The Shadows of Sherlock Holmes: detective stories

This volume is a selection of 19 short detective stories which were published before, during and after the heyday of Sherlock Holmes, roughly 1890-1910. They were chosen by David Stuart Davies who has edited lots of selections like this, as well as writing his own detective and fantasy/horror stories.

This volume allows the reader to compare and contrast Holmes with his rivals and epigones; but it’s also an opportunity to immerse oneself in the kind of prose which saturated the magazine market during these years and which is now rarely read or studied. And the volume as a whole conveys a strong sense of how quickly the market filled up with this kind of fiction and how authors experimented with every possible permutation: women detectives; French detectives; blind detectives;  Canadian outback detectives, and so on. Today’s obsession with murder and detectives is nothing new.

The Purloined Letter by Edgar Allen Poe (1844)
Poe’s legendary detective C. August Dupin solves the problem brought to him by the Prefect of Paris police. The (presumably compromising) letter has been sent to the Queen where it is spotted and purloined by an unscrupulous minister. But where has he hidden it? After a long and typically Poe-ish disquisition about the nature of the mind, Dupin abruptly reveals he has it. He purloined it from the minister, having deduced from the character of the minister, where he was likely to hide it, namely, in full view.

Poe's detective C. Auguste Dupin pinching the purloined letter from the minister

Poe’s detective C. Auguste Dupin pinching the purloined letter from the minister

The Biter Bit by Wilkie Collins (1858)
A neat comedy in letters between an experienced police superintendent, Theakstone, and his bumptious rookie, Matthew Sharpin, who takes on the case of a tin of money stolen from a bedside, and gets the case completely and hilariously wrong.

The Stolen Cigar-Case by Brett Harte (1902)
A short parody of a Sherlock Holmes story. I can see how clever it is and it made me smile but I don’t find parody satisfying.

A Princess’s Vengeance by CL Pirkis (1893)
The female detective Loveday Brooke was created by Catherine Louisa Pirkis. She is strikingly sober, rational and to the point, running rings round the – in this case – naive and silly young Major Druce who has fallen in love with his mother’s amanuensis who has gone missing! Is it a murder? No. She’s in love with the butler and has run off to get married 🙂

Read The Experiences of Loveday Brooke

Loveday Brooke concealed among the palms

Loveday Brooke concealed among the palms

The Absent-Minded Coterie by Robert Barr (1905)
This is one of a series of stories about the French detective, Eugène Valmont, rather improbably based in London. He is preternaturally clever, of course, running rings round the plods of Scotland Yard, and has a wonderful line comparing British staleness and clumsiness with his Parisian finesse. In this very much like Conan Doyle’s Brigadier Gerard. This tale is one of eight collected together as The Triumphs of Eugène Valmont along – tellingly – with a couple of Sherlock Holmes parodies.

The Swedish Match by Anton Chekhov (1884)
Disappointed that Chekhov has the same harsh, unforgiving Russian tone that I read in Bulgakov, Zamyatin, Sholokhov et al. It features detective Tchubikov and his earnest sidekick Dyukovsky in a supposedly comedic double act, but in fact they just threaten each other, harshly. 

‘You devil of a skeleton! Don’t bother me! I’ve told you a thousand times over, don’t bother me with your politics! It’s not the time for politics! And as for you ,’ he turned upon Dyukovsky and shook his fist at him, ‘as for you… I’ll never forgive it as long as I live.’

The Secrets of the Black Brotherhood by Dick Donovan (1892)
Told in the first person. It’s interesting how doing that completely dissipates the mystery and enigma which is created by a third person narrative. Dick is the name of the detective narrator and in  this one he proves the innocence of a young lady accused of stealing jewellery by showing her uncle is leader of a gang of criminals who dress in black and meet in a safe house in south London.

Tamworth was one of the most accomplished and consummate villains I ever had to deal with; his power of acting a part, and of concealing his true feelings, was simply marvellous and would have enabled him to to have made a fortune if he had gone on the stage.’

The Episode of the Diamond Links by Grant Allen (1896)
South African millionaire Sir Charles Vandrift and  his wife go on a cruise with their amanuensis, the narrator of the stories. This is told in an attractive, confident, ironic, civilisé, style. They fear they are being shadowed and guyed by a fiendish ‘sharper’, Colonel Clay who in fact succeeds in stealing Lady Vandrift’s diamonds though an elaborate ruse of claiming to need them for his cuff links (!) This is one of the 12 stories included in the An African Millionaire – Episodes in the Life of the Illustrious Colonel Clay, published in 1897 by Canadian writer. Read more on this blog.

Illustration for 'The African Millionaire' in Strand magazine

Illustration for ‘The African Millionaire’ in Strand magazine

A Clever Capture by Guy Clifford (1895)
The detective is Robert Gracemen, the trusty friend and his trust friend, and the narrator of this first person story, is Halton. By breaking the ciphered message in the personal column of a newspaper Graceman works out which house a gang of burglars working in the Thames valley is going to break into next, allowing the police to catch them. Notable for the boating holiday at Sonning the two chaps take.

Nine Points of the Law by EW Hornung (1899)
One of the eight stories about gentleman thief A. J. Raffles collected in The Amateur Cracksman the first volume of his adventures. In a gentlemanly way he breaks the law and his adventures are recounted by trusty sidekick, Bunny. In this one a cad steals the priceless painting of his uncle, as he’s in debt etc. Raffles cunningly replaces it with a fake – but then Bunny steals the fake, creating a right pickle! Hornung had the distinction of becoming Conan Doyle’s brother-in-law and he didn’t like the immoral hero of his stories.

Raffles, EW Hornung's gentleman burglar, at work

Raffles, EW Hornung’s gentleman burglar, at work

The Stir outside the Cafe Royal  (1898) by Clarence Rook
Unusually for a man, Rook made his heroine a woman, the improbably named Nora van Snoop of the new York Detective Agency. She steals a man’s cigarette case to ensure he is brought into police custody where she reveals he is a notorious murderer wanted in the States.

The Duchess of Wiltshire’s Diamonds (1897) by Guy Boothby
Boothby was an Australian novelist who created Simon Carne whose exploits appeared in a series called ‘A Prince of Swindlers’. He was a gentleman crook like Raffles and Colonel Clay. In this adventure he captures the imagination of London in disguise as the famous detective Klimo, in order to solve a crime he himself commits, the detection throwing everyone off the scent. Carne is notable for the skilled and discreet Indian servants he has with him.

The Problem of Dressing Room A by Jacques Futrelle
Futrelle created Professor SFX van Dusen, known as The Thinking Machine who works by pure logic, solving cases brought to him by a reporter, Hutchinson Hatch. In this one an actress disappears from her changing room in the middle of a performance. The Thinking Machine works out how she was abducted and leads the chase to find her before she dies. The pure rationality of the character, unsoftened by any feeling or emotion, makes for a powerful read.

The Hundred-Thousand-Dollar Robbery (1913) by Hesketh Pritchard
Pritchard created the character of November Joe, a detective from the backwoods of Canada. In this story he tracks down the bank clerk who stole the money but was himself robbed in the woods, by a lake, near a settler town.

Read the full set of November Joe: Detective of the Woods stories

November Joe gets his man

November Joe gets his man

The Surrey Cattle-Maiming Mystery (1921) by Herbert Jenkins.
Malcolm Sage is an eggheaded man of pure reason, an effective accountant in Whitehall who does such sterling work during the War his boss suggests he sets up a detective agency. His coldblooded reason is balanced by Carry On hi-jinks from his staff, secretary Gladys Norman, assistant James Thompson, office junior William Johnson, and chauffeur Arthur Tims. This is a bizarre and unsavoury tale of cattle which have been maimed and now a horse has been attacked, too. Sage ignores angry General Sir John Hackblock and lures the culprit into a trap who turns out to be the local curate, under the influence of a mania which occurs at the full moon. Article about Malcolm Sage. Though Malcolm Sage is a bad name.

The Ghost at Massingham Mansions by Ernest Bramah
Bramah created the blind detective Max Carrados, assisted by his butler Parkinson. Can’t put my finger on it but didn’t like this one.

Sexton Blake and the Time-Killer (1924) by Anonymous
Apparently over 100 authors have written adventures featuring Sexton Blake who made his debut in the Halfpenny Marvel in 1893. This is a long story, badly and sensationally written. It combines elements of Victorian Sherlock Holmes with a completely different  between-the-wars feel, in the leading presence of an American PR man talking about Prohibition and in the Indiana Jones-style fight in a low Mediterranean dive. And also the relationship between posh Sexton and his cockney sidekick Tinker, who seems little more than a boy, harks forward to the boys adventure comics of the 50s and 60s which I read.

Sexton Blake in action

Sexton Blake in action

One Possessed (1914) by EW Hornung
Having incurred he wrath of his brother-in-law Conan Doyle by creating the immensely popular gentleman burglar Raffles, Hornung scored another success, a generation later, with his Crime Doctor, Dr John Dollar. Dollar dealt with ailments of the mind at the time when Victorian alienism was turning into psychiatry.  This is by far the most affecting story in the set. Although the plot is as hammy as a Conan Doyle (or as one of Kipling’s horror stories) – colonel retired from India becomes obsessed with the cult of Thuggees to the extent of unconsciously adopting their dress and trying to strangle his staff or house guests – it is treated in a strange oblique style. Hornung uses the passive voice, elliptical references, sentences which don’t quite finish. And Dollar shows a strong sense of sad compassion for the frailty of the human condition, in short a sensitivity completely absent from almost all the other tales here.

Read the full set of Crime Doctor stories

The Great Pearl Mystery (1928) by Baroness Orczy
The Baroness is famous for creating the Scarlet Pimpernel (debuted in 1905), but she churned out numerous other stories, including a series about lawyer Patrick Mulligan whose nickname is Skin o’ My Tooth, and who goes beyond his strict lawyerly duties to help his clients. In this one he dons a disguise to go among criminals of Soho to prove that a gang of foreign waiters was working to steal the jewels from rich customers and fell out among themselves, stabbing the beautiful Madame Hypnos – thus proving his client, dashing Australian war hero Major Gilroy Straker, to be innocent.

Read the full set of Skin o’ My Tooth stories


Buy The Shadows of Sherlock Holmes on Amazon

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