Reminder: Larchmere Fest this Saturday

Posted by Matt Kuhns on Jul 1, 2013

Just a reminder, this Saturday is Author Alley, where I will be appearing along with dozens of other authors in Shaker Heights from noon-4 p.m. Full details of the event, including a complete list of attending authors and our works, are available here.

You can also enjoy art, music, antiques, food, etc., etc., during the larger Larchmere Festival beginning at 10.

I’ll be there rain or (hopefully) sun; come visit me! Bring friends!

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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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Detection and The City

Posted by Matt Kuhns on Jun 26, 2013

The professional detective is primarily an urban figure. I touch on this association a few times in Brilliant Deduction, as well as how the rise of the detective profession to its greatest prominence coincided with the rise of the expanding industrial cities of 19th century Europe and America; the combination of very large concentrations of people (mostly unfamiliar to one another and constantly being joined by immigrants from the countryside or overseas), with evolutions in commerce (e.g. the spread of banking services) and transportation (e.g. the railroad’s enabling rapid access to distant points on the map) found old-fashioned law enforcement measures sorely wanting.

I was pleased to see some of the same ideas, recently, examined in a work looking at the other side of the phenomenon, i.e. cities. In City: A Guidebook for the Urban Age, P.D. Smith considers seemingly more aspects of life than not, in fact, appropriately enough given his thesis that the tendency toward urban life is an essential part of what defines the human race. At any rate, a great deal of human experience since the beginning of recorded history has been part of the urban experience, certainly, crime and crimefighting being no exceptions.

Smith notes that “Crime fiction emerges at the same time as the rise of the great industrial cities of Europe and America,” including detective fiction, the prototype of which was Poe’s “The Murders in the Rue Morgue.”

When “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” was first published, the word “detective” did not even exist in the English language. The first detective department [in the Anglophone world] appeared the year after, in 1842. Even in 1840, New York… had no full-time, professional police force. Indeed, there was little serious crime. But over the coming decades the situation changed as the city grew rapidly. In 1859, the New York Herald complained: “Our record of crime to-day is truly appalling. Scarcely is the excitement attending one murder allayed when a fresh tragedy equally horrible takes place.” … Within thirty years, policing became New York City’s single largest expenditure and there was a growing fear of organised crime.”

Pretty much, yeah. Poe, of course, was partly inspired to write the first detective story by the exploits of the first detective, Vidocq… the word “detective” was introduced to the English language by Charles Dickens, in articles about Jonathan Whicher and other members of the detective force established to address London’s “appalling” crime problems… in the years ahead, the rapid growth of not only New York but newer American cities on the western frontier, such as Chicago and San Francisco, created opportunities for remarkable figures in both private detection (such as Allan Pinkerton) and public forces (such as Isaiah Lees). Even the one exception to Brilliant Deduction‘s otherwise urban-dwelling cast, Ellis Parker, may have lived and worked in a rural small-town setting but was at the same time firmly within the super-urbanized region that first spawned the term “megalopolis.”

One might indeed have subtitled my book The Story of Real-Life Great-City Detectives… except that it would have been thoroughly redundant.

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The trail of Pinkerton’s lost estate

Posted by Matt Kuhns on Jun 21, 2013

Allan Pinkerton’s country estate, The Larches, was admittedly never truly lost. But it did disappear from the place of prominence it once occupied, rather like most of history’s notable real-life detectives other than Pinkerton, in fact. Like their stories, The Larches has still been there, just obscure.

And just as with Pollaky, Burns, and even the younger Pinkertons, present-day obscurity has not always been the case. Onarga, Illinois has never been a major destination, exactly, but once upon a time it was the regular retreat of a fairly famous man and played host to other powerful and connected figures.

That changed following the death of Allan Pinkerton in 1884. During research for my book, I read hints that The Larches had become “a ruin” by the 1960s, but some further investigation has recently turned up more details. A kind correspondent has replied to my inquiries with much fascinating information.

According to documents I’ve received, Pinkerton’s will expressed an ambition to preserve The Larches and keep it in use by his family in perpetuity, “But his sons William and Robert had other ideas.”

Read more…

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Great photos of great detectives, no. 6

Posted by Matt Kuhns on Jun 18, 2013

There isn’t a great deal to post about this one, but I like it and feel like sharing. Ellis Parker and one of his (many) grandchildren:

Ellis Parker and a grandson

Ellis the family man

There’s something adorable about this stocky, gruff-looking bald old cop gently taking the hand of this innocent little tot. Definitely a glimpse of the kind man whose reputation as such was, unfortunately, dinged up by failing judgement in late-life. Frankly, if there were ever a Parker statue, this wouldn’t be a half-bad image to use.

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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.

Read more…

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Great detectives in comics: Burns

Posted by Matt Kuhns on Jun 11, 2013

My mother once related a novel little story of school fundraising and flash fashion trends from, I’m guessing, some time in the mid 1960s. (Bear with me, this is leading to the subject promised in the headline.) Traditionally, whatever grade she was in at the time conducted some or other type of fundraiser for a class trip. When the time came for her class to hustle money from friends, family and neighbors, for whatever reason they elected to sell beanies.

By which I mean cheap, round soft-cloth caps. Similar to the of caps worn by Tweedledee and Tweedledum in Tenniel’s illustration, essentially. Which, given both this specific association and the broader association between beanies and dorkiness, might have suggested the 196X class trip was going to be on a very modest budget.

And well it might have been, except for the unfathomable potential for random things to become trends. In my lifetime, I recall brief periods when people would do almost anything for Tickle-Me-Elmo, or a Nintendo Wii; in Monticello, in that particular year, beanies became a craze. Whatever the reason, the beanies caught on, and everyone had to have one. Mom and classmates sold out the first order. They sold out a reorder, and possibly another after that, and might have sold more but for some adult with the wisdom to quit while they were ahead. As it happened, they had sold enough beanies to pay for the most lavish class trip in memory and set aside a nice head-start for future years that might not benefit from such a random windfall.

Most of half a century later, I recall the Great Beanie Craze for a nearly-as-odd connection with one of the subjects of my book, and comics.

Read more…

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More writing, free: Quantum Whatever

Posted by Matt Kuhns on Jun 8, 2013

For those who have enjoyed Brilliant Deduction, this blog, or for anyone else who may be reading this for some other reason, I would like to offer up a previous literary effort: Quantum Whatever. This is a ‘zine I produced in 2011, in partnership with a gifted writer and remarkably talented photographer I knew in college, collecting artwork, prose and poetry. Copies are free for the asking. Leave a comment, e-mail me; call, send a postcard, even.

I should note that in issue #32 of the Xerography Debt meta-zine, D. Blake Werts wrote that Quantum Whatever “is something to behold. I cannot recommend this any more than I am. With the price set at FREE, you absolutely have no reason to skip this one.” (And no, neither I nor my co-creator knows the reviewer.)

For those interested, a bit more information about this project may be found at my other blog, e.g. here and here. But the best way to learn more is just asking for a copy.

Paper! Ink! Staples!!

Copies are available. I’ll update this post if/when I ever run out!

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Lees and “The Bell Tower”

Posted by Matt Kuhns on Jun 5, 2013

A few months ago, while reading a work of fiction based on the Whitechapel murders, I discovered another book about the same crimes advertised in the back. (There was even a clip-out coupon; how quaint this seems, now.) Despite my skepticism about any claims of solving a century-old crime, and even moreso about claims to have pulled a clean solution from the bottomless mire of Ripperology, I was intrigued by The Bell Tower: The case of Jack the Ripper finally solved… in San Francisco.

I presumed that in some way it connected Jack the Ripper to the Emmanuel Baptist Church murders, of which I had read in researching the career of Isaiah Lees; as this was one of a few strange, coincidental associations between Lees and the Ripper crimes that I had encountered, I made a note to get hold of the book at some point.

I’ve done so, and finished the 525-page account by Robert Graysmith of his theory that the executed Theodore Durrant was innocent of the murders in the church, which were actually the work of church pastor Jack Gibson (and a buddy), who was also behind the infamous Whitechapel murders in London, which form a kind of cross if you choose enough of them and assume one or two additional points.

Let me just say that I’m unconvinced. Beyond that, and noting that the author of another recent book-length re-examination of the Baptist church murders found Durrant’s identification as the murderer entirely satisfactory, I don’t really want to get into debating either those events or the identity of Jack the Ripper. I’ll leave that game to far more dedicated players than I.

I do, however, want to note my bafflement at Mr. Graysmith’s apparent loathing for Isaiah Lees.

Read more…

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Island mentality at ITV

Posted by Matt Kuhns on Jun 2, 2013

I was all set to watch The Murder in Angle Lane, finally, last night. I registered at, confirmed my registration, and everything seemed ready to go. I went off to make dinner musing rapturously on this wonderful networked age with its seamless availability of so much great content, etc., etc…

Then I sat down to hit “play” and ran smack into the old-fashioned world of barriers and petty fiefdoms.

Having gone through registration, and confirmation, I was only then at the point of playing a video prompted for a “postcode,” i.e. a British postcode. And even this was disingenuous because what their system really demands is not a British address but a British IP address. They don’t seem to provide any kind of notice in their promotional material that their service is geographically firewalled, they don’t point this out when one tries to sign up for it, either, but if one digs around in the FAQ eventually one may find a very quiet advisory that “We do not hold international rights to all of our programming, so video content is supplied only to users with IP addresses in the UK.”

I can’t exactly blame ITV for the underlying reality, here; the persistence of this obsolete concept of slicing up content distribution into geographic partitions, even when content is being distributed on a global network, is much larger than ITV. (See the scam known as Region Coding, e.g.) Still, one would think that they could at least communicate their service’s resultant unavailability to approximately ninety-nine percent of the online population a little bit more efficiently…

One is reminded of the oft-recited (if perhaps apocryphal) British newspaper headline: “Fog in Channel, Continent Isolated.”

Meanwhile, short of going to Britain to watch the movie there, I’m not sure what my next step is; officially, the only alternative is presumably “wait until someone gets around to authorizing your backwater outpost to see this content.” I’ve taken a quick look online and there are, naturally, means of subverting this attempted subversion of the inherent nature of the internet, through technical and presumably illegal jiggery-pokery of some sort… Not sure I feel like bothering right now, really.

As they say on ESPN, “Come on, man.”

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