Friday, August 9, 2013

The Adventures of Archer Dawe (Sleuth Hound) (1909), by J. S. Fletcher

There suddenly emerged into the bright June sunshine one of the oddest figures which the occupant of the pony-chaise had ever seen--a little man habited in black clothes, of which the most conspicuous article was a frock-coat in the style of forty years ago; whose tall, equally old-fashioned top hat, narrow at the crown, wide at the brim, was worn pushed back upon his head; who carried a gamp-like umbrella over his shoulder; whose trousers were too short to conceal the fact that wore hand-knitted stockings, the colour of which was neither grey nor white.

J. S. Fletcher's slim short story collection The Adventures of Archer Dawe (Sleuth Hound) is listed in Ellery Queen's Queen's Quorum as one of the most notable mystery short story collections.

Chronologically, it's #43, following, among other collections from the first decade of the twentieth century,  Maurice Leblanc's The Adventures of Arsene Lupin (1907), Jacques Futrelle's The Thinking Machine (1907), Baroness Orczy's The Old Man in the Corner (1909) and R. Austin Freeman's John Thorndyke's Cases (1909).

A nice (and cheap!) edition of Archer Dawe is available for Kindle from Prologue Books on Amazon and, having purchased it, I finally got around to reading it, since I have been editing a J. S. Fletcher essay for The Mystery Genre Unlocked: Essays in Detective Fiction in Honor of Douglas G. Greene (forthcoming in 2014).  Although I am something of a J. S. Fletcher fan, I have to concede that Archer Dawe is no rival to Arsene Lupin, Augustus S. F. X. Van Dusen, The Man in the Corner or Dr. John Thorndyke.

The Lighthouse on Shivering Sands

Fletcher wrote some effective short stories (surely he was bound to, out of an estimated six to seven hundred), such as "The Lighthouse on Shivering Sands," which was recently staged in England), yet the Archer Dawe tales do not really play to Fletcher's strengths as a writer.  The mysteries are too slight to have interest as puzzles (and they typically are not really fair play anyway), and Fletcher does not have room to develop the characters and local color in an interesting way.

I did like that the stories were set in different parts of Yorkshire and that we get glimmers of the classic Fletcher with some of the characters (Yorkshire working men, old sailors, clerics, squires and antiquarians), but overall I definitely prefer the novels, which were have a certain resemblance to what people today often call the British "cozy."

Retired from the management of a cotton mill, Archer Dawe now occupies his time in amateur sleuthing around Yorkshire.   In "The Mystery at Merrill's Mill" Archer Dawe's former employer calls on him when human bones are discovered at the mill.  Archer Dawe cracks the case, but the reader certainly won't be able to, since the reader is not given a fair chance to do so.

In "An Innocent 'Receiver'" Dawe comes to the aid of a dealer in "old books and revered antiquities" in the city of Halifax.  In "The Shy Young Man's Chocolates," Dawe has to locate a chocolate box--with a diamond engagement ring inside it.  While engaging, this tale is so slight that it barely even qualifies as a detective story, I would say.  "The Man Who Stole His Own Money" is self explanatory.  The only puzzle is the location of the money, and that is not that much of a puzzle.

"A Mere Matter of Inadvertence" deals with forgery and has rather an interesting portrayal of masterful woman shopkeeper and her feckless, dependent husband.  "The Sea-Captain's Snuff-Box" makes use of the Moonstone plot (gem stolen from the East) and is moderately entertaining. "The Contents of a Coffin," dealing with more theft, is long, but not profitably so.  Better is the village and country house mystery "The Stolen Chalice and Cross" but it's mild stuff still.

Overall, I would prefer reading John Thorndyke's exploits over those of Archer Dawe any day. Yet I do want to make the case that J. S. Fletcher has definite merit as a mystery writer, so I hope to be writing here soon about a couple of his once very popular crime novels.


  1. Ooh, I'm unfamiliar with this writer, but I'm a big fan of Futrelle and other writers of the era. I'll have to search for some stuff on Project Gutenberg.

  2. Hi Kelley, yes, lots of his stuff on Gutenberg and POD. I'll have a review of his first mystery (I think!) next week. Over 100 years old!