminal to escape detection. Arthur E. McFarland's Behind the Bolted Door? is another detective novel which contains an entirely novel (so far as I know) device; and the interest of the story is markedly enhanced by Mr. McFarland's journalistic competency as a writer and his thorough familiarity with the various factors of his locale. Marion Harvey's The Mystery of the Hidden Room is likewise noteworthy because of the criminal device employed; and it should be added that the deductive work done by Graydon McKelvie is at times extremely clever. The four Ashton Kirk novels by John T. McIntyreAshton Kirk, Investigator, Ashton Kirk, Secret Agent, Ashton Kirk, Special Detective, and Ashton Kirk, Criminologist — are a bit extravagant both in characterization and plot, but they may be justly mentioned here because of their strict adherence to the Sherlock Holmes tradition and their occasional ingenuity of structure.




Fashions in detectives have changed greatly during the past decade or so. Of late the inspired, intuitive, brilliantly logical super-sleuth of the late nineteenth century has given place to the conservative, plodding, hard working, routine investigator of the official police — the genius of Carlyle's definition, whose procedure is based largely on a transcendent capacity of taking trouble. And it must be said that this new thoroughgoing and unimaginative detective often has a distinct advantage, from the standpoint of literary interest, over the flashy intellectual detective of yore. He is more human, more plausible, and often achieves a more satisfactory solution of the criminal mysteries to which he is assigned. The reader may follow him as an equal, and share in his discoveries; and at all times a sense of reality, even of commonplace familiarity, may be maintained by the author — a sense which is too often vitiated by the inspirational methods of the older detective.


The most skilful exponent of this style of detective story is Freeman Wills Crofts. His The Cask and The Ponson Case are masterpieces of closely-wrought construction, and, with The Groote Park Murder, Inspector French's Greatest Case and The Starvel Hollow Tragedy, stand as the foremost representatives of their kind — as much as do the novels of Gaboriau and the Holmes series of Conan Doyle. Indeed, for sheer dexterity of plot Mr. Crofts has no peer among the contemporary writers of detective fiction. His chief device is the prepared alibi, and this he has explored with almost inexhaustible care, weaving it into his problem with an industry matched only by the amazing industry of his sleuths.


A. Fielding has devoted his talents to this new mode of detective fiction with a success but little less than Mr. Crofts'. In The Footsteps that Stopped he has worked out an intricate problem along the painstaking lines of investigation characteristic of the actual methods of Scotland Yard; and in both The Eames-Erskine Case and The Charteris Mystery he has successfully followed these same methods. The Detective's Holiday, by Charles Barry, is another good example of the plodding, naturalistic detective technic, enlivened by a foil in the presence of a typical French detective of contrasting subtlety and emotionalism. And Henry Wade's The Verdict of You All is a first-rate story conceived along the same lines; but it breaks away from all tradition in the climax, and turns its dénouement into an ironical criticism of legal procedure — a device which had a famous precedent in The Ware Case by Gordon Pleydell. Two earlier capable examples of the detective novel of industrious routine are A.W. Marchmont's The Eagrave Square Mystery and Mark Allerton's The Mystery of Beaton Craig.


In the same classification with Crofts, Fielding and Wade belongs J. S. Fletcher, the most prolific and popular of all the current writers of detective fiction. Mr. Fletcher, however, carries his naturalism so far in the projection of his plots that his detectives are too often banal and colorless; and in many of his books the solution of the crime is reached through a series of fortuitous incidents rather than through any inherent ability on the part of his investigators. Mr. Fletcher writes smoothly, and his antiquarian researches — which he habitually weaves into the fabric of his plots — give an air of scholarship to his stories. But his problems and their solutions are too frequently deficient in drama and sequence, and his paucity of invention is too consistently glaring to be entirely satisfactory. This may be due to the frequency with which his books appear: I believe he has published something like four a year for the past eight or ten years; and such mass production is hardly conducive of conceptional care and structural ingenuity. But Mr. Fletcher has none the less played an important part in the development of the detective novel, if for no other reason than that he has, by his fluent style and authoritative realism, given an impetus to the reading of this type of novel among a large class of persons who, but a few years ago, were unfamiliar with the literature of crime detection. Mr. Fletcher s earlier books are his best; and I have yet to read one of his more recent novels that equals his The Middle Temple Murder published ten years ago.


It will be noted that the great majority of detective stories I have selected for mention are by English authors. The reason for the decided superiority of English detective stories over American detective stories lies in the fact that the English novelist takes this type of fiction more seriously than we do. The best of the current writers in England will turn their hand occasionally to this genre, and perform their task with the same conscientious care that they confer on their more serious books. The American novelist, when he essays to write this kind of story, does so with contempt and carelessness, and rarely takes the time to acquaint himself with his subject. He labors under the delusion that a detective novel is an easy and casual kind of literary composition; and the result is a complete failure. In this country we have few detective novels of the superior order of such books as Bentley's Trent's Last Case, Mason's The House of the Arrow, Crofts' The Cask, Hext's Who Killed Cock Robin?, Phillpotts's The Red Redmaynes, Freeman's The Eye of Osiris, Knox's The Viaduct Murder, Fielding's The Footsteps That Stopped, Milne's The Red House Mystery, Bailey's Mr. Fortune series, and Chesterton's Father Brown stories, to mention but a scant dozen of the more noteworthy additions to England's rapidly increasing detective library.




In the foregoing brief resumé of the detective fiction which followed upon the appearance of the Sherlock Holmes stories I have confined myself to English and American efforts. We must not, however, overlook the many excellent detective stories that have come out of France since the advent of Monsieur Lecoq. The Gallic temperament seems particularly well adapted to the subtle ties and intricacies of the detective novel; and a large number of books of the roman policier type have been published in France during the past half century, most of them as yet untranslated into English. The foremost of the modern French writers of detective fiction is Gaston Leroux; in fact, the half dozen or so novels comprising the Aventures Extraordinaires de Joseph Rouletabille, Reporter are among the finest examples of detective stories we possess. Le Mystère de la Chambre Jaune (The Mystery of the Yellow Room), Le Parfum de la Dame en Noir (The Perfume of the Lady in Black), Rouletabille chez le Tsar (The Secret of the Night), Le Chateau Noir, Les Étranges Noces de Rouletabille, Rouletabille chez Krupp and Le Crime de Rouletabille (The Phantom Clue) represent the highest standard reached by the detective novel in France since the literary demise of Lecoq, and contain a variety of ideas and settings which gives them a diversity of appeal. Rouletabille is engagingly drawn, and his personality holds the reader throughout.


More popular, and certainly more ingenious, though neither as scholarly nor as strictly orthodox, are the famous Arsène Lupin stories of Maurice Leblanc. Lupin in the records of his earlier adventures is a shrewd and dashing criminal — "un gentleman-cambrioleur" — and therefore quite the reverse of the regulation detective; but he indulges in detective work — in deductions, in the following of clues, in the subtleties of logic, and in the solution of criminal problems — which is as brilliant and traditional as that of any fictional officer of the Sûreté. In his more recent escapades he gives over his anti-legal propensities, and becomes a sleuth wholly allied with the powers of righteousness. Some of the best and most characteristic examples of conventional modern detective stories are to be found in Les Huit Coups de l'Horloge. To the solution of the criminal problems involved in this book Lupin brings not only a keen and penetrating mind, but the fruits of a vast first-hand experience with crime.


Germany's efforts at the exacting art of detective-story writing are, in the main, abortive and ponderous. An air of heavy officialdom hangs over the great majority of them; and one rarely finds the amateur investigator — that most delightful of all detectives — as the central figure of German crime-problem stories. The hero is generally a hide-bound, system-worshiping officer of the Polizei; and sometimes as many as three detectives share the honor of bringing a malefactor to justice. Even the best of the Germanic attempts at this literary genre read somewhat like painstaking official reports, lacking imagination and dramatic suspense. There is little subtlety either in the plots or the solutions; and the methods employed are generally obvious and heavy-footed. Characteristic of the German detective story are the books of Dietrich Theden — Der Advokatenbauer, Die zweite Busse, Ein Verteidiger, and a volume of short stories entitled Das range Wunder. And among the other better-known works of this type might be mentioned J. Kaulbach's Die weisse Nelke, P. Weise's Der Rottnerhof, R. Kohlrausch's In der Dunkelkammer, and P. Meissner's Platanen-Allee Nr. 14. Karl Rosner, the author of Der Herr des Todes and Die Beichte des Herrn Moritz von Cleven, is also one of the leading German writers of detective stories.


The Austrian authors who have devoted their energies to crime-problem fiction follow closely along German lines, though we occasionally find in them a lighter and more imaginative attitude, although here, too, a stodgy officialism and a reportorial brevity detract from the dramatic interest. Balduin Groller is perhaps the most capable and inventive of the Austrian detective-story writers: his Detektiv Dagobert is perhaps Austria's nearest approach to Sherlock Holmes. Adolph Weissl (who was, I believe, a former official of the Vienna police) also has an extensive reputation as a writer of detective stories. His best-known, perhaps, are Schwarze Perlen and Das grüne Auto. The latter has been translated into English under the title of The Green Motor Car.


The other European countries are also far behind France and England in the production of this kind of narrative entertainment. Russia is too deeply sunk in Zolaesque naturalism to be interested in sheer literary artifice, and the detective novel as a genre is unknown to that country. Only in occasional stories do we find even an indication of it, although when a Russian author does turn his hand to crime detection he endows his work with a convincing realism. Italy's creative spirit is not sufficiently mentalized and detached to maintain the detective-story mood; but Olivieri, in Il Colonnello, and Ottolengui, in Suo Figlio, have given us fairly representative examples of the detective tale; and Luigi Capuana has written several stories which may broadly be classed as "detective." The Pole, Carl von Trojanowsky, has written, among other books, Erzählungen eines Gerichtsarzles; but this work cannot qualify wholly as detective fiction. There are, however, certain indications that the Scandinavian countries may soon enter the field as competitors of France and England and America. A Swedish writer, under the nom de guerre of Frank Heller, has had a tremendous success in Europe with a series of novels setting forth the exploits of a Mr. Collin — a kind of Continental Raffles — and several of his books have been translated into English: [The London Adventures of Mr. Collin], The Grand Duke's Finances, The Emperor's Old Clothes, [The Strange Adventures of Mr. Collin], and [Mr. Collin Is Ruined]. They are not, however, true detective novels; but the germ of the species is in them, and they indicate an unmistakable tendency toward the Poe-Gaboriau-Doyle tradition. Far more orthodox, and with a firmer grasp of the principles of detective-fiction technic, are the books of the Danish writer, Sven Elvestad — Der rätselhafte Feind, Abbe Montrose, Das Chamäleon and Spuren im Schnee. Elvestad also writes detective stories under the name of Stein Riverton. Then there is the popular Norwegian author, Oevre Richter Frich, whose detective, Asbjorn Krag, is almost as well known in Norway as Holmes is in England.




So much confusion exists regarding the limits and true nature of the detective story, and so often is this genre erroneously classified with the secret-service story and the crime story, that a word may properly be said about the very definite distinctions that exist between the latter type and the specialized detective type. While the secret-service story very often depends on an analysis of clues and on deductive reasoning, and while it also possesses a protagonist whose task is the unearthing of secrets and the thwarting of plots, these conditions are not essential to it; and herein lies a fundamental difference between the secret-service agent and the regulation detective. The one is, in the essence of his profession, an adventurer, whereas the other is a deus ex machina whose object it is to solve a given problem and thereby bring a criminal to book. No matter how liberally the secret-service story may have borrowed from the methods of detective fiction, its growth has been along fundamentally different lines from those of detective fiction; and during the past few decades it has developed a distinctive technic and evolved a structure characteristically its own. It is true that famous fictional detectives have, on occasion, been shunted successfully to secret-service work (like Dawson in The Lost Naval Papers, Hannay in Greenmantle and The Thirty-Nine Steps, Max Carrados in The Coin of Dionysius, and even Sherlock Holmes in an occasional adventure); but these variations have, in no wise, brought the secret-service story into the strict category of detective fiction. That the appeals in these two literary types are often closely related, is granted; but this fact is incidental rather than necessary.


The best and truest type of secret-service story may be found in the writings of William Le Queux — in The Invasion, Donovan of Whitehall, The Czar's Spy, and The Mystery of the Green Ray, for instance. And the novels of E. Phillips Oppenheim contain many of the most capable and diverting stories of this type to be found in English. Lord Frederick Hamilton has introduced a welcome element of novelty into the secret-service formula by way of his P.J. Davenant series — Nine Holiday Adventures of Mr PJ Davenant, Some Further Adventures of Mr PJ Davenant, The Education of Mr PJ Davenant, and The Beginnings of Mr PJ Davenant. Robert Allen, in Captain Gardiner of the International Police, has given us a first-rate secret-service-adventure book; and J.A. Ferguson, in The Stealthy Terror, has created noteworthy entertainment in this field. One of the best of recent secret-service romances is J. Aubrey Tyson's The Scarlet Tanager; and in The Unseen Hand Clarence Herbert New has written a series of diplomatic adventures which rank high as fictional secret-service documents. But for all the superficial similarity between these books and the detective adventures of the official and unofficial peace-time sleuths, the secret-service narrative has played no part in the narrow and intensive process of the detective story's evolution; and in its more rigid projections it differs radically from the definite and highly specialized form of detective fiction.


This is likewise true of the crime story wherein the criminal is the hero — for example, the stories of Raffles by E.W. Hornung, and the early adventures of Maurice Leblanc's Arsène Lupin. Both in appeal and technic the detective tale and the criminal-hero tale are basically unlike. The author of the latter must, first of all, arouse the reader's sympathy by endowing his hero with humanitarian qualities (the picturesque Robin Hood is almost as well known to-day for his philanthropy as for his brigandage); and, even when this lenient attitude has been evoked, the intellectual activity exerted by the reader in an effort to solve the book's problem is minimized by the fact that all the knots in the tangled skein have been tied before his eyes by the central character. Moreover, there is absent from his quest that ethical enthusiasm which is always a stimulus to the follower of an upright detective tracking down an enemy of society — a society of which the reader is a member and therefore exposed to the dangers of anti-social plottings on the part of the criminal. The projection of oneself into the machinations of a super-criminal (such as Wyndham Martin's Anthony Trent) is a physical and adventurous emotion, whereas the cooperation extended by the reader to his favorite detective is wholly a mental process. Even Vautrin, Balzac's great criminal hero, does not inspire the reader with emotions or reactions in any sense similar to those produced by Dupin, Monsieur Lecoq, Holmes, Father Brown, or Uncle Abner. And for all the moral platitudes of Barry Pain's Constantine Dix and the inherently decent qualities of Louis Joseph Vance's Lone Wolf — both of whom had the courage to war upon society single-handed — we cannot accept them in the same spirit, or with the same sense of partnership, that we extend to the great sleuths of fiction, who have the organized police of the world at their back. The hero of detective fiction must stand outside of the plot, so to speak: his task is one of ferreting out impersonal mysteries; and he must come to his work with no more intimate relationship to the problem than is possessed by the reader himself.




The subject-matter of a detective story — that is, the devices used by the criminal and the methods of deduction resorted to by the detective — is a matter of cardinal importance. The habitual reader of the detective novel has, during the past quarter of a century, become a shrewd critic of its technic and means. He is something of an expert, and, like the motion-picture enthusiast, is thoroughly familiar with all the devices and methods of his favorite craft. He knows immediately if a story is old-fashioned, if its tricks are hackneyed, or if its approach to its problem contains elements of originality. And he judges it by its ever shifting and developing rules. Because of this perspicacious attitude on his part a stricter form and a greater ingenuity have been imposed on the writer; and the fashions and inventions of yesterday are no longer used except by the inept and uninformed author.


For example, such devices as the dog that does not bark and thereby reveals the fact that the intruder is a familiar personage (Doyle's Silver Blaze and the Baronness Orczy's The York Mystery); the establishing of the culprit's identity by dental irregularities (Freeman's The Funeral Pyre, Leblanc's Les Dents de Tigre, and Morrison's The Case of Mr. Foggatt); the finding of a distinctive cigarette or cigar at the scene of the crime (used several times in the Raffles stories, in Knox's The Three Taps, Groller's Die feinen Zigarren, and Doyle's The Boscombe Valley Mystery); the cipher message containing the crime's solution (Wynn's The Double Thirteen, Freeman's The Moabite Cipher and The Blue Scarab, and Doyle's The Adventure of the Dancing Men); the murdering — generally stabbing — of a man in a locked room after the police have broken in (Chesterton's The Wrong Shape, Zangwill's The Big Bow Mystery, and Caroline Wells's Spooky Hollow); the commission of the murder by an animal (Poe's The Murders in the Rue Morgue, Doyle's The Speckled Band and The Hound of the Baskervilles); the phonograph alibi (Freeman's Mr. Pointing's Alibi and Doyle's The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone); the shooting of a dagger from a gun or other projecting machine to avoid proximity (Freeman's The Aluminium Dagger and Phillpotts's Jig-Saw); the spiritualistic séance or ghostly apparition to frighten the culprit into a confession (McFarland's Behind the Bolted Door? and Phillpotts's A Voice from the Dark); the "psychological" word-association test for guilt (Kennedy's The Scientific Cracksman and Poate's Behind Locked Doors); the dummy figure to establish a false alibi (MacDonald's The Rasp and Doyle's The Empty House); the forged fingerprints (Freeman's The Red Thumb Mark and The Cat's Eye, and Stevenson's The Gloved Hand), — these, and a score of other devices, have now been relegated to the discard; and the author who would again employ them would nave no just claim to the affections or even the respect of his readers.


G.K. Chesterton, in his introduction to a detective story by Walter S. Masterman, gives a list of many of the devices that have now come to be regarded as antiquated. He says: "The things he [Mr. Masterman] does not do are the things being done everywhere to-day to the destruction of true detective fiction and the loss of this legitimate and delightful form of art. He does not introduce into the story a vast but invisible secret society with branches in every part of the world, with ruffians who can be brought in to do anything or underground cellars that can be used to hide anybody. He does not mar the pure and lovely outlines of a classical murder or burglary by wreathing it round and round with the dirty and dingy red tape of international diplomacy; he does not lower our lofty ideas of crime to the level of foreign politics. He does not introduce suddenly at the end somebody's brother from New Zealand, who is exactly like him. He does not trace the crime hurriedly in the last page or two to some totally insignificant character, whom we never suspected because we never remembered. He does not act over the difficulty of choosing between the hero and the villain by falling back on the hero's cabman or the villain's valet. He does not introduce a professional criminal to take the blame of a private crime; a thoroughly unsportsmanlike course of action, and another proof of how professionalism is ruining our national sense of sport. He does not introduce about six people in succession to do little bits of the same small murder, one man to bring the dagger, and another to point it, and another to stick it in properly. He does not say it was all a mistake, and that nobody ever meant to murder anybody at all, to the serious disappointment of all humane and sympathetic readers. . . ."


But, strangely enough, Mr. Masterman does something much worse and more inexcusable than any of the things Mr. Chesterton enumerates, — he traces the crime to the detective himself! Such a trick is neither new nor legitimate, and the reader feels not that he has been deceived fairly by a more skilful mind than his own, but deliberately lied to by an inferior. To a certain extent Gaston Leroux is guilty of this subterfuge in The Mystery of the Yellow Room; but here Rouletabille, and not the guilty detective, is the central nemesis; and it is the former's ingenious probing and reasoning that unmasks the culprit. A similar situation is to be found in the story called The Cat Burglar in H. C. Bailey's [Mr. Fortune, Please], and also in The Winning Clue by James Hay, Jr. In Israel Zangwill's The Big Bow Mystery the device is again used; but here it is entirely legitimate, for the situation consists of a specified and recognized battle of wits. A variation of this trick is resorted to in one of Agatha Christie's Poirot books — The Murder of Roger Ackroyd — but without any extenuating circumstances.


In this connection it should be pointed out that a certain "gentleman's agreement" has grown up between the detective-story writer and the public — the outcome of a definite development in the relationship necessary for the projection of this type of fiction. And not only has the reader a right to expect and demand fair treatment from an author along the lines tacitly laid down and according to the principles involved, but an author who uses this trust for the purpose of tricking his co-solver of a criminal problem immediately forfeits all claim to the reading public's consideration.


A word in parting should be said in regard to the primary theme of the detective novel, for herein lies one of its most important elements of interest. Crime has always exerted a profound fascination over humanity, and the more serious the crime the greater has been that appeal. Murder, therefore, has always been an absorbing public topic. The psychological reasons for this morbid and elemental curiosity need not be gone into here; but the fact itself supplies us with the explanation of why a murder mystery furnishes a far more fascinating raison d'être in a detective novel than does any lesser crime. All the best and most popular books of this type deal with mysteries involving human life. Murder would appear to give added zest to the solution of the problem, and to render the satisfaction of the solution just so much greater. The reader feels, no doubt, that his efforts have achieved something worth while — something commensurate with the amount of mental energy which a good detective novel compels him to expend.

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