Yes, I’ve *finally*, after much reading spread out over quite a time, come to the end of the “Dead Witness” collection of Victorian detective stories. It’s been great fun reading them, and certainly some of the best have been kept until the end!
The Tragedy at Brookbend Cottage by Ernest Bramah
Bramah’s story features a classic sleuth who I believe is still loved by connoisseurs, but whom I’ve only recently come across – the blind detective, Max Carrados. In fact, I found that I had a collection of tales of the latter knocking about in an old green Penguin I’ve never read, and on the evidence of this one, I’d like to read it soon! Carrados, because of his lack of sight, has other heightened senses – smell, hearing, etc – and he’s assisted by a loyal manservant, Parkinson, and his friend Carlyle, an ex-solicitor. The mystery here is in fact an attempt to stop a murder – the sister of a Lt. Hollyer has married a man older than herself, and Hollyer suspects him to have designs on the sister’s life so as to inherit her cash. The trio investigate what appears to be an ingenious plot, but tragedy ensues in a way they could not have predicted! This was an excellent, pre-Golden Age story: the central characters are engaging, the plotting clever and the story very atmospheric. Off to track down my green Penguin…
The Case of Padages Palmer by Harvey O’Higgins
A different type of adventure here, in that the story is more a hard-boiled tale, told from the point of view of a teenage detective, one Barney Cook. Barney, whose later father was a policeman, is a streetwise youngster in New York who manages to get taken on by a detective agency, run by Walter Babbing. A con-man has been rooking innocent people out of their cash and is thought to have headed for New York, and through Barney’s eyes we watch Babbing and his team tracking down and setting up the con-man. It’s an unusual and engaging way to tell the story; and Barney is a convincing and entertaining character. This is a more down-to-earth type of detection, rooted more in reality, but nonetheless very readable and great fun – I’d definitely like to track down more of O’Higgins’ tales.
An Intangible Clue by Anna Katherine Green
Last but not least, one of the big hitters in the world of detective fiction – Anna Katherine Green, author of “The Leavenworth Case”, the first proper detective novel by a woman (and one which I shamefully haven’t yet read….) “An Intangible Clue” features Green’s detective Violet Strange, a society lady dabbling in detective work to support a disinherited sister. There has been murder, of an old lady who lived in solitude in a non-residential area; no witnesses, no evidence and no apparent way to track down the perpetrator. Violet is sniffy and uninterested, thinking this kind of sordid murder beneath her, but her boss Mr. Driscoll manages to pique her curiosity enough to get her to look into the murder. Her guise as a frivolous socialite stands her in good stead when looking round the premises and she comes up with an ingenious solution – but will it help the police to track down the killer?
Green is obviously an excellent writer, and I never would have guessed the solution she came up with. And having an upper-class, fussy woman detective is great fun – it’s amusing to see her manipulating people’s expectations of her to get the information she wants. Obviously “The Leavenworth Case” is going to be worth tracking down.
So – I’ve finally got to the end of “The Dead Witness”. Reading it has been a really rewarding experience, as I’ve discovered a lot of wonderful writers I was unaware of, revisited some I knew and loved, and watched the development of the art of the detective story from its inception to its glory days. I’d highly recommend this book to anyone who adores reading mysteries, and I shall miss having it to pick up and dip into.