The Tuesday Night Bloggers — an autonomous collective of GAD bloggers who unite around a common theme — have returned! To tie in with the release of The 100 Greatest Literary Detectives in a few weeks, a compendium to which our very own Kate Jackson has contributed an entry, everyone is picking and writing about their own favourite sleuths this month.
I say “everyone”, but I mean “everyone except me”, mainly because I’m very busy at present, and so I’m on archivist duty, collecting the links here so that the curious amongst you may use this as a hub for navigating the various posts that are put up each week. And so, to murder…
For his third outing, The Mystery Of The Peacock’s Eye, Bathurst is approached by the Crown Prince of Clorania to sort out a little blackmail problem that, shall we say, snowballs into murder and mayhem. It isn’t revealed how the Prince knows Bathurst – when contemplating the letter arranging the appointment, the only referees he considers are the aforementioned Goodall and Baddeley – but Bathurst does reveal that he is not a private investigator (almost immediately after saying that he will “take the case”).
At Clothes in Books, Moira gave us a sweep through Marriageable Single Women Detectives, and interesting idea when you consider how many committed bachelors and spinsters scatter the pages of GAD (mind you, we saw what marriage did to Jonathan Creek, so…). And, in considering Miss Lucy Pym, Moira raises the excellent point that to be a Great Detective one needn’t necessarily be a great detective:
Miss Pym is an immensely memorable detective. Mind you, we also know from the book that she is a very bad detective – ‘What did she know about psychology anyhow? As a psychologist she was a first-rate teacher of French.’
At CrossExaminingCrime, Kate expanded upon this theme with a rundown of some spinter sleuths. Her three selections cover a broad range of both eras and capabilities, and while I personally abominate Galdy Mitchell’s Mrs. Bradley it’s difficult to disagree that the Spinter-as-Detective did challenege a lot of the accepted norms of how women were viewed:
Unsurprisingly many of the age stereotypes for older women are far from positive. Phrases such as outmoded, weak and frail (physically and mentally), mad, prudish, unworldly, gossipy and interfering, as well as suggestions that they no longer possess a function in society, can all too easily abound – and I wouldn’t say this is an issue which has disappeared with time.
Onwards to Noah, who looks at one of my favourite authors in his examination of the Cool & Lam and Perry Mason books of Erle Stanley Gardner. First we get the exciting news of an imminent biography of Gardner — sign me up! — and then an acknowledgement of part of the character of Mason that often finds its way into the make-up of the best detectives:
At one point in The Case of the Caretaker’s Cat (1935) Burger says, “You’re a better detective than you are a lawyer. When you turn your mind to the solution of a crime, you ferret out the truth.” This is true, although at times Mason is excellent at pulling legal tricks out of his sleeve to confound his opposition.
Cool & Lam, similarly a large part of Gardner’s output, are also as prone to formula trappings as the rest of their GAD brethren, though I think we’ll all acknowledge that this is no necessarily bad thing:
Over their 30 outings together, Bertha is the muscle and Donald is the brains. Bertha controls the purse strings but soon realizes that she makes more money with Donald than without him — she takes him into partnership and he’s constantly driving her crazy, especially by spending money to make things happen when she prefers to pinch every penny, but she begrudgingly admits he gets the job done and makes them both money.
Brad clearly didn’t get the memo that I’ll be the one to provide the links roundup, thankyouverymuch, and then shocked — shocked! — all if us by writing about Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot. Here we see the genius detective trappings in full swing, and it’s difficult to disagree with the summation of what makes the little Belgian so darn appealing in how fully he encapsulates the GAD idiom:
He can grasp the significance of a chair moved from its correct position in a man’s study; figure out to which woman an initialed ladies handkerchief belongs despite the wealth of ladies with the same initial; grasp the motive for the poisoning of a beloved cleric; identify a murderer immediately after examining the passengers’ luggage…
‘Passing Tramp’ and genre historian Curtis Evans gave us Ngaio Marsh’s Roderick Alleyn, a beacon of professional competence amidst the sea of amateurs who suddenly cropped up all over the place during the GAD renaissance:
Just as Rex Stout is credited with fusing the classical and hard-boiled traditions in the US with the teaming of master armchair brain Nero Wolfe and his wisecracking assistant Archie Godwin, Ngaio Marsh has been credited with melding the gentleman detective and policeman strains in British detective fiction in the attractive form of posher-than-thou Roderick Alleyn. I have seen Marsh even credited with creating the first important Golden Age policeman detective.
And Bev continued the professional theme when she brought two medicos into the equation — sure, these detectives are still amateur detectives, but at least they’re gainfully employed…and they are so good that they can do two jobs better than most people do one:
The nurse’s eagle eyes, strong nerves, and knowledge of human nature all serve her well in spotting the clues that lead O’Leary to the solution of the murder. Without her assistance, Matil would never know which of the “friends” gathered at the hunting lodge had killed her father…and would be responsible for another death as well.
Selby and Rex Brandon, straightforward and good-natured sheriff, fight their way through unusual cases and apply old-fashioned police methods to new-fangled cases. Selby is a great character, perhaps one of ESG’s greatest successes. He’s fallible but excellent; as a mystery writer of my acquaintance once observed, the kind of person whom I’d like to have investigate my own murder.
Okay, that’s it for week one, see you next Tuesday for more of the same!