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The 1938 Club : Trent Reaches the End!

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Trent Intervenes by E.C. Bentley

When I started looking around for books to read for the 1938 Club, little did I realise that one of my Christmas gifts from last year would fit in nicely! But as it turned out, the final volume of crime stories from E.C. Bentley, “Trent Intervenes”, was published in that very year – so there was no question but that it would be my next read for the Club!

trent intervenes

I’m still ruing the fact that Bentley only produced three volumes featuring Philip Trent, as they’re such wonderful, classic crime reads. This last book is a collection of twelve short stories and a fine array they are. I wondered initially whether they would follow on from the second story, “Trent’s Own Case”, but it seems that these are actually set in the time before “Trent’s Last Case”, when our detective was attached to the Record newspaper as an occasional correspondent, which gave him the chance to exercise his little grey cells. And much like Trent Investigates, there is little sense of the contemporary events of 1938 with Trent investigating in settings untouched by the upcoming conflict.

I thought I was going to hear you say that (X) had made dishonourable proposals to you, or that he drinks laudanum, or that he has a private delusion that he is a weasel.

However, that really doesn’t matter, as these are quite wonderful stories; pure escapism, and each cleverly written and containing enough twists to keep the average Golden Age crime fan very happy! The subject matter is varied too, with Bentley not sticking to only murder mysteries – there are tales of revenge, fraud, assault, disappearance and mysterious marks on furniture that lead to so much more! Each is a shining gem of storytelling, and the writing is so good that I once again found myself wishing that Bentley had given us more of Philip Trent and his “reputation as an unraveller”. Bentley’s also a very witty writer, and I was chuckling at several points during the book; for example, of a missing millionaire’s rough tweed hat, he says that “After a day and a half in salt water, it still had an aroma of Highland Sheep”.

All in all, this book was a delight to read, and I devoured it almost in one sitting – while telling myself all the time to slow down, because once I’d read it there was no more Trent to come! However, I’ve loved reading these books so much that I can tell I’ll return to them. The best of Golden Age crime is the books and detectives you can read over and over, and E.C. Bentley’s Philip Trent stories certainly fall into that category. My first full length foray into 1938 has been a winner – let’s hope the rest of my reads are up to this standard!

Witty Words

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The Complete Clerihews by E.C. Bentley

One of the joys of last Christmas was being presented with a set of E.C. Bentley’s classic “Trent” crime books by OH; he only wrote three, and the two I’ve read so far have been absolutely marvellous. However, there was a 4th Bentley volume in the form of “The Complete Clerihews”; a collection of short, snappy rhymes named after their inventor, Edmund Clerihew Bentley himself!

complete clerihews

The Wikipedia definition of the Clerihew is “a whimsical, four-line biographical poem invented by Edmund Clerihew Bentley. The first line is the name of the poem’s subject, usually a famous person put in an absurd light. The rhyme scheme is AABB, and the rhymes are often forced.” The introduction of the book goes into some detail as to what attempts by others can really be called Clerihews, and which ones fall by the wayside. They’re very, very funny, of course, and rather than spend time going on about them, I thought I would reproduce a few of my favourites here for you to enjoy – well worth a moment of anyone’s time! 🙂

goeringAs you can see, each Clerihew comes with an illustration, from a variety of sources (including Bentley’s son Nicholas) – and even some from G.K. Chesterton!

e a poe(Poe has gone a little lopsided, sorry – it’s not like that in the book!)

bev nOne of my favourites is, of course, the Beverley Nichols one – I think it captures him quite well, despite being a back view!

… in which Philip Trent makes a grand return!

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Trent’s Own Case by E.C. Bentley and H. Warner Allen

One of the joys of my Christmas bookish gifts this year was a complete set of the Trent books by E.C. Bentley – not that that’s a huge collection, as he only wrote three! I reviewed the first, the seminal and very wonderful, “Trent’s Last Case”, here, and I loved this so much that I didn’t think it would be long till I got onto the second…

trents own

Fascinatingly enough, there’s quite a long gap between the first and the second of Trent’s adventures – “Last” was published in 1913 and “Own” didn’t appear until 1936. Bearing in mind the success of Bentley’s initial foray into detective fiction it *is* a little odd that he didn’t do more – but maybe he was just happy with the ones he wrote!

We are some years on from the events of “Last”, although the timing is kept vague and to be honest, there’s no real hint of the world being in the complex decade of the 1930s, with all that was going on in Europe at the time. Philip Trent is now married to Mabel, his beloved from the first book, and they have a small son. Conveniently, his family is away at his home in the Cotswolds and Trent is up in town doing a portrait of James Randolph, a rich philanthropist. Unfortunately, the millionaire is discovered murdered, and one of Trent’s friends is on the run as a suspect. However, the case is not so straightforward as it seems; and Inspector Bligh of the Yard, an old friend of Trent’s, is bothered by some peculiar aspects. Mix in a missing actress, an unpleasant playwright, a dodgy manservant, tons of blackmail, lots of red herrings and a mysterious champagne cork, and you have the ingredients for a cracking murder mystery!

One of the things I loved about Bentley’s books is the cleverness of the writing and plotting; this is a convoluted and complex story, with a number of different strands, false paths and twisty turns. Yet it reads brilliantly and it all comes together brilliantly at the end, making perfect sense. With “Last” I had no idea until the very end who had done it; but I have to confess that with this one I *did* work out who and how (but not quite why) fairly early in.

bentley drawing

However, this didn’t spoil the enjoyment of reading the book; because it’s not only an excellent mystery, it’s also an excellent novel. Trent is a wonderfully engaging character, and the supporting cast are brilliantly portrayed too. Bentley is very good at letting a person’s true nature be gradually revealed, until we find out they’re really not the nice type we thought they were.

It happened in the courses of a long tramp in France with which Trent was refreshing his spirit after a long spell of work extending through a breathless London summer. It was now mid-September, and for a fortnight he had carried his nap sack through Lorraine and Burgundy, keeping up our national reputation for lunacy by marching long distances without being compelled to do so, avoiding cities, and halting for food and sleep at small country inns where an Englishman was as unfamiliar a sight as a crocodile.

Another lovely element is the range of the story; Bentley doesn’t just stick to one location (e.g. London), but instead has his characters roaming wide and free, from France to the Cotswolds, the boat train to the continent and back again. The denouement was very satisfying and Trent’s method of trapping his murdered was ingenious.

All in all, “Trent’s Own Case” was a great Golden-Age read, and I’d highly recommend it for any fan of the genre. As for why it’s the detective’s ‘own’ case? Well, that would be giving away too much – you’ll just have to read it for yourself to find out…. 🙂

*******

As an intriguing aside, it’s interesting to note that H. Warner Allen wrote detective stories of his own, featuring a wine-expert-sleuth called Mr. Clerihew, apparently named for his friend Edmund Clerihew Bentley – and that wine expert makes an appearance in “Trent’s Own Case” to advise on the subject of champagne! 🙂

Seminal Golden Age Crime

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Trent’s Last Case by E.C. Bentley

If you’re a long-term reader like me, you probably have lists of titles you meant to read, you should read, you’d like to read, you think you’ve read but you want to read again, and so on. “Trent’s Last Case” is one of those titles, and it’s been on my radar for ages. It’s a pivotal book in the development of the Golden Age crime novel; published in 1913, it marked the transition from the more serious Victorian detective story (as exemplified by Holmes and his ilk), to the Golden Age tales, lighter in tone and often frivolous, although still with a core of steel. It’s a book I’ve wanted to read for a *long* time (in fact, I thought I might have read it once, but recognised nothing at all when I *did* read it) so being presented with a copy by OH at Christmas (and a first edition at that!) was a real delight.

trent 1st

“Trent’s Last Case” is in fact the first case we encounter him in and author E.C. Bentley wrote the book for his friend G.K. Chesterton (as is made clear in the dedication). Bentley had been very taken by his friend’s book “The Man Who Was Thursday” and had promised a detective story in return. The book opens with the murder of American tycoon Sigsbee Manderson, who has a country house in England (yay! classic country house setting!) As Manderson was not a pleasant person (what tycoon is?) there don’t seem to be too many people mourning him, but the markets are of course wobbly as a result! Enter Philip Trent, artist and amateur detective. We learn in back story that he’s investigated a number of mysteries on behalf of Lord Molloy, another tycoon (this time in the newspaper business), and he’s sent off to the country to look into the murder. There are peculiarities – Manderson was found fully dressed in the garden shot in the eye, fully dressed but missing his false teeth; his secretary Marlowe was sent off to Southampton on a strange wild goose chase on the night of the murder; and Manderson and his wife had seemed estranged in the time leading up to his death.

Fortunately, Trent’s reputation precedes him and so he’s allowed access to all areas. In addition, the Scotland Yard man on the scene, Murch, is an old colleague; and Mrs. Manderson’s uncle is an old friend of Trent’s. We’re treated to some lovely detection – footprints, alibi checking, fingerprints, cross-examining the servants – until Trent comes to a conclusion which he doesn’t actually want to reach…

To say too much about the book would spoil the joy of reading it, and it *is* a great joy. It’s wonderful written, very engaging and Trent is a fabulous character. This is no flimsy tale of mystery, but a substantial story, not only of murder and deceit, but also of love and emotions. Trent is smitten and after drawing his conclusions leaves the scene, only to return later and try to finally sort matters out. He’s a fallible hero, setting the pattern for later detectives (and I must admit that Wimsey sprang to mind more than once). Bentley plays with the reader wonderfully, and there are twists a-plenty, almost up to the last page.

bentley

“Trent’s Last Case” deserves all the accolades it’s received. It’s an absolutely engrossing read, one of those unputdownables that you almost want to read in one sitting because it’s so good and you want to find out what happens. Bentley went on to produce only two more Trent books (which are nestling nicely on Mount TBR!) and I’m really looking forward to reading them and finding out how Trent’s life progressed. If you have any love of Golden Age crime, this is an essential read – and if I gave star ratings this would definitely get a 10/10!

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