restricted access "Murder Will Out": The Detective in Fiction, and: Sherlock Holmes in London: A Photographic Record of Conan Doyle's Stories, and: On the Scent with Sherlock Holmes (review)
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Reviewed by
T. J. Binyon. "Murder Will Out": The Detective in Fiction. New York: Oxford UP, 1989. 174 pp. $19.95.
Charles Viney. Sherlock Holmes in London: A Photographic Record of Conan Doyle's Stories. Boston: Houghton, 1989. 168 pp. $24.95.
Walter Shepherd. On the Scent with Sherlock Holmes. Bloomington: Gaslight Publications, 1987. 85 pp. $14.95.

In "Murder Will Out," which the author describes as "an attempt at a history . . . of a type of fictional character," T. J. Binyon classifies and discusses "the fictional detective in all his guises," especially series characters. He divides detectives into three main categories: the "professional amateur"—private detectives like Holmes and Poirot; the "amateur amateur"—dilettantes like Dupin and Lord Peter Wimsey; and the "professional"—policemen like Gideon and Inspector French. He then breaks each classification down into subcategories: for example, under the "professional amateur" he places lawyers, doctors, journalists; under the "amateur amateur," academics, priests, husbands, and wives. No classification is rigid, and certain detectives may at times cross from one category to another. Binyon also includes short sections on comic detectives, fictional villains, burglars, and Robin Hood types. Moving chronologically according to the first published appearance of each fictional detective, Binyon discusses mainly the story in which a particular detective debuted, but he occasionally also notes subsequent titles. And he records authors' names, pseudonyms, and birth and death dates.

Binyon ignores many psychic detectives, such as Algernon Blackwood's John Silence and Seabury Quinn's Jules de Grandin, when he states that William Hope Hodgson's Carnacki "is unique among fictional detectives, to my knowledge, in that he concerns himself solely with occult phenomena." He never mentions the fact that E. W. Hornung (Conan Doyle's brother-in-law) meant his gentleman thief Raffles to parody Sherlock Holmes. He gives the title of the annual in which the first Holmes story was published, as "Beeton's Xmas Annual." Xmas also appears in the index. He probably abbreviated Christmas in his notes and forgot to translate it back, but this is careless work. The greatest difficulty with this book, however, arises necessarily from the fact that Binyon treats over 400 fictional detectives in less than half as many pages. Although he occasionally devotes a paragraph or two to an individual, he often moves so quickly from one detective to another that he creates only a run-through catalogue of names, titles, authors, and dates. [End Page 285]

However, when Binyon does more than list names and titles, he is perceptive. The process of classification leads naturally to comparisons of detectives and of authors, and here Binyon's remarks are insightful. He provides an interesting chart on the differences between the private detective and the private eye. A brief discussion of the problems of series is also informative. Binyon points out that Sayers' Lord Peter and Allingham's Campion both lose their flippancy as each series becomes more serious. But most series detectives remain static from their first appearance to their last, and the series becomes monotonous and may even degenerate into adventure or romance. Although not comprehensive enough to be called "a history," "Murder Will Out" is a pleasant and useful reference work for the reader who wishes to consult the opinion of a knowledgeable expert on the detective story.

Enthusiasm for Sherlock Holmes, best known of all fictional detectives, has led millions of readers to want to know more about the London of Holmes and the world of the late Victorians and Edwardians. Two recent books explore these backgrounds, one a photographic record, the second a potpourri of information. Charles Viney, in Sherlock Holmes in London, matches over 200 illustrations from photographic archives with brief passages from the Holmes stories, then pinpoints each locale precisely on the street maps at the end of the book. Photographs of buildings and streets predominate, with occasional parks, bridges, railway stations, and the river. An amazing variety of architectural design from all periods of history is jumbled together. Comparison of photographs and text shows that Doyle created a vivid mise en scene for the adventures of his detective. As Viney states in his Introduction, "Conan Doyle's masterly evocation of London...


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