‘Paddington’ Pollaky, the book

Posted by Matt Kuhns on Aug 6, 2015

I recently acquired a copy of the first major study of one of our heroes since Brilliant Deduction‘s publication. Published just this year, ‘Paddington’ Pollaky Private Detective by Bryan Kesselman is the first dedicated biography of this most mysterious of mystery men. How did he do? How did I do?

Short answer, ‘Paddington’ Pollaky is a stupendous achievement in research. For the Pollaky fan base—which I know does exist, however modest its numbers—this biography is a must. Some of the remarkable nuggets that Kesselman has unearthed are astonishing just for their simple existence:

  • Evidence and names of Pollaky’s agents
  • An interview with Pollaky
  • A photograph of Ignatius Pollaky

Colossal. Add to this extensive correspondence and other archival information, as well as many intriguing new questions which it had not even occurred to ask, before. Was Pollaky’s emigration from Austria-Hungary a flight from political persecution related to the uprisings of 1848? Did he seek—or perhaps even gain—American citizenship before settling in Britain? Was he supplying information to Bismarck’s government in the Franco-Prussian war, thereby earning the German Ritterkreutz?

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Further reading in fiction

Posted by Matt Kuhns on Jul 8, 2013

I probably should have done this a while ago. But, better late than never; the other day it occurred to me to post suggested “further reading” about Brilliant Deduction‘s protagonists in fiction. Nearly all of them have inspired some sort of fictional tales, after all, either of themselves or of close analogues.

Vidocq probably leads the list, in every way. His own influential Memoirs are, most likely, at least semi-fictionalized. According to one rumor, in fact, they were mostly the work of his friend Honoré de Balzac, who definitely wrote other fictionalized works inspired by Vidocq. Father Goriot, Lost illusions, and Scenes from a Courtesan’s Life are all available for free in English translation at Project Gutenberg. The same is true of multiple stories of Emile Gaboriau’s detective Lecoq: The Lerouge Case, The Mystery of Orcival, File No. 113, and Monsieur Lecoq. (Et aussi Les Esclaves des Paris, si vous connaissez le français). And, while it may stretch things a bit, it might be worth mentioning Les Miserables if only because Vidocq may have contributed inspiration to both of its main characters…

The Road child murder case investigated by Jonathan Whicher has inspired more than one work of fiction, though to my knowledge Wilkie Collins’s The Moonstone is the only one to include any significant analogue to Whicher himself (as Sergeant Cuff). Inspector Bucket of Bleak House, whose author Charles Dickens knew Whicher personally, may actually bear more resemblance to Whicher, though. (Even if JW’s colleague Frederick Field was the “official” model for the character.)

I suspect that most of the Pinkerton dynasty’s outings in fiction have taken inspiration from Allan, rather than his children; the only exception I know of is the graphic novel Detective 27, which gives a little space to William though Allan still gets most of the best scenes. Brief searching, meanwhile, also turns up Pinkerton’s Secret: A Novel and Nevermore – a novel of Edgar Allan Poe and Allan Pinkerton.

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Pollaky, Tumblety and Jack the Ripper

Posted by Matt Kuhns on Jul 1, 2013

My quiet adviser on Ignatius “Paddington” Pollaky has provided another curious little footnote to his history, and that of London’s most notorious unsolved crimes, i.e. the Whitechapel murders.

Research has apparently placed Pollaky at 10 Devonshire Place in 1861 (some years before he relocated to the Paddington Green address thereafter associated so closely with him). One of his next-door neighbors at 8 Devonshire Place was a very young Henry Carr

And this is where I had to do some research, myself, because my informant pointed out that Carr was later an associate of Francis Tumblety… which name I may have come across before, but apparently forgot. Perhaps not entirely unreasonably, though, given the enormous number of names associated with the mystery of Jack the Ripper… <dramatic piano chords>

Still, it seems that the grounds for suspicion of Mr. Tumblety are actually rather interesting, and probably more solid than is the case for a number of other suspects. The Ultimate Jack the Ripper Companion: An Illustrated Encyclopedia notes that Tumblety was actually subject of considerable police interest in 1888, which, considering the numberless leads offered Scotland Yard, may say something.

Tumblety, also named as “Kumblety” or “Twomblety” in various newspaper reports, was apparently an American “quack” doctor. He was also apparently markedly misogynistic, even for the 1880s, and accused more than once of other forms of “sexual deviancy” (including homosexual relationships, of which Victorian society could of course be less than tolerant).

Allegedly, though (according to the head of Special Branch during the 1880s in fact), Scotland Yard assembled “a large dossier” on Tumblety. Certainly, they expended considerable effort pursuing him. Read more…

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Ignatius Pollaky, a Sherlock Holmes in 1874?

Posted by Matt Kuhns on May 20, 2013

Ignatius Pollaky is without question the most mysterious of great detectives. In researching Brilliant Deduction, I pieced together enough to get a sense of the man and his career, but much remains and probably will remain unknown. I don’t know what day he was born, and the only image of the man is a caricature from Figaro’s London Sketch Book of Celebrities; it looks as though it may have been drawn from a portrait, but who can say.

There’s something else possibly even more mysterious about that particular drawing, however. Care to guess?

Pollaky, professional snoop

Image from The Ohio State University Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum Collection.

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Paddington Green neighbors

Posted by Matt Kuhns on May 1, 2013

Further developing the theme of “kind correspondents send me images relating to Ignatius Pollaky and/or of significant locations in detective history that I failed to visit myself when recently in London…” I recently received a pointer to this interesting image.

19th century illustration of Paddington Green

It says “Preissnitz House, Paddington Green, London, W”

Why is this interesting? Well, apparently the address of Richard Metcalfe’s public baths was 11 Paddington Green…

So presumably we know now a little more about the scenery which would have greeted a notable neighbor of Mr. Metcalfe’s as he came and went pursuing discreet inquiries…

Thanks to my (also discreet) correspondent for the tip!

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The Civil War and the great detectives

Posted by Matt Kuhns on Apr 9, 2013

I read once that “There will never be anything more interesting in America than that Civil War.” Apparently this is a Gertrude Stein quote. I would say that it also, if arguable as a hard fact, certainly expresses a real truth. One hundred fifty years later the Civil War continues to fascinate us.

It was, also, kind of a big deal at the time.

Which probably doesn’t need illustration, though just how big it was may, perhaps, escape some people. I recall years ago, a friend returning from South Carolina where it seemed to her like a cease-fire had only been declared the week before, and then during our conversation remarking “well, that wasn’t a big deal for people up here [Iowa], was it?” In response I suggested that, actually, it was a very big deal, even up in Iowa. (Wikipedia suggests that it was, indeed, a proportionately bigger deal in Iowa than in any other state by one measure.) Still, I can see how one might think that the Civil War was a very regional phenomenon. Nearly all of the big set-piece battles that define a basic course of study were in the southeastern states, compared with which the total area of the “lower 48” states seems awfully big.

Nonetheless, the phenomenon of The Civil War was in fact even bigger, and it’s possible that the history of the great detectives examined in Brilliant Deduction constitutes as effective an illustration of this as anything.

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Great detectives in winter

Posted by Matt Kuhns on Apr 5, 2013

Figuratively, that is, i.e. “the lion in winter.” The story of real-life great detectives chronicled in Brilliant Deduction had its own beginning, middle and ending. But of course, the individuals within that larger story all had their own life-story arcs, as well. I’ve been thinking about those arcs’ trailing ends, lately. Note, I suppose what follows may be considered spoilers for my book…

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The San Franciscan Connection

Posted by Matt Kuhns on Mar 29, 2013

San Francisco’s brilliant, long-serving detective Isaiah Lees was well positioned to encounter many of Brilliant Deduction‘s other stars, from a four-dimensional perspective.

Geographically, Lees spent most of his career well outside my book’s largely Atlantic settings. Before the first Transcontinental railroad line was completed with the famous Golden Spike in 1869, California might almost have been as far from London or New York as Australia, so slow and uncertain was crossing North America by land. In the decades after, San Francisco (the fortunate terminus of that first line) was somewhat less isolated, but Lees still worked a long distance from most of his peers, in space.

In time, however, Lees was right in their midst. His police career from 1853 to 1900 spans the busy center of the timeline I drew for my book (some day I’ll post it, along with a properly designed and typeset version). Other than Vidocq, who died a few years after Lees was sworn into the SFPD, and Ellis Parker, who accepted the office of Burlington County detective just six years before Lees retired, the active years of every other detective I’ve profiled overlap considerably with those of Isaiah Lees.

As a result, it’s very tempting to speculate about connections that might have existed, even though there is only one confirmed…

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Further Research Needed

Posted by Matt Kuhns on Mar 22, 2013

I end Brilliant Deduction with a select bibliography of suggested “further reading,” which I hope some people will actually explore. But I also kind of hope the book may inspire some further research and further writing, as well. Most of my subjects have at least one full-length biography, but a few are still waiting on one; some of the others are also still worth further attention, in my opinion. If I were to draw up a List of Priorities for great-detective biographies, it would probably be the following:

  1. “Paddington” Pollaky. As I note in the book, in all modesty Brilliant Deduction is the closest thing to a full biography this extraordinary but elusive man has, to date. My single chapter is certainly not a complete biography but I hope it is, at least, a convincing argument for why one is worth attempting. During my research I encountered a hint that someone is, or at least was, working on just such a project; unfortunately, this single dozen-year-old post on a genealogy forum is the only evidence I’ve encountered. (Though for those interested in the man, it’s still a fascinating, flickering glimpse of the Pollaky family’s later history.) I can only hope that the unnamed Maryland author’s project has been delayed, rather than abandoned. Update 8/6/15: Cross this one off the list! Bryan Kesselman has written a Pollaky biography, reviewed here. (Among other things, he reveals that the “Maryland author” was probably Baltimore journalist Barney D. Emmart, who died in 1989 with the work never completed.)
  2. Read more…

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Footsteps of Paddington Pollaky

Posted by Matt Kuhns on Mar 20, 2013

Though Ignatius Paul “Paddington” Pollaky, once one of the most remarked-upon detectives in the English-speaking world, is mostly forgotten there are a few people still taking an interest, beyond my own humble efforts.

One such chronicler has thoughtfully posted a photo of the great detective’s one-time headquarters (and perhaps the third-most famous address in detective history), 13 Paddington Green, at flickr. This is particularly considerate as, per the notes on the photo, Number 13 was pulled down just in the past few years after standing proudly for at least a century and a half.

A correspondent of this blog has kindly supplied another image of the site, post-demolition:

Fare thee well, old friend

Fare thee well, old friend

A bit sad. (Though time does move on, and in fairness much of central London strikes me as almost a Monument Valley, so I can’t get too worked up about the past being carelessly discarded.)

Pollaky’s final address, meanwhile, has also been photographed and shared on the interweb, for those interested. Though IPP actually spent more time in Brighton, during his long retirement, than at Paddington Green, he apparently returned to the general area for his last rest at Kensal Green Cemetery.

I can’t help recalling one of the many memorable lines in a story of certain other much-remarked figures in Victorian London criminology, Moore and Campbell’s From Hell. “That’s all done with though. That’s all gone. All that’s left is what people can read about. Chapbooks and tombstones… chapbooks and tombstones.”

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