Max Carrados (1914) by Ernest Bramah

‘I always had a secret ambition to be a detective myself’

Vintage Mystery Scavenger Hunt: Building, which is not a house (Big Ben)

Max Carrados

Max Carrados, the blind detective, created by Ernest Bramah, is a character who has been on my radar for a while and a well-timed Christmas present last year gave me the chance to sample some of the stories he featured in. Post Sherlock Holmes, there were many imitations of him such as Sexton Blake and Max Carrados can be seen as another. Interestingly Holmes often suggests to Watson that although he may spot clues he does not infer or deduce the correct meaning from them. Carrados does something similar by asserting that people with sight do not give enough attention to looking at the things around them and thereby miss important information. Like Miss Marple whose gender and age provide her with camouflage during her investigations, Carrados’ lack of sight also makes people confide in him and underestimate his abilities. However, when reading these stories some suspension of belief will be needed with some of Carrados’ skills, as some might seem a bit implausible such as being able to read newspaper print by running his finger across it.

The Coin of Dionysius

This opening tale centres on whether an old coin is a forgery or not and Carlyle, an inquiry agent (he was struck off from being a lawyer due to malpractice) goes to see Max Carrados, an old acquaintance, who is an amateur expert in such matters. In a Holmes-like way Greek CoinCarrados alludes directly to the case Carlyle is involved in, mentioning names and details the reader has not been told about. The solution to this case is a little disappointing as it came out of nowhere, especially since no investigation actually takes place, Carrados embodying the term armchair detective to the full. From a mystery point of view I felt this was a poor first showing. However, in this introductory story we found out a number of things about Carrados such as how he became blind through a riding accident and inherited his fortune from a cousin in America who obtained the money through falsifying accounts. We also get to see Carrados’ perspective on being blind:

‘Not an advantage perhaps… but it has compensations that one might not think of. A new world to explore, new experiences, new powers awakening; stranger perceptions; life in the fourth dimension.’

The Knight’s Cross Signal Problem

I think the problem in this case is more interesting as Carlyle asks Max to help him solve a case concerning a train crash, where the train driver said he was given the green light signal to go and the signalman says he did not. Who is telling the truth? And are personal factors impinging on events? Carrados keeps his cards close to his chest on this one and even Carlyle says:

‘All the same, Max, I don’t think that you have treated me quite fairly’

The culprit responsible is an intriguing choice, which provokes further thought on the part of the reader on British Imperialism, racism and even to an extent terrorism, with figures such as Boadicea and Samson being mentioned, resonating with the problems we have today. If this had been a full sized novel this theme perhaps would have been more interwoven into the rest of the text.

old train

The Tragedy at Brookbend Cottage

Lieutenant Hollyer goes to see Carrados about his sister, Millicent Creake, worried that now after several years of marriage to an older man and decreased fortunes, her husband is going to try to murder her. Carrados along with Carlyle strive towards preventing this. The most interesting part of this story for me was the relationship between the Millicent and her husband, an aspect, unfortunately only briefly looked at.

The Clever Mrs Straithwaite

In this story Carlyle is looking into whether Mrs Straithwaite is trying to defraud her insurance company over her pearl necklace, a necklace which then disappears. The pearlssolution to this case is a good one, providing a twist on an old theme and reminded me a little of Doyle’s ‘A Case of Identity’ (1891), though it does rely on the people concerned being very open and honest with Carrados. Mrs Straithwaite herself is not a hugely likeable character, being the quintessential spoilt thoughtless young woman, though in a way she does get her comeuppance, with the title being ironised. The solution also I feel leaves a slightly sinister note to the end of the story due to the dysfunctionality it hints at.

The Last Exploit of Harry the Actor

This story concerns the Lucas Street Depository, where a number of clients have found that their safety deposit boxes have been robbed. Many characters such as Carlyle perceive this as an impossible crime, but Carrados quickly surmises the truth of the matter and sees the solution. It is not a particularly clever or ingenious solution though and there is a lack of investigation on Carrados part as much of the information given is prior knowledge to him. The ending of the story was also unsatisfactory as it felt rather forced.

The Tilling Shaw Mystery

Frank Whitmarsh according to the papers attempted to shoot his nephew and in failing to do so committed suicide. His daughter though, Miss Madeline Whitmarsh, doesn’t believe this is true and asks Carrados to investigate. Again I think this is a plot which would have benefitted by being a full novel as there are many strands of evidence and lines of inquiry, but most of these have to be swept aside to provide the quick solution at the end.

The Comedy at Fountain Cottage

Not something you expect to find in a garden…

I think this story takes the prize for the most unusual opening setup which has Carlyle’s niece, Elsie’s neighbour throwing kidneys into her garden. Is this man mad or is it all a smokescreen for a saner, criminally minded plan? Carrados investigates and produces an interesting solution, which again would have been executed better if developed in a novel.

The Game Played in the Dark

This story feels more like a thriller than a detective story, although it does have moments which are reminiscent of Doyle’s ‘A Scandal in Bohemia’ (1891). A royal marriage is being impeded by the fact that Countess X has procured the services of man named Guido to steal some incriminating documents. Events occur though which prevent the Countess from meeting with her thief and the action heads to London. Carrados is called into help, yet it seems he has another a case on hand, that of a theft at the British Museum. But has Carrados met his match? Will he be able to outwit the culprits? Or will it be lights out for him?

A Scandal in Bohemia

A Scandal in Bohemia

Thoughts on short stories in general

Overall, despite the strong send up they receive in the introduction attached to my copy, I found these stories disappointing, either because the problem set was uninteresting or conversely it was an interesting mystery but was rushed in its execution. Moreover, in comparison to Holmes, Carrados comes across as a bit flat and unemotional. I think the fact the stories are narrated by a third person narrator also make it harder for the reader to be drawn in, in comparison to cases Watson records for Holmes, which have a more personalised touch. In addition Carrados and Carlyle may mirror the Holmes and Watson relationship but again I think it is a poor imitation which comes across as a bit limp. Another key bugbear I had was the fact that Carrados in many of the stories does very little investigating and usually relies on knowledge he already possessed prior to the case. A consequence of this I felt was a lack of action or drama at points in some of the stories. Reading these short stories, part of me wondered whether I have higher standards for short stories in contrast to novels. Does a short story need to impress me more quickly due to its brevity, whilst some failings in a longer novel can be overlooked? I haven’t quite decided on this issue yet, but I would be interested to hear your thoughts on short stories vs. novels. Are there any short stories which stick in your memory? Roald Dahl’s ‘Lamb to the Slaughter’ and Fredric Brown’s ‘Nightmare in Yellow’ certainly do for me.

Rating: 3/5

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About armchairreviewer

Qualified English teacher, with a passion for literature and crime fiction. On a random note I also own pygmy goats and chickens with afros (it doesn't get any cooler than that).
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10 Responses to Max Carrados (1914) by Ernest Bramah

  1. realthog says:

    some of Carrados’ skills, as some might seem a bit implausible such as being able to read newspaper print by running his finger across it

    That was a lot more plausible back in the day. Newspapers were printed using metal type that stamped an impression into the paper.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Carol M says:

    I’ve always had a fondness for short stories, both in the mystery and supernatural genres. I have several of the collections put out by Odhams Press in the 1930s which showcased several well known writers of the day and which were edited by H Douglas Thomson, and also the three volume set of ‘Detection, Mystery and Horror’ edited by Dorothy L Sayers. British Library Crime Classics are putting out similar collections at the moment and the short story which stays with me is from their ‘Capital Crimes’ collection; ‘The Little House’ by H C Bailey. There is no particularly deep detection in the story but Bailey expertly builds the tension until his detective Reggie Fortune uncovers the kidnapping of a child and cruelty to an animal, dealing with both and apprehending the culprits in a way which is both clever and satisfying.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I have only read a novel which features Reggie Fortune, which I didn’t really enjoy. Is he a more enjoyable character in short story format?

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      • cmikolj says:

        He is, and Bailey wrote several collections of stories featuring him (I believe ‘Call Mr Fortune’ was the first). Maybe short stories from that time work better for us modern readers because they’re more immediate; I know of several GA authors (George R Sims, Richard Marsh, even Conan Doyle arguably) whose novels can be hard going but who work well in the short story format. That’s probably why I love them. Even though the Max Carrados tales are a bit lame by today’s standards I still enjoy them.

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      • Well I haven’t given up on Carrados completely and will no doubt give him another go later in the future. I think different skills are needed to write short stories in comparison to novels and it is interesting to see a writer who predominantly does one format, try the other. As you say Doyle works much better in short story format, but I think writers such as Ngaio Marsh are better in novel format.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. cmikolj says:

    I’d agree with you there, and also Christie (with the possible exception of the Labours of Hercules).

    Liked by 1 person

  4. JJ says:

    This has been floating arounf my TBB list since someone mentioned it on my site, so it’s great to get the view of someone whose tastes I have a moderately decent handle on. I’m not saying I won’t ever read it, but I’m not in quite the rush I was before now. Aaaaaaand, relax. Aaaaand seventeen books rush to take its place, Dammit!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think perhaps Carrados is someone its nice to have tried, mentally tick him off the list etc. but not someone you would be dashing to read the next instalment of. Although since the book I got has all his collections, I will no doubt at some point in the future give him another try.

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  5. Pingback: Vintage Mystery Scavenger Hunt 2016: Wrap Up Post | crossexaminingcrime

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