Source: Review Copy (Kazabo Publishing)
In the early 1900s Balduin Groller, real name Adalbert Goldscheider, penned a number of short stories featuring what has become known as the Viennese answer to Sherlock Holmes. Ellery Queen described Trostler as ‘the first important Teutonic sleuth,’ yet so many of his adventures have not been translated into English until now. As far as I can tell I have only come across Groller’s work twice before reading this collection, once in Hugh Greene’s More Rivals of Sherlock Holmes (1971), in which Christopher Dilke had translated ‘Anonymous Letters’ and once in Foreign Bodies (2017), which includes the story ‘Strange Tracks.’
I think to get the most out of these stories, the Holmes parallel should not be too stretched too far, which I’ll elaborate on shortly. Whilst he lacks a Watson narrator, Trostler does have a captive audience in his friends, Andreas and Violet Grumbach. Yet unlike Doyle’s Holmes, Trostler, is ‘an entirely social animal’ and a ‘fully-fledged man-about-town.’ He is also more interested in saving social reputations than enacting legal justice, in the fact the police only get to arrest someone once and even then that is done off the page in order to ensure a friend’s party is not ruined. The story in question is fittingly called ‘The Arrest.’ Again like Holmes, Trostler has a range of expertise in handwriting, finger prints, cigarettes and cigars, as well as stationary and perfumes. Nevertheless I would say that these stories need to be treated more like fireside monologues or adventurous yarns. The odd clue here and there does appear but there’s not much we can do with them as we lack a substantial amount of background information, which Trostler accesses behind the scenes. These stories do not contain as much detail as Doyle’s own works did, so I do not think it wise to come to these stories with such expectations. Trostler is very much a performer and he loves to tell either his clients or the Grumbaches about how he solved a case. He much prefers to tell rather than show. This arguably might be because we do not have a Watson narrator through which to filter our impressions of him, though in stories such as ‘The Fine Cigars,’ his own thoughts intrude upon the narrative occasionally. Another thing I found intriguing in this opening story is that it mentions how Trostler’s friends ‘made fun of him’ for his interest in detective work and criminology, ‘not that they would have doubted his talent […] They found only his passion for making unnecessary trouble for himself peculiar. For his hobby brought him not only numerous inconveniences, but also occasionally entangled him in really quite dangerous situations.’ I found this attitude quite surprising as it is not one which is often directed towards the ‘Great Detectives’ in such stories of the time.
Trostler takes on an array of cases in this collection. Robberies feature a few times ranging from the theft of a few cigars in the unsurprisingly entitled ‘The Fine Cigars,’ to a case of bank embezzlement, in you’ve guessed it, ‘The Great Embezzlement’ and an out of the ordinary house safe burglary in ‘The Mysterious Box’ – no prizes for guessing what is stolen. Trostler also gets to take on an anonymous letters case in ‘Anonymous Letters’ and in ‘The Cheat,’ he aptly scuppers a card game cheat operation.
One thing the reader does get to enjoy a lot in this collection is the social setting of the stories and the whimsical humour Groller mixes into his tales. In terms of the social milieu it is quite entertaining to see what lengths Trostler will go to, to help someone avoid social scandal – his most extreme lengths being found in ‘The Arrest.’ Equally in ‘Anonymous Letters’ it is amusing to see Trostler reveal Violet’s hypocritical attitude towards his lenient views on justice and in a way I could see the characters of Trostler, Violet and Andreas making for a very good TV serial, even if the mysteries themselves need more developing.
On a final humorous note, it is said in the introduction that one of the reasons why these stories were not readily translated into English at the time, is because contemporary English readers would have been shocked by the contents. Struggling to see this myself, given what takes place, though perhaps infidelity is treated more light heartedly in these tales. Yet the actually funny thing I wanted to mention was that in the very first story in which ex-actress, Violet’s clothes, are described, it is said that ‘thus the heart-shaped cut-out of her white lace blouse, which gave the observer some views and insights…’ Truly this is a very stereotypical British way of putting things – is it not?
Just the Facts Ma’am (Silver Card): Pseudonymous Author
More by Kazabo Publishing:
The final section of the book entitled ‘The Publisher,’ provides more information about the publishers themselves and their desire to translate forgotten authors into English, but it also includes a prologue to another work they are printing: Death in a Bookstore by Augusto De Angelis.
It is supposed to have been made available since January this year but I’ve not been able to track it down so far online. The prologue is quite enticing as it centres on a road sweeper finding a package which says it should be delivered to the police. Inside the police find a doctor’s coat and four surgical instruments, the scalpel of which is blood stained, but what does it all mean?