Arthur Cecil Gask (1869 – 1951)
Arthur Gask was a British dentist and agnostic. He divorced his wife in 1909 and later that year, married his children’s nanny, and emigrated to Adelaide, South Australia in 1920 with his two children from his second wife, and one from his first. There’s a story there. He practiced on North Terrace and was one of the first to use gas on his patients. While waiting for them to arrive he started writing stories and paid for his first novel, The Secret of the Sandhills (1921) to be published. It was an instant success.
Thirty of his thirty four novels feature the detective Gilbert Larose. From his first success he, on average, published a book a year until his death; the last one, Crime Upon Crime, came out in 1952, the year after he died. His works were successful in the UK and Europe and many were serialised in newspapers, including the Adelaide Advertiser.
He was greatly admired by Bertrand Russell and H. G. Wells, who thought The Vengeance of Larose (1939) as his “best piece of story-telling…It kept me up till half-past one.”
All the clues and information are expressed throughout the story in the time-line of when they happen; none of this denouement in a drawing-room when the hero explains everything – Agatha Christie-like – to an assembled crowd every one of which could be the murderer. There is a murder plot, drug smuggling, stolen submarine-plans, corrupt diplomats, fiendish villains, and, of course, an exemplary, multitalented, detective, a master of languages, disguises, and deduction. There are few women either mistresses or wives, and all the men are either a knights, aristocrats, or have a house in the country. The style is full of coincidences and some quite unbelievable: in order to hatch a plan with his Japanese co-accused the undercover detective says – within ear-shot of their captors, “You understand Italian? Ah, I thought you would.”
If you have a habit of waking up in the middle of the night with an overactive brain and find it hard to get back to sleep, these novels are the perfect solution.
Anna Katherine Green (1846 – 1935)
Anna Katharine Green was an American poet and novelist. She was one of the first writers of detective fiction in America and distinguished herself by writing well plotted, legally accurate stories. Born in Brooklyn, New York, her early ambition was to write romantic verse, but she was unsuccessful. She is credited with shaping detective fiction into its classic form, and developing the series detective. Her main character was detective Ebenezer Gryce of the New York Metropolitan Police Force, but in three novels he is assisted by the nosy society spinster Amelia Butterworth, the prototype for Miss Marple and other creations. She also invented the ‘girl detective’: in the character of Violet Strange, a debutante with a secret life as a sleuth.
I am not an inquisitive woman, but when, in the middle of a certain warm night in September, I heard a carriage draw up at the adjoining house and stop, I could not resist the temptation of leaving my bed and taking a peep through the curtains of my window.
So begins Green’s first Amelia Butterworth mystery, That Affair Next Door (1897), and because of the narrator’s insistence on her incuriousness you know immediately what kind of woman she is.
This work is a delight. An intriguing story and a delicious character. Another perfect read for that long holiday flight.
Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874 – 1936)
English writer, poet, philosopher, dramatist, journalist, orator, lay theologian, biographer, and literary and art critic. But the most successful association of fiction with social judgment is in Chesterton’s series on the priest-sleuth Father Brown: The Innocence of Father Brown (1911), followed by The Wisdom… (1914), The Incredulity… (1926), The Secret… (1927), and The Scandal of Father Brown (1935). In spite of his literary accomplishments, he considered himself primarily a journalist. He wrote over 4000 newspaper essays, including 30 years worth of weekly columns for the Illustrated London News, and 13 years of weekly columns for the Daily News. He also edited his own newspaper, G.K.’s Weekly. Chesterton was equally at ease with literary and social criticism, history, politics, economics, philosophy, and theology.
Father Brown is introduced to crime fiction in a short story called the The Blue Cross, which became the leading story in the first Father Brown collection:The Innocence of Father Brown (1911). The main character in this story, and the second, The Secret Garden, is a French instinctive detective, Aristide Valentin, head of the Paris Police, possibly the inspiration for Christie’s Hercule Poirot, who first appeared in 1920. The master villian, M. Hercule Flambeau, similar to Sherlock Holmes nemesis, James Moriarty, is also introduced and appears in 48 Father Brown Stories. Father Brown is a minor character in both these stories but takes the main role in the third and subsequent works because … because … well, I won’t tell you why in case you read it; no spoilers here.
The crime is usually seemingly unsolvable: a corpse with a severed head found in a walled, inaccessible garden while the dinner guests mingle and smoke cigars. The victim is a stranger. How did it get there? Who is he? How was his head severed so neatly? How did the murderer get into and out of the garden. The solution rests on a single piece of information the reader isn’t initially told but one that mild-mannered Father Brown deduces.
Fun and good, if flowery writing – typical of the period, and curious as these stories contain many elements of crime fiction that we now take for granted.
All the works of these three writers can be obtained for free from ebooks.adelaide.edu.au
This archive contains a dizzying collection of a wide variety of genres, styles, and writers, all of which are now in the public domain. I highly recommend this addition to your library.