restricted access Recent Detective Fiction. An omnibus review of sixteen detective novels and of Problems of Modern American Crime, by Veronica and Paul King
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[ 105 Recent Detective Fiction1 An omnibus review of sixteen detective novels and of Problems of Modern American Crime. The Benson Murder Case, by S. S. Van Dine London: Benn, 1926. Pp. 346. The Crime at Diana’s Pool, by Victor L. Whitechurch London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1927. Pp. 296. The Three Taps, by Ronald A. Knox London: Methuen, 1927. Pp. 248. The Verdict of You All, by Henry Wade London: Constable, 1926. Pp. 254. The Venetian Key, by Allen Upward London: Faber & Gwyer, 1927. Pp. 319. Mr. Fortune Please, by H. C. Bailey London: Methuen, 1927. Pp. 236. The Colfax Book-Plate, by Agnes Miller London: Benn, 1927. Pp. 312. The Clue in the Glass, by W. B. M. Ferguson London: Jenkins, 1927. Pp. 312. The Mortover Grange Mystery, by J. S. Fletcher London: Jenkins, 1926. Pp. 312. The Green Rope, by J. S. Fletcher London: Jenkins, 1927. Pp. 312. 1927 106 ] The Mellbridge Mystery, by Arthur O. Cooke London: Arnold, 1926. Pp. 311. The Cathra Mystery, by Adam Gordon Macleod London: Harrap, 1926. Pp. 302. The Devil’s Tower, by Oliver Ainsworth London: Faber & Gwyer, 1927. Pp. 306. The Spider’s Den, by Harrington Strong London: Hutchinson, 1926. Pp. 252. Four Knocks on the Door, by John Paul Seabrooke London: Jarrolds, 1927. Pp. 245. Murder for Profit, by William Bolitho London: Cape, 1926. Pp. 320. Problems of Modern American Crime, by Veronica and Paul King London: Heath Cranton, 1926. Pp. 284. The Monthly Criterion: A Literary Review, 5 (June 1927) 359-62 The list above does not approach completeness with respect to the detective fiction of the last few months; but as in this time there has been nothing by either Mr. Freeman2 * or Mr. Crofts,3 who seem to be our two most accomplished detective writers, I believe the list to be fairly representative. It is like my previous list, arranged roughly in what I believe to be the order of merit with two exceptions.4 The two books at the end of the list are placed there because they deal with fact instead of fiction. And I have found it necessary to discriminate between books which are detective fiction proper and those which may better be termed mystery stories. The Cathra Mystery and the novels which follow it are mystery stories. The distinction can be drawn clearly, although in practice we must classify the [ 107 Recent Detective Fiction novels according to the predominance of one element or the other. In the detective story nothing should happen: the crime has already been committed , and the rest of the tale consists of the collection, selection and combination of evidence. In a mystery tale the reader is led from fresh adventure to fresh adventure. In practice, of course, most detective stories contain a few events,butthesearesubordinate,and theinterestliesintheinvestigation.The Cathra Mystery is a capital mystery story with some detective interest; The Devil’sTowerisaverygoodmysterystorywithlessdetectiveinterest;The Spider’s Den is almost hilariously a pure thriller. Its hero is a criminal occupied inoutwittingothercriminals;wereitbetterconstructedIshouldgiveitahigh place, but even as it is one’s interest can be described as breathless. One would not suppose from the veracious reports of actual crimes, contained in Problems of Modern American Crime, that detective fiction could flourish on American soil. It is true that the most remarkable of the crimes chronicled in this book were committed within the neighbourhood of Los Angeles, and inhabitants of other parts of America may complain that the crimes of Los Angeles and Chicago have something particular about them. But in most of these crimes there is very little room for detective ability . A murder is committed in full view of several witnesses, and the rest of the story may be concerned solely with the process by which the murderer is triumphantly acquitted. According to this book the only persons connected with the detection or punishment of crime in America who acquire any merit arethegaolguards,whosometimesbehavewithremarkableheroismin quelling the mutinies and insurrections of the prisoners. Interesting the book is, but it is evidence that real crime has very little to do with crime in fiction. Nor do Mr. Bolitho’s four great crimes help us very much in the department of literary criticism.5 They are remarkable crimes, and they make interesting reading, especially as Mr. Bolitho has a copious vocabulary and a gusto of style which he ought to apply to political invective. InspiteofthepeculiaritiesofAmericancrime,andofthewholeAmerican criminal system, the best of this group of detective stories is an American story. The Benson Murder Case is extremely well...