William J. Burns returns (again)

Posted by Matt Kuhns on Nov 20, 2013

I don’t know whether there’s any kind of genuine “comeback” in progress, for the great real-life detectives, or I’m simply noticing mentions of them now and that’s all. But whatever the context, I was interested to see a familiar face at The Atlantic today, accompanying an article by Benjamin Welton titled The Man Arthur Conan Doyle Called ‘America’s Sherlock Holmes.’

Executive summary and disclosure of the obvious: 1) the story is basically a brief survey of Burns’s career and musing on how its derailing contrasts with the continued popularity of  great-detective fiction, 2) I wrote about all of this at somewhat greater length in a recent book you may have heard of, and 3) nowhere is anything mentioned about the previous point in Welton’s article.

It’s certainly plausible that despite having plainly done a good deal of reading about Bill Burns, Mr. Welton has never heard of my own book, and that I simply need a better publicist. (Self: as soon as I can find someone who will work cheaper, you’re fired.) That said, I shall trust that the same benefit of the doubt will apply to the following supplementary footnotes, and that any resemblance to irritable sniping will be understood as entirely coincidental.

Going down the article from the start, off the top of my head I would point out the following (possibly very reasonable and/or editorially imposed) simplifications or other points of contention: Read more…

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Runners-up: Raymond Schindler

Posted by Matt Kuhns on Jun 14, 2013

As I recall I was some ways into my research when I first took notice of Raymond Schindler. Most likely I first encountered reference to this man as a detective of note in researching William Burns; I believe one or other of Burns’s biographers note that the team he employed in the massive San Francisco corruption investigation included Schindler, who later established a legend of his own in detection history.

I may have found one or two other references to Schindler, also, but I certainly recall that he turned up in Eugene Block’s Famous Detectives, one of the few examples of anything similar to Brilliant Deduction which I was able to turn up. As I also recall, and as their web site confirms, this 55-year-old work has been relegated to the Cleveland Public Library’s off-site storage and had to be specially requested when I consulted it. Still, per the very premise of my book, dusty obscurity hardly disqualifies a detective for having been one of the field’s greats. And it’s quite possible that Mr. Schindler might be a worthy peer for the nine men featured in Brilliant Deduction. Not only did he make it into Block’s survey, but he has a book of his own, The complete detective: Being the life and strange and exciting cases of Raymond Schindler, master detective. That’s more than Pollaky can say. More than William Pinkerton or his brother Robert can say.

Even so, this even older (1950) tome does not seem to be among any of the local libraries’ many works attributed to a Hughes, Rupert. This being 2012, I certainly could have looked further afield to acquire a copy, very possibly without even leaving home; used copies appear to be available and inexpensive. Nonetheless, I have not done so, for what I feel is a reasonable excuse, at least in context.

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Great photos of great detectives, no. 3

Posted by Matt Kuhns on Mar 14, 2013
William Burns and family with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

William Burns (at right) and family with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

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Celebrities as detectives

Posted by Matt Kuhns on Feb 15, 2013

I’ve written a whole book about a time when real detectives became celebrities. In recent years I’ve been bemused by what might be considered an inverse phenomenon: celebrities becoming fictional detectives. Just off the top of my head, I can recall coming across mystery novels featuring:

Naturally, all of these are series as well, not simply one-offs. And this is, furthermore, the mere tip of the iceberg; in just a few minutes searching I came across a whole list of other such series, which is also by no means exhaustive given that none of the above appear on it.

Curiously, I didn’t find any Abraham Lincoln mystery novels; given that he has been cast as nearly every other kind of adventurer and hero from time traveler to vampire slayer, this seems a remarkable gap. Still, if it genuinely is unfilled at this writing, I expect it’s only a matter of time before that changes.

Frankly, I can’t help thinking that it may be time to update the famed maxim of Andy Warhol (also not yet the subject of a mystery novel):

“In the future, everyone will be the subject of at least one historical mystery novel.”

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