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Re: Review: Huxley, Elspeth - Murder at Government House (1937)

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  • vegetableduck
    Jon, you are such a purist! You even out-Barzun Barzun here. I like the Huxleys. Did your edition have the house plan? And the footnoted clues? Curt
    Message 1 of 17 , Jun 2, 2007
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      Jon, you are such a purist! You even out-Barzun Barzun here. I like
      the Huxleys. Did your edition have the house plan? And the footnoted
      clues?

      Curt

      --- In GAdetection@yahoogroups.com, "jonpjermey" <jonjermey@...> wrote:
      >
      > Huxley, Elspeth - Murder at Government House (1937)
      >
      > Disappointing early attempt at a detective story from an author who
      > went on to succeed in less demanding fields. >
      > Jon
      >
    • Jon Jermey
      Hi Curt, House plan, yes, footnoted clues no. As I indicated, it started off quite well, but to leave the investigation in mid-flight and go off on a
      Message 2 of 17 , Jun 2, 2007
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        Hi Curt,

        House plan, yes, footnoted clues no.

        As I indicated, it started off quite well, but to leave the
        investigation in mid-flight and go off on a twenty-eight page digression
        (big pages!) with no bearing on the plot other than the disclosure of a
        riddle-clue at the very end - doesn't that show a failure to understand
        what it's all about?

        I certainly wouldn't want to claim that a book which failed as a
        detective story couldn't be entertaining. What I object to is the claim
        that because a book is entertaining, popular or written by somebody
        well-known, it must therefore be a good detective story. You only have
        to look at the attention given to Milne and EC Bentley on the basis of
        their very minor achievement in this area to realise how much people are
        influenced by the 'halo effect'.

        Regards,

        Jon.

        vegetableduck wrote:
        > Jon, you are such a purist! You even out-Barzun Barzun here. I like
        > the Huxleys. Did your edition have the house plan? And the footnoted
        > clues?
        >
        > Curt
      • vegetableduck
        Jon, you ll have to read on to Murder on Safari and Death of an Aryan/African Poison Murders and see what you think--all these books I thought offered some
        Message 3 of 17 , Jun 3, 2007
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          Jon, you'll have to read on to Murder on Safari and Death of an
          Aryan/African Poison Murders and see what you think--all these books
          I thought offered some good ratiocination to the reader, plus lots
          of intelligent local color (Huxley certainly knew her stuff here--
          some of the anthropology stuff in Government House got a bit
          tiresome, though, I'll agree). There's also some "action." But you
          know that increasingly came to be expected. Look how Crofts and
          Street get the old humdrum dismissal today. Crofts often (though
          not always) bores me I'll admit, but I have a great admiration for
          Street's work and wish he had a higher reputation today. He's a
          more significant figure in detection in my view certainly than
          Huxley, who was "slumming," but I enjoyed her books. And Barzun put
          Aryan in his top 100 for what that's worth. Haven't read these since
          the 90s (they're on my reread list), but I know Aryan had some good
          clueing (as well as animal mutilations-yuck!).

          I agree with you about the "literary factor." Better writing does
          not necessarily make for a better detective novel. Personally, I
          prefer, say, Shot at Dawn or Poison for One or even Inspector
          French's Greatest Case (it was, you know) to Gaudy Night or The
          Fashion in Shrouds, but I know a lot of critics consider it a mark
          of superior taste to favor the latter. And then there were those
          who thought it all was garbage, poor, deluded souls!

          Curt



          --- In GAdetection@yahoogroups.com, Jon Jermey <jonjermey@...> wrote:
          >
          > Hi Curt,
          >
          > House plan, yes, footnoted clues no.
          >
          > As I indicated, it started off quite well, but to leave the
          > investigation in mid-flight and go off on a twenty-eight page
          digression
          > (big pages!) with no bearing on the plot other than the disclosure
          of a
          > riddle-clue at the very end - doesn't that show a failure to
          understand
          > what it's all about?
          >
          > I certainly wouldn't want to claim that a book which failed as a
          > detective story couldn't be entertaining. What I object to is the
          claim
          > that because a book is entertaining, popular or written by
          somebody
          > well-known, it must therefore be a good detective story. You only
          have
          > to look at the attention given to Milne and EC Bentley on the
          basis of
          > their very minor achievement in this area to realise how much
          people are
          > influenced by the 'halo effect'.
          >
          > Regards,
          >
          > Jon.
          >
          > vegetableduck wrote:
          > > Jon, you are such a purist! You even out-Barzun Barzun here. I
          like
          > > the Huxleys. Did your edition have the house plan? And the
          footnoted
          > > clues?
          > >
          > > Curt
          >
        • Douglas G. Greene
          ... are ... Jon, you really mean you consider TRENT S LAST CASE to be a minor achievement ? Doug G
          Message 4 of 17 , Jun 3, 2007
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            >You only have
            > to look at the attention given to Milne and EC Bentley on the basis of
            > their very minor achievement in this area to realise how much people
            are
            > influenced by the 'halo effect'.


            Jon, you really mean you consider TRENT'S LAST CASE to be a "minor
            achievement"?

            Doug G
          • Jon Jermey
            Hi Doug, I was thinking more of what you might call Bentley s lifetime achievement - two novels and a handful of short stories - in the field. But I am not a
            Message 5 of 17 , Jun 3, 2007
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              Hi Doug,

              I was thinking more of what you might call Bentley's 'lifetime
              achievement' - two novels and a handful of short stories - in the field.
              But I am not a Bentleyphile -- either EC or Nicolas. It's a while since
              I read Trent's Last Case and - apart from the pretentious title which
              turned out to be wrong anyway - all I remember is that the detective a)
              falls in love with a suspect and b) fails to correctly solve the case.
              Neither of these innovations could be said to have a positive impact on
              the development of the GAD novel, and I suspect that if Trent's Last
              Case had been turned out in the usual course of events by, say, JS
              Fletcher, it would have been regarded as a competent but routine book.
              Bentley was lucky enough to be well-known in other fields and to have a
              coterie of articulate friends to take up his cause.

              1911 also saw the publication of The Eye of Osiris by Freeman and The
              Innocence of Father Brown by Chesterton. If I had to pick two books to
              save from the period they would come well ahead of Trent's Last Case.

              Regards,

              Jon.

              Douglas G. Greene wrote:
              >> You only have
              >> to look at the attention given to Milne and EC Bentley on the basis of
              >> their very minor achievement in this area to realise how much people
              > are
              >> influenced by the 'halo effect'.
              >
              >
              > Jon, you really mean you consider TRENT'S LAST CASE to be a "minor
              > achievement"?
              >
              > Doug G
              >
              >
            • vegetableduck
              I would say that Milne and Bentley, aside from the question of their intrinsic merit, benefitted from the Cornerstone Effect. This is with authors who had
              Message 6 of 17 , Jun 3, 2007
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                I would say that Milne and Bentley, aside from the question of their
                intrinsic merit, benefitted from the "Cornerstone Effect." This is
                with authors who had books that have long been perceived as having
                had decisive influence on the genre. They've been written about as
                cornerstones for so long, very few people--Jon excepted of course!--
                would challenge them. The same thing we see with Murder of Roger
                Ackroyd and The Cask. I feel like Crofts was able to coast
                critically on the cornerstone status of The Cask for years. Even
                when some of his later books were not that good, there's still a
                tone of deference from reviewers. This was the man who wrote The
                Cask, after all! We see this as late as Symons' Bloody Murder, when
                he crowns Crofts King of the Humdrums, when that august title
                clearly should have gone to Major Street!

                I think Nine Tailors and Gaudy Night have been cornerstoned today,
                thought the latter was very controversial at the time, dividing
                people into three camps: 1. Why can't she go back to writing good,
                plain detective stories? 2. Hurrah! She's made detective novels
                respectable literature! 3. Bah! Detective novels as literature, who
                does she think she's kidding? Seems to me Camp 2 has made a lot of
                headway the last seventy years.

                Milne and Bentley really did have a huge impact though.

                By the way, it's not Government House that has the clue references
                at the end, a la Daly King, it's Murder on Safari. Here's
                my "extensive notes" on the books:

                Murder at Government House
                7/9/95
                first rate!

                Murder on Safari
                7/17/95
                excellent, tighter than first

                Don't see my pb copy of the third one. Never read Merry Hippo.

                Curt



                --- In GAdetection@yahoogroups.com, "Douglas G. Greene"
                <dgreene@...> wrote:
                >
                > >You only have
                > > to look at the attention given to Milne and EC Bentley on the
                basis of
                > > their very minor achievement in this area to realise how much
                people
                > are
                > > influenced by the 'halo effect'.
                >
                >
                > Jon, you really mean you consider TRENT'S LAST CASE to be a "minor
                > achievement"?
                >
                > Doug G
                >
              • Christian Henriksson
                ... Well, there s also c) that the detective is just a regular human being, as opposed to all the other more or less superhuman or eccentric detectives that
                Message 7 of 17 , Jun 3, 2007
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                  Lo and behold, on 4 Jun 2007 at 7:07, Jon Jermey sayeth thus:

                  > Hi Doug,
                  >
                  > I was thinking more of what you might call Bentley's 'lifetime
                  > achievement' - two novels and a handful of short stories - in the
                  > field. But I am not a Bentleyphile -- either EC or Nicolas. It's a
                  > while since I read Trent's Last Case and - apart from the pretentious
                  > title which turned out to be wrong anyway - all I remember is that the
                  > detective a) falls in love with a suspect and b) fails to correctly
                  > solve the case. Neither of these innovations could be said to have a
                  > positive impact on the development of the GAD novel, and I suspect
                  > that if Trent's Last Case had been turned out in the usual course of
                  > events by, say, JS Fletcher, it would have been regarded as a
                  > competent but routine book.

                  Well, there's also c) that the detective is just a regular human being, as opposed to all
                  the other more or less superhuman or eccentric detectives that were ubiquitous before
                  Trent. And that might just have had a bit more impact on the field of detective fiction.

                  Christian Henriksson
                  (christian.henriksson@...)
                  --
                  The human race, to which so many of my
                  readers belong.
                  - G. K. Chesterton
                • Nicholas Fuller
                  And d) the fact that the characterisation is a lot more naturalistic and less melodramatic than Doyle or any of his imitators. (Admittedly, Mason was also
                  Message 8 of 17 , Jun 3, 2007
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                    And d) the fact that the characterisation is a lot more naturalistic and less melodramatic than Doyle or any of his imitators. (Admittedly, Mason was also responsible for introducing more believable / deeper characterisation to the genre.)

                    Oh, and e) the fact that it inspired Lament for a Maker!

                    Christian Henriksson <christian.henriksson@...> wrote:
                    Lo and behold, on 4 Jun 2007 at 7:07, Jon Jermey sayeth thus:

                    > Hi Doug,
                    >
                    > I was thinking more of what you might call Bentley's 'lifetime
                    > achievement' - two novels and a handful of short stories - in the
                    > field. But I am not a Bentleyphile -- either EC or Nicolas. It's a
                    > while since I read Trent's Last Case and - apart from the pretentious
                    > title which turned out to be wrong anyway - all I remember is that the
                    > detective a) falls in love with a suspect and b) fails to correctly
                    > solve the case. Neither of these innovations could be said to have a
                    > positive impact on the development of the GAD novel, and I suspect
                    > that if Trent's Last Case had been turned out in the usual course of
                    > events by, say, JS Fletcher, it would have been regarded as a
                    > competent but routine book.

                    Well, there's also c) that the detective is just a regular human being, as opposed to all
                    the other more or less superhuman or eccentric detectives that were ubiquitous before
                    Trent. And that might just have had a bit more impact on the field of detective fiction.

                    Christian Henriksson
                    (christian.henriksson@...)
                    --
                    The human race, to which so many of my
                    readers belong.
                    - G. K. Chesterton






                    "Six hours in the spiritual abyss, and all because I never thought of the dentist! Such a simple, such a beautiful and peaceful thought! Friends, we have passed a night in hell; but now the sun is risen, the birds are singing, and the radiant form of the dentist consoles the world."
                    --GK Chesterton, 'The Honour of Israel Gow'


                    ---------------------------------
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                  • Xavier Lechard
                    Jon Jermey wrote:
                    Message 9 of 17 , Jun 4, 2007
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                      Jon Jermey wrote:

                      <<I was thinking more of what you might call Bentley's 'lifetime
                      achievement' - two novels and a handful of short stories - in the field.
                      But I am not a Bentleyphile -- either EC or Nicolas. It's a while since
                      I read Trent's Last Case and - apart from the pretentious title which
                      turned out to be wrong anyway - all I remember is that the detective a)
                      falls in love with a suspect and b) fails to correctly solve the case.
                      Neither of these innovations could be said to have a positive impact on
                      the development of the GAD novel, and I suspect that if Trent's Last
                      Case had been turned out in the usual course of events by, say, JS
                      Fletcher, it would have been regarded as a competent but routine book.
                      Bentley was lucky enough to be well-known in other fields and to have a
                      coterie of articulate friends to take up his cause.>>

                      With all due respect to JS Fletcher, I don't think he'd been able to write
                      Trent's Last Case - actually, I don't think he'd ever been able to think of
                      such a book. Like it or not, Trent's Last Case was a paradigm shift at the
                      time and a welcome one in my opinion. Not being a purist, I have nothing
                      against detectives falling in love and/or misinterpreting the clues; the
                      detective novel and the mystery genre as a whole wouldn't have gotten very
                      far had it to rely only on infallible eccentric superminds a la Thinking
                      Machine. Lord Peter never meeting Harriet Vane or Ellery Queen never making
                      a single mistake would make detective fiction a lot less fun, to this reader
                      at least.

                      <<1911 also saw the publication of The Eye of Osiris by Freeman and The
                      Innocence of Father Brown by Chesterton. If I had to pick two books to
                      save from the period they would come well ahead of Trent's Last Case.>>

                      It's funny that you should mention The Eye of Osiris as the place given to
                      the love story and the depth of the characterization always struck me as a
                      great departure from detective fiction such as it was practicised at the
                      time, much like Trent's Last Case in a less "flashy" way. Same goes for The
                      Innocence in its own special fashion: there is a whole world between
                      Sherlock and Father J. Brown both as characters and as sleuths.

                      Friendly,
                      Xavier
                    • luis molina
                      ... handful of short stories. A while since I read Trent s Last Case and all I remember is that the detective a) falls in love with a suspect and b)fails to
                      Message 10 of 17 , Jun 4, 2007
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                        > I was thinking more of what you might call
                        > Bentley's 'lifetime achievement' - two novels and a
                        handful of short stories. A while since I read Trent's
                        Last Case and all I remember is that the detective
                        a) falls in love with a suspect and b)fails to
                        correctly solve the case. Neither of these innovations
                        could be said to have a positive impact on the
                        development of the GAD novel.

                        THEN WHAT WOULD THE GROUP SAY THAT IS THE GREAT
                        CONTRIBUTION TO GAD?



                        ____________________________________________________________________________________
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                      • Jon Jermey
                        I don t want to attack Trent s Last Case too much -- as I said, I haven t read it for a while -- but I do have a couple of queries: a) If it was influential,
                        Message 11 of 17 , Jun 4, 2007
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                          I don't want to attack Trent's Last Case too much -- as I said, I
                          haven't read it for a while -- but I do have a couple of queries:

                          a) If it was influential, where are the books it influenced? TLC came
                          out in 1911 so there were at least three years before WWI in which
                          writers could have jumped on the same bandwagon and adopted 'natural'
                          characters. I'm not saying they didn't; but as far as I know the next
                          'naturalistic' detectives didn't appear until the early 1920s.
                          Counter-examples, anyone?

                          b) What was the public's response at the time? I would have thought that
                          if it was a thumping success Bentley himself would have gone on to write
                          more in the genre - as he did much later on. Was it perhaps a success
                          d'estime that didn't translate into royalties? (Since Van Dine's name
                          has come up, remember that The Benson Murder Case was THE best-selling
                          novel of the year in the US in any category, stereotyped characters and
                          all.)

                          In general I'm sceptical about appeals to 'realism' or 'naturalism' in
                          this sort of context. A real private detective is a paunchy middle-aged
                          man eating takeaway food in a car while he waits four hours to take a
                          photo of someone coming out of a hotel. Trent is -- from memory -- a
                          jobless aristocrat who is fawned over by the local police when he
                          condescends to interest himself in a murder case.

                          Arguing about the 'realism' of a fictional detective is like arguing
                          about the realism of a unicorn. Your one-horned unicorn may be more like
                          the popular idea of a unicorn than my two-horned version, but that
                          doesn't make it any more real.

                          Perhaps a TLC fan would like to write an appreciation of it for the Wiki?

                          Jon.


                          Christian Henriksson wrote:
                          >
                          > Well, there's also c) that the detective is just a regular human being, as opposed to all
                          > the other more or less superhuman or eccentric detectives that were ubiquitous before
                          > Trent. And that might just have had a bit more impact on the field of detective fiction.
                          >
                        • Douglas G. Greene
                          Jon wrote ... It actually appeared in 1913, not 1911. Then came the war, then Bailey, Christie, Sayers, Milne and others who, like Bentley, saw the mystery
                          Message 12 of 17 , Jun 4, 2007
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                            Jon wrote

                            > a) If it was influential, where are the books it influenced? TLC came
                            > out in 1911 so there were at least three years before WWI in which
                            > writers could have jumped on the same bandwagon and adopted 'natural'
                            > characters. I'm not saying they didn't; but as far as I know the next
                            > 'naturalistic' detectives didn't appear until the early 1920s.
                            > Counter-examples, anyone?

                            It actually appeared in 1913, not 1911. Then came the war, then
                            Bailey, Christie, Sayers, Milne and others who, like Bentley, saw the
                            mystery novel as a Comedy of Manners. Read Bentley, then an early
                            work by any of the others, and you can see the connection.

                            Most of Bentley's contributions have already been mentioned, but I
                            should add that he was the first to make popular the GAD trick of the
                            false solution by the true one -- or in this case, 2 false solutions.
                            Queen did it over and over, especially in GREEK COFFIN with its 5 (I
                            think) solutions -- and Berkeley in POISONED CHOCOLATES with its 6 or 7.

                            > b) What was the public's response at the time? I would have thought
                            that
                            > if it was a thumping success Bentley himself would have gone on to
                            write
                            > more in the genre - as he did much later on.
                            >

                            Again, the war intervened, but he did write several Trent short
                            stories for THE STRAND to follow-up. TRENT'S LAST CASE itself went
                            through edition after edition -- at least 3 in England in 1913,
                            perhaps more. Just a quick check reveals reprints through 1929 -- and
                            of course to the present.

                            > Trent is -- from memory -- a
                            > jobless aristocrat who is fawned over by the local police when he
                            > condescends to interest himself in a murder case.

                            No, he is an artist who is also a newspaperman. Certainly
                            well-educated, but not of the Wimsey-like upper-crust.

                            Doug G
                          • vegetableduck
                            ... the ... the ... solutions. ... (I ... or 7. ... Yes, I think the double-barreled surprise element is very important in the book s success. Honest
                            Message 13 of 17 , Jun 4, 2007
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                              --- In GAdetection@yahoogroups.com, "Douglas G. Greene"
                              <dgreene@...> wrote:
                              >
                              > It actually appeared in 1913, not 1911. Then came the war, then
                              > Bailey, Christie, Sayers, Milne and others who, like Bentley, saw
                              the
                              > mystery novel as a Comedy of Manners. Read Bentley, then an early
                              > work by any of the others, and you can see the connection.
                              >
                              > Most of Bentley's contributions have already been mentioned, but I
                              > should add that he was the first to make popular the GAD trick of
                              the
                              > false solution by the true one -- or in this case, 2 false
                              solutions.
                              > Queen did it over and over, especially in GREEK COFFIN with its 5
                              (I
                              > think) solutions -- and Berkeley in POISONED CHOCOLATES with its 6
                              or 7.
                              >


                              Yes, I think the double-barreled surprise element is very important
                              in the book's success. Honest detection is a valued quality for
                              readers, but so is a thumping big surprise. This was something the
                              Crofts-Street school tended to get criticized for lacking.

                              The writing is very important too. By the late twenties, at least,
                              TLC had been "cornerstoned." H. Douglas Thomson in Masters of
                              Mystery puts Bentley as a writer in the class of Poe, Doyle and
                              Chesterton. He also credits him with successfully employing
                              naturalistic character study.




                              > > b) What was the public's response at the time? I would have
                              thought
                              > that
                              > > if it was a thumping success Bentley himself would have gone on
                              to
                              > write
                              > > more in the genre - as he did much later on.
                              > >
                              >
                              > Again, the war intervened, but he did write several Trent short
                              > stories for THE STRAND to follow-up. TRENT'S LAST CASE itself went
                              > through edition after edition -- at least 3 in England in 1913,
                              > perhaps more. Just a quick check reveals reprints through 1929 --
                              and
                              > of course to the present.



                              Sayers says it went through four editions in five months. It was
                              reprinted for decades. When Trent's Own Case appeared, it was
                              treated (indulgently?) as a great event by reviewers, like the
                              publication of a new Father Brown collection by Chesterton.

                              Bentley was successful in other fields, just like A. A. Milne.
                              Should we ask why Milne didn't launch a detective series? How about

                              The Blue Bungalow Mystery
                              The Green Mansion Mystery
                              The Purple Palace Mystery
                              The Yellow Flat Mystery

                              >


                              > > Trent is -- from memory -- a
                              > > jobless aristocrat who is fawned over by the local police when
                              he
                              > > condescends to interest himself in a murder case.
                              >
                              > No, he is an artist who is also a newspaperman. Certainly
                              > well-educated, but not of the Wimsey-like upper-crust.
                              >
                              > Doug G



                              And I think the example of Trent did influence later detectives!


                              CJE
                            • vegetableduck
                              ... No, he is an artist who is also a newspaperman. Certainly ... (addendum) For good or ill, let the reader decide! Look how he talks: How are you, my best
                              Message 14 of 17 , Jun 4, 2007
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                                --- In GAdetection@yahoogroups.com, "vegetableduck" <cjevans@...>
                                wrote:
                                >
                                > --- In GAdetection@yahoogroups.com, "Douglas G. Greene"
                                > <dgreene@> wrote:
                                >

                                > > Trent is -- from memory -- a
                                > > > jobless aristocrat who is fawned over by the local police when
                                > he
                                > > > condescends to interest himself in a murder case.
                                > >
                                > >


                                No, he is an artist who is also a newspaperman. Certainly
                                > > well-educated, but not of the Wimsey-like upper-crust.
                                > >
                                > > Doug G
                                >
                                >
                                >
                                > And I think the example of Trent did influence later detectives!

                                (addendum)

                                For good or ill, let the reader decide! Look how he talks:

                                "How are you, my best of friends? And why are you here? Why sit'st
                                thou by that ruined breakfast? Dost thou its former pride recall,
                                or ponder how it passed away?"

                                or

                                "The train for me. I am quite fond of railway travelling, you
                                know. I have a gift for it. I am the stoker and the stoked. I am
                                the song the porter sings."
                                >
                                >
                                > CJE
                                >
                              • Xavier Lechard
                                Jon Jermey wrote:
                                Message 15 of 17 , Jun 5, 2007
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                                  Jon Jermey wrote:

                                  <<a) If it was influential, where are the books it influenced? TLC came
                                  out in 1911 so there were at least three years before WWI in which
                                  writers could have jumped on the same bandwagon and adopted 'natural'
                                  characters. I'm not saying they didn't; but as far as I know the next
                                  'naturalistic' detectives didn't appear until the early 1920s.
                                  Counter-examples, anyone?>>

                                  A work may be influential on the long run even though it generates little or
                                  no heat on its first release. Think of The Velvet Underground or, more to
                                  the point, The Murders in the Rue Morgue. The latter sure had a decisive
                                  influence on the growth of the genre - some would say it started it all -
                                  and yet it took almost decades for people to notice a new form was born and
                                  for authors to realize its potential. I guess the same goes for Bentley and
                                  TLC. Also, WWI and the changes it brought in many fields helped undermine
                                  the Victorian/Edwardian supermind and pave the way for (relatively) more
                                  "naturalistic" detectives.

                                  <<b) What was the public's response at the time? I would have thought that
                                  if it was a thumping success Bentley himself would have gone on to write
                                  more in the genre - as he did much later on. Was it perhaps a success
                                  d'estime that didn't translate into royalties? (Since Van Dine's name
                                  has come up, remember that The Benson Murder Case was THE best-selling
                                  novel of the year in the US in any category, stereotyped characters and
                                  all.)>>

                                  To Kill A Mockingbird sure was a commercial as well as a critical success
                                  and yet Harper Lee never wrote anything else. I don't know whether TLC was a
                                  hit - I don't think so, as it clearly and deliberately ran against popular
                                  taste of the time - but Bentley may simply have though he had said all that
                                  he wanted to say and thus kept himself satisfied with that, at least for the
                                  next twenty years. Also, one has to remember that some of the most important
                                  and most significant of early mystery fiction was written by authors with no
                                  formal ties to the genre whose incursion often proved to be a one-shot, no
                                  matter how successful it was. Bentley fits in that mold. Now Van Dine may
                                  have enjoyed a greater success yet he was clearly derivative, not creative,
                                  and that may account for Benson being a best-seller which is otherwise
                                  puzzling to a modern reader.

                                  <<In general I'm sceptical about appeals to 'realism' or 'naturalism' in
                                  this sort of context. A real private detective is a paunchy middle-aged
                                  man eating takeaway food in a car while he waits four hours to take a
                                  photo of someone coming out of a hotel. Trent is -- from memory -- a
                                  jobless aristocrat who is fawned over by the local police when he
                                  condescends to interest himself in a murder case.

                                  Arguing about the 'realism' of a fictional detective is like arguing
                                  about the realism of a unicorn. Your one-horned unicorn may be more like
                                  the popular idea of a unicorn than my two-horned version, but that
                                  doesn't make it any more real.>>

                                  I have always thought that absolute realism in impossible in crime fiction,
                                  no matter the sub-genre. Even Ed McBain's 87th District is pipe-dream to
                                  some extent. Still, it is possible to give crime fiction a realistic
                                  *polish*, by making characters closer to the reader's everyday experience
                                  for instance. Trent's aristocratic background sure made him less of a
                                  realistic sleuth than, say, the Continental Op, but his fallibility and
                                  sentimentaly made him much more "human" than The Thinking Machine or
                                  Monsieur Lecoq. I have often ranted against contemporary mystery fiction and
                                  its angst-ridden protagonists and Trent sure paved the way for them. Still,
                                  I think Bentley did something laudable - I would say, vital - by providing
                                  an alternative to the know-it-all, see-it-hall, never-wrong detective.

                                  Friendly,
                                  Xavier
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