Enter the “Gentleman” Detective

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Crime Fiction would be lost without the detective, whether it be the hard-nosed kind found in American crime novels – like Mike Hammer and Philip Marlowe, or their British counterparts – Sherlock Holmes, Lord Peter Whimsey  and Hercule Poirot.

European fiction tends to  favour a gentleman detective; who comes from the educated classes; is at home in a world that we like to think existed  in the years prior to the Great War and ended just after the Second World War, and who has an unusual (if not downright eccentric) manner. They are gentleman if not by birth, certainly in the way they behave; and they are members of what the Georgian world called the Ton (the top 100 families). Their detecting takes place in a cozy world – known as the locked room; their suspects are all flawed and ( for the Marxist among you) degenerate representatives of a dying and parasitic class. Not only does the detective battle against a closed society; they also clash with the professional police who are presented as dim witted, lower class fools. This is apparently a backlash against the bungled investigation into the Ripper Murders of 1888, and the popular misconception that the police were incapable of detecting crime because they were not intelligent or educated enough.

Each detective is accompanied by a companion – usually male – who acts as a sounding board. They are not always from the same social class, but their skills complement or even augment the central character.

Bizarrely the first Gentleman detective was not British – but French – and created by an American, albeit an anglophile. This detective was Edgar Allen Poe’s  C. Auguste Dupin. Making his appearance in 1841, in the Murders in the Rue Morgue (the first of three cases) Dupin was not an immediate  success and underwent quite a few changes in his  modus operandi.  But he was a Chevalier in the Legion D’honneur, and he was obsessed with collecting books. He started out as an amateur detective who would visit the crime scene and take an active part in the investigation – but only when called upon by the authorities. In book two, he had become introverted rarely leaving his rooms – the epitome of the armchair detective, and only after appalling reviews (for this second book – The Mystery of Marie Roget -1842) did Poe make the changes allowing Dupin to become what readers would now recognise as the gentleman detective (The Purloined letter (1844).

Intriguingly, Poe did not believe his character to be successful and moved away from crime fiction. Yet, Poe’s initial concept blossomed in English literature. The first English Amateur detective (Franklin Blake) appeared in 1866 – in what aficionados of this genre regard as the first English Crime Story – The Moonstone. He was followed by a character whose name is synonymous with crime fiction: Sherlock Holmes. And should you care to compare Dupin and Holmes closely, you will see why it is possible to argue that Doyle did not create his detective, he simply lifted him from Paris and planted him in London. In temperament, intelligence and bravery he is the equal if not the mirror image of Dupin.

After that the floodgates open: Wimsey, Campion, Alleyn, Poirot and Marple (from the Golden Age); with Dalgleish, Lynley, Makepeace (of Dempsy and Makepeace fame) Jonathon Creek and even -possibly – Professor Layton representing the modern era.

Until Marple –  society would have us believe that women detectives were conspicuous by their absence,  and yet, the first female detective, Mrs Gladden,  appeared in 1864 some 23 years before Holmes. In many respects her techniques are those of Holmes. She is an active detective: visiting the crime scene, using disguise to protect herself from discovery by the criminal classes, as well as treating the police with the correct level of disdain.

Given the public’s insatiable appetite for the detective it is probably that had she been male her fame would have been equal to (if not greater than that of Holmes). But female detectives – while not isolated –  were not the staple of popular fiction.


According to Dorothy L Sayers it is because they are so “irritatingly intuitive as to destroy that quiet enjoyment of the logical which we look for in our detective reading.” Sayer’s  main complaint, however, is that the female detective “tends to be too young, too beautiful and too interested in marriage.” In addition, her “propensity” to “walk” into “dangerous situations”  interrupts the male ability to “solve crimes.”  She may have a point: until Marple – female detectives were 40 or younger. Mrs Paschell who works for Colonel Warner is 40 and in need of  a job; Hilda Serene is 25, while Kate Goelet is only 23.

Perhaps another reason for the failure of the female detective is the fact that they were all created by male writers. Indeed, it was not until 1897 that Amelia Butterworth was created by Anna Katharine Green.

The development of the proto feminist movement of the 1890’s, with its focus on the idea that women could be financially independent of men, allowed more female detectives to come to the fore. Dora Myrl, the Lady Detective (1900) is the daughter of a Cambridge Don; Joan Mar, Detective (1910) created by  Marie Connor Leighton is the first female for whom marriage is not a consideration. However,  even at this time, these female detectives were expected to conform to the stereotype. Indeed Molly Kingsley in  Hazel Campbell’s Olga Knaresbrook, Detective (1933) eschews the life of the detective upon marriage.

And so to Miss Marple – who first appeared in 1930 – a woman who remained 65 for the fifty years she appeared in print. Returning to Sayer’s condemnation of the female detective ( intriguingly forgotten when she came to write about Harriet Vane), it is possible to argue that Miss Marple’s success resulted not from her age, but from the fact that she while she had a phenomenal intelligence, it came from the observation of the world around her – in a homespun, almost absent minded way.


The End of the Pier Affair

If you go down to the pier today, you’d better not go alone.
It’s lovely down on the pier today but safer to stay at home

Lucy knew that; that’s why she took Mark with her.  But they were only going to take a few photos of the out of bounds section; it wasn’t like they were going to do anything dangerous…

But the moment you do one stupid thing, there’s no escape.

Whisked from the relative safety of Southend Pier, Lucy and Mark find themselves in a top secret underground facility. Not that they know that at the time – they think they’re just in the tunnels of the doomed Aldwych/Strand Station.

When they find they’re actually in 1909 – not 2013; they decide to explore.

Arriving in the East End of London, they they do their second stupid thing, as they stop a horse and carriage from crashing.

After that things get weird.

Someone is trying to kill both the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Home Secretary and will stop at nothing to achieve this end – even if it means destroying the whole of Time to do it!

From East End of  London to 11 Downing Street; From the Maiden Voyage of the Titanic to Dover Castle – you need to join the friends as they try to keep history as we know it – not as others would prefer it to be…

The Secret of Aldwych Strand: The End of the Pier Affair is now on Kindle.

The 1949 Affair Chapter 8 – What the Madman had to Say!

Follow this link to catch up with the story so far

I walked back to the Admiral’s quarters in silence. My guard, taking his cue from me, kept a respectful distance and said nothing. It was dusk and the men who had abused me were gone. I was relieved, there was too much going on in my head already to have to deal with them. He saluted as he delivered me back at the Workhouse building and vanished into the blackness.

I’m not sure whether I thanked him; all I knew was that Hitch had given me much to think about; much to ponder. Whatever had happened to Time, it was clear that our adversary was far clever than the Armstrongs! Time had been manipulated; folded in on itself to such an extent that nothing could be taken for granted. Indeed, this time there would be no simple save one person solution. This  conundrum required some serious unravelling.

A light was on but, as I entered the Admiral’s quarters, it became clear no one was waiting for me.

I wasn’t sure if I should be disappointed or relieved by this state of affairs. Still the emptiness of the room matched my mood, so I suppose I was grateful for their tact.

I stood at the door watching the night time, then, as the chill of October became unbearable, I shut the door; took my coat off; hanging it next to the Admiral’s overcoat on the hat stand and took  a good look around the room. Hitch had told me to be observant; that this skill would save me. I couldn’t see what he meant, but I’d do it.

There wasn’t much to go on… Two unused glasses and a decanter of brandy sat on a table, an open copy of Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca next to them. An ironic choice? Or yet another thing designed to put me off balance? I had no way of telling. I picked up the book but could see nothing significant in it.

Walking over to the desk – a beautiful mahogany construction, I let my hand trail across the beautiful and highly polished wood. Certainly the Admiral lived in luxury.

Mind you, I suppose because the War had been won earlier than in my version of reality, the destruction hadn’t been so great,  or – for that matter  – the cost so high.

There was  a letter in German; documents with the Official military seal; a faded picture of the two of us, hand in hand and smiling.  Everything in its place and yet again unnerving. But not as unnerving as my earlier discovery. I moved away from the desk and sat down in one of the wing back chairs. I went to pour brandy into one of the glasses and thought better of it.

I thought back to what Hitch had revealed during our conversation. To say the least… it was… bizarre. We’d been sitting at the table; he’d explained everything as though it were a movie. And then he’d said what he did.

Which had me reeling.

If it were true?

Dear Gods, if it was true… then… it was…. unsettling to say  at least!

Actually, if I were being  honest; Hitch’s warning had turned my world upside down.

I didn’t want to believe him but Hitch had been so insistent.

“They all have secrets, Lucy. You will have to decide – out of all of them – who you can trust.” Hitch had told me. “But, believe me Lucy: you can’t trust Mark. He will… betray you.”