Vintage Mystery Scavenger Hunt Item: Revolver
I got this book at the Bodies from the Library conference last month. My only experience of Froëst’s work is The Grell Mystery (1913), which I reviewed last year. Both Froëst and Dilnot were retired policemen. The former was a superintendent of the CID in 1906 and brought killers like Dr Crippen to justice. Dilnot was in the army and in the police, before turning to journalism. David Brawn, who writes the introduction to the Harper Collins reprint, suggests that there is ‘some credence’ to the idea that Froëst received ‘help from a professional writer’ (e.g. Dilnot), when writing The Grell Mystery, as attested to by the fact that in this book and in The Rogues’ Syndicate (1916), Dilnot is given a byline. However it also seems that Dilnot may also have benefited from Froëst’s experience of policing to help inform his work such as Scotland Yard: The Methods and Organisation of the Metropolitan Police (1915). The Crime Club is not a novel but a series of short stories ‘linked by the conceit of a secret London club located off the Strand where international crime fighters would go to help solve and also share tales of their most outlandish cases,’ a trope used previously by Carolyn Wells in 1912.
Challenge to the reader: Brawn suggests that one of these short stories inspired a story later written by Arthur Conan Doyle, as the solution to both stories are so similar. So my challenge to you is to guess which story it might be. The Doyle story is a Holmes one, written in the early 1920s.
The Crime Club
The collection opens with an explanation of what the crime club is and it is interesting to note that the narrator says that ‘an experienced detective has seen too much to take himself too seriously.’ This reminded me how often comedy and detection go hand in hand, well in fiction anyways.
The Red-Haired Pickpocket
This is the first story of the collection. A red-haired pickpocket named Jimmie Iles is travelling from New York to England to continue his criminal enterprises, as he is so well known to the American police that he can no longer operate. On arrival in London he pickpockets a man named Sweeney, finding in his wallet a sinister note arranging an appointment with Sweeney on a bridge. Out of curiosity Iles goes along, even passing his victim. Yet moments later he hears a shot. Turning around he finds Sweeney is dead. But there is no killer or weapon visible. Unsurprisingly he is soon detained for questioning.
The Man with the Pale-Blue Eyes
In a poker game on the S S Columbia, Silverdale, a journalist, says that the passenger named Eleanor de Reszke used to be Madeline Fulford, who gave evidence against a man she was colluding with and the man in question ended up with a 7 year prison sentence. Now though she is married to Richard de Reszke, who is furious that Silverdale has said such stuff about her. Yet to our surprise it is Eleanor who is shot dead a matter of hours later in a hotel after landing back in London. Suicide or murder? Where has her husband gone? Initially this seems like an open and shut case, but is it really?
The Maker of Diamonds
A jeweller named Fleeting is in a quandary and he hopes DI Heldway can help him. A man named Vernet says he is able to make diamonds artificially and he will give Fleeting a half-percent interest for £100,000. Fleeting’s precautions against trickery have been stringent, and Vernet indeed does seem to be able to produce diamonds. But Fleeting is still worried he might be being conned. Is Vernet genuine or an adventurer? Heldway attempts to go undercover but Vernet recognises him and is clearly goading him. So how can Heldway prove his guilt? This story is less a police procedural and more one man pitted against another, like in an adventure hero story.
Another crook (or possibly the same one as in the first story), named Jimmie is planning
on stealing some diamonds from a senior partner in a Hatton Garden’s diamond merchants, whilst on a train journey. But alas his plan seems thwarted when his victim is accompanied by a policeman. Yet during this train journey tragedy strikes as Jimmie’s victim ends up shot through the heart and his diamonds do not seem to be able to be found. The police play a cool hand in this game using the obvious suspect as camouflage. Although I’m not sure the explanation of the how aspect of this killing is as complete as it should be.
The Mayor’s Daughter
There is animosity between the French and New York police, as forged French notes are being brought into France, made in New York. The story focuses on the New York angle of this case as poor DS McFall is being berated by his superior for a lack of progress in this case, despite the lack of leads to go on. Yet help comes in the form of Scotland Yard detective, Grenfell who comes across a clue whilst on a fishing trip. This is another story which feels like a game of cat and mouse and again there is less of a focus on police procedure and more narrative space given to action.
A Meeting of Greeks
Alfred Holdron wants to hire PI, Weir Menzies to recover some papers for him or to show who stole them. Due to Holdron avoiding the police Menzies is suspicious, especially when he is not told what the papers were about. All we are to know is that they are business related ciphers and it quickly becomes apparent that it is an inside job, meaning Menzies’ attention focuses on the guests Holdron has staying with him. One guest in particular draws attention taking a great interest in what Menzies is doing: ‘Have I caught you in the act of detecting something?’ But there is more to this guest than meets the eye and I can definitely see how gender expectations are deployed by this character, reminding me of Hoffman’s book. The WW1 gets a passing mention in the story with a character being told it is a ‘queer time to take a holiday.’
The Seven of Hearts
The dandified DI Allinford has to solve the theft of two diamond necklaces, owned by two different owners, yet each necklace is identical. One theft told place in a hotel and the other in a private residence. Allinford is certain he smells a rat and acts accordingly to set a trap for the villain.
Goat O’Brien is well-known to the police as a receiver of stolen goods, but they have been unable to convict him. Yet their luck changes when one day Rufe Devlin decides to make O’Brien his next mark…
Pink Edged Note Paper
The millionaire, Rockward has had his daughter kidnapped and the ransom note asks not for money but for a favour. With coincidences abounding in this story though the police are soon able to sort things out.
The String of Pearls
Heldon Foyle one night notices a well-dressed woman leaving a house surreptitiously and his curiosity is aroused. Next day Count Von Haussen comes to Scotland Yard saying a string of pearls has been stolen from his safe, a safe which was meant to be burglar proof and was only to have one key which never left the count’s possession. Are these two events linked? With a brief foray into undercover work this case is soon solved by Foyle.
The ‘Con’ Man
Wolf Coyne is a conman well known to the police, a situation which is infuriating Coyne as he tries to complete a deal. In particular he is furious with DI Ansoll, who is forever dogging his steps. Consequently he sets wheels in motion to this threat eliminated. It is unfortunate for him though that the police are one step ahead…
Harold Saxon, a wealthy theatre producer is sure that someone is trying to kill him, with three attempts made already and he wants the police to figure out who and why. The job falls to Chief Detective Inspector Yerk. But unfortunately this story does not really work as we never get any real sense of who the suspects are as people and information is withheld from the reader to a considerable degree.
This story has another man fearing death, this time a blackmailer named Jimson and CDI Penny is not entirely sure whether his death would be such a bad thing. Nevertheless he investigates the matter, though his execution of justice is unconventional to say the least.
Found – A Pearl
John Quex is being attacked in the street. In fact he is about to be knifed when the police turn up. However he says it was just a lark. Yet it is clear to us that there was more to this fight, especially when Quex gets home and finds his pockets empty. There are two strands to this story: Quex on the war path and the police who are trying fathom what is going on.
All in all this was difficult read, in that the book should come with a health and safety sticker telling people not to read it before driving or operating heavy machinery. Little is made of the crime club trope in the book after the first chapter, so it felt a rather redundant concept. Moreover, characterisation is one of its weakest points. Froëst and Dilnot are not natural short story writers. The narrative voice is often impersonal and lacking individuality and readers don’t really get much sense of who the characters are, aside from the central police detective, who is focused on. Although some of the story titles remind you of Doyle, the stories themselves do not and in the case of the story which has a solution Doyle would later use, it uses the solution in a much less convincing way and it lacks atmosphere and the characters are quite flat. The lack of atmosphere is partially due to the motivations of the crimes as they are not complex and romanticised, focusing on monetary gain for the majority of stories. Although I do think these stories share links with the older Victorian literary tradition of policeman writing up their cases. This comes across in the matter of fact tone, the focus on the police and the types of crimes involved. In these stories there is not much chance for the reader to guess who is guilty as either we are told very early on and it is a case of proving their guilt or the culprit is whipped out of the hat at the end, making the reader wonder how the police got on to them so quickly and easily in the first place. Of course coincidences abound in many of these stories which probably makes the policeman’s work easier. Overall my favourite story was ‘A Meeting of Greeks,’ as this was the most readable story and the characterisation was at its best. The plot was also interesting but would have been better in a full length novel.