Good heavens, it’s practically the end of the month already, and so this is the final week of the reforming Tuesday Night Bloggers (we’ll be back, I’m sure) in their exploration of the great detectives of fiction.
If you’re worried you missed out, here are the previous round-ups to save you scuttling tearfully ’round the interwebs trying to find out what I’m talking about:
However, onto this week, and we start with Puzzle Doctor — first finisher three out of these four weeks, someone get the man a medal — looking at John Rhode’s Dr. Lancelot Priestley, a character I’ve only encountered recently myself, and a genius amateur in the most analytical way: interested in the problem, but not over-burdened with cathexis:
Priestley’s attitude towards crime solving is worth a mention – he sees it at times as a pure puzzle. In a number of books, once he has deduced the murderer, he will distance himself from finding the evidence necessary to convict them, just nudging the police in the right direction. He sees himself as a facilitator rather than as a master detective, but at least one criminal escapes justice due to Priestley stepping back at the conclusion.
Elsewhere, Moira brought us kicking and screaming into the 21st century — did you know that people still wrote crime novels after 1959? — with Elly Griffiths’ Dr. Ruth Galloway and Harry Nelson (clearly it’s a week of doctors). And, following our shared antipathy towards N*gel Str*ngew*ys from last week, Moira starts by nailing my exact fear whenever I see a mystery novel published post-Moon landing:
I feared it might be just another gimmicky series – Ruth Galloway was a forensic archaeologist, and I feared that she would be just a collection of quirks and little carefully-chosen character traits, with no doubt a troubled personal life and a boring romance.
Obviously that didn’t turn out the case, and Moira’s enthusiasm has me thinking maybe…just maybe…I might…read the back of one. One of these days. Hey, it’s a long road, I’ll make my progress in my own way.
There are ten books now – they are all over the blog – and I have loved every one of them without reservation. These books have so much to offer – I love the historical details, and the rounded characters: although Ruth is definitely the protagonist, others get their point of view, and everyone is presented as having normal faults – but they are not judged.
Gender stereotypes also play their role in this series and we as readers are often aware that single young women in vintage mystery fiction don’t often remain single for very long. … So one thing I have really quite enjoyed by the Wu novels is that she does not become embroiled in any romance subplot. She is detached, cool, competent and independent, yet neither is she shown as socially awkward, psychologically abnormal or unpleasant or struggling with commitment issues and in fact male admirers are hinted at in the stories.
And the wheelchair-bound Patricia clearly emerges from the expectations laid by so many genius amateurs before her, with the addition of attitudes that would make poor Priestley blanch:
Initially K2 does not deem Patricia sexually attractive, quite frankly because of her disabilities. Instead his descriptions of her infantilise her physically, (she ‘was in no way physically impressive’), and assert his own superiority as a defence mechanism against her social class and higher intellectual capabilities, as he does admit to feelings of embarrassment and chagrin when Patricia quickly finds the answer to something he has been struggling with for a while.
All of which brings us to Brad…and, well, Brad very much went his own way this week.
There are a number of academics who have taken up their magnifying glasses and gone hunting for clues. From an early amateur detective in The Professor’s Mystery (1911) who finds himself wrapped up in a more romantic mystery than a true murder to the more modern Kate Fansler who stars in books by Amanda Cross. But the two I want to promote are Adam Ludlow in a series of five books by Simon Nash and Stuart Palmer’s schoolteacher-turned-detective, Hildegarde Withers.
Which not only reminds me that I really need to return to Hildegard Withers at some point, but also gets me curious about Simon Nash, even if the last academic mystery I read — A Whiff of Death (1958) by Isaac Asimov — left me colder than…something very cold indeed.
And so finally to Noah, who turns to one of the greats in Ellery Queen, an author and character who — whatever your feelings about them — undeniably did a huge amount of work inside of the genre, whether in promoting others or simply paying homage to the tropes and expectations in a series of very intelligent ways:
But there is a humanity in the young Ellery that is entirely missing from the pompous dandy of the early Philo Vance. In Greek Coffin, he is brash and overconfident, and has a dramatic public failure; it’s as a result of this that he swears never to reveal his thinking during a case until he is completely certain he’s solved it. Now, I have to admit, from the point of view of the construction of a detective fiction plot, that’s really very convenient. If the writers can keep the tension mounting until it’s time for Ellery to Reveal Everything, then it makes for a much more readable book.
I have no doubt that the Tuesday Night Bloggers will return in a similar collaborative manner at some future point, and hopefully I’ll be able to contribute to the cause when that happens. For the immediate future, I’m back to doing these Tuesday posts on my own next month, with a focus on 21st century detective stories for younger readers.