Saturday, January 7, 2012

All Hail Max! 12 Cases for Max Carrados, by Ernest Bramah

Along with Arthur Conan Doyle, G. K. Chesterton, R. Austin Freeman and H. C. Bailey, Ernest Bramah traditionally has been recognized as one of the great early twentieth-century masters of the English detective short story, though he only produced three volumes of the exploits of his blind detective, Max Carrados, each with eight stories apiece, for a total of twenty-four tales (plus an odd twenty-fifth tale, "The Specimen Case," and a Max Carrados novel, The Bravo of London, evidently not very highly regarded).  To be sure, Bramah's is a small output of short mystery fiction, but it's high quality one.

Coachwhip Publications has gathered the dozen Max Carrados tales published in 1913 in News of the World (originally eight were collected in Max Carrados, 1914, and four in The Eyes of Max Carrados, 1923) in an attractive, good quality paperback volume of over 300 pages, priced at $14.95 (unlike many paperbacks today, the print actually is uniformly dark black and easy on the eyes).  The pleasing cover design has a "Roman" look that fits in nicely with Max Carrados' pronounced collector's passion for classical coinage.



The stories collected in this volume are:

The Coin of Dionysius
The Knight's Cross Signal Problem
The Tragedy at Brookbend Cottage
The Clever Mrs. Straithwaite
The Last Exploit of Harry the Actor
The Tilling Shaw Mystery
The Secret of Dunstan's Tower
The Comedy at Fountain College
The Kingsmouth German Spy Case
The Missing Actress Sensation
The Virginiola Fraud
The Game Played in the Dark

Only a minority of these stories concern violent death (including Bramah's most famous Carrados tale, "The Tragedy at Brookbend Cottage"), the majority dealing with theft and fraud (including a classic treasure hunt tale).  All are graced by Bramah's wit and graceful literary style.  No great mystery, this allusion:


"And then, Mr. Carrados, just a parting hint.  If you were taking up a case, what would you do then?"


The temptation to be oracular was irresistible.  Carrados smiled inwardly.


"I should try to find a tall, short-sighted, Welsh book-dealer who smokes perique tobacco, suffers from a weak chest, wears thick-soled boots and always carries an umbrella," he replied with impressive gravity.

--"The Virginiola Fraud"

"The Coin of Dionysius" introduces Max Carrados and links up nicely with the final tale, the dramatic "The Game Played in the Dark," which sets up a classic scenario for a blind detective.  My other favorites would be

"The Knight's Cross Signal Problem," which involves a fatal train "accident" and explores a criminal motive that carries resonance today.

"The Tragedy at Brookbend Cottage," which boasts a technically ingenious murder scheme like something out of a John Rhode novel (there are also echoes in the general situation of Conan Doyle's "The Adventure of the Speckled Band").

"The Tilling Shaw Mystery," a classic English village tale which may or may not concern a murder-suicide and has a very interesting female character, Miss Madeline Whitmarsh:

"You are a man living in a town and can do as you like.  I am a girl living in the country and have therefore to do largely as my neighbours like."

"The Comedy at Fountain Cottage," which teasingly begins as a mystery over why a man is throwing stewed kidneys over his neighbors' wall into their garden.

"The Kingsmouth German Spy Case," which manages an original twist on the spy tale, as well as interesting commentary on patriotism.

"The Missing Actress Sensation," a clever tale of a disappearance in the theatrical world, with numerous witty and knowing asides:

"You run a theatre for a few seasons, my dear fellow, and then talk," he retorted.  "You can't explain; you can't do anything; you can only just sit there.  People cease to be rational beings when they set out for a theatre.  If you breathe on a howling success it goes out.  If you move a gold mine of a piece from one theatre to the another, next door, everyone promptly decides to stay away.  Don't ask me the reasons; there are none.  It isn't a business; it ought to come under the Gaming Act."

Besides the clever writing and some nice bits of detection, all through the volume are scattered what might be seen as surprisingly modern-minded sentiments--on British imperialism, feminism, patriotism and the class system.  For instance:

"A very manly way of taking it and very properly expressed--very well indeed," declared Mr. Carlyle with warm approval as the door closed.  "Max, that is the outcome of good blood--blood and breeding."


"Nonsense, you romantic old humbug," said Carrados with affectionate contempt.  "I have heard exactly the same words in similar circumstances once before and they were spoken by a Canning Town bricklayer's labourer."


Supporting figures in the tales include, besides Carrados' friend, the Watsonesque Mr. Carlyle, Carrados' Bunter-like manservant and his male secretary.  None of these characters, including Max Carrados himself, are as memorable as the principal players in the Sherlock Holmes tales; yet they are interesting in their own right and the stories in which they appear are generally of the first class, eminently deserving of laurels.

3 comments:

  1. It's great to know that the publishers are going in for these old gems - I'll buy a copy for myself. I was really surprised yesterday when I saw the 2008 publication(and the kindle edition) of 'Trent Intervenes & Other Stories' which includes an extra story which is not available in the original. Hope we get to see more of these!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Well, this sounds like a highly attractive item! Darn it all, Curt, you *know* how easily tempted I am!!! My library, at any rate, has got "Max Carrados"...

    ReplyDelete
  3. For those whose library does not posess "Max Carrados" it is available online at archive.org

    ReplyDelete