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.

For all of the commentary, music and verse inspired by “Paddington” Pollaky, I’m not 100% certain that anyone has troubled to write a fictional story about the man. Per my understanding, the 1868 novel Foul Play was later made into a stage play featuring “Ignatius Paul Pollaky Wolouski (a detective),” though no variant of the name appears in the text of the novel so perhaps the reference to Pollaky was only added for the stage adaptation. I ought at least to note, however, that composer Bryan Kesselman is at work on an opera about the one and only Pollaky, which will be “more fiction than fact.”

Per Isaiah Lees‘s biographer William Secrest, Lees had at least one outing as a fictional detective: “In a novel titled ‘The Mysteries of San Francisco,’ a police officer called ‘Captain Rees’ makes an appearance during a trial. No one in the city had any doubts that the character was based on San Francisco’s famous sleuth.” Unfortunately I’ve no idea where one might begin to look for the November 1861 issue of The California Magazine to confirm this.

William J. Burns “did not star in fiction, he starred in life,” in the words of his own biographer. But there were exceptions. In a turnabout of his predecessor’s path, Burns had a stage play later adapted into a novel; I’m not certain how much of The Argyle Case is fiction in either format but I note it here. A better bet may be the “Detective McKenna” stories of Owen Johnson. I find that a century ago, mystery novels apparently hadn’t yet established the helpful modern practice of emblazoning “A Patrice Perowne Mystery” or whatever the relevant series may be across the cover, so I’ve only been able to confirm one McKenna novel, but you can read The Sixty-First Second at Google books if you’re of a mind. I should also make mention of the satiric misadventures of “Hot Tobasco Burns” and company in Bud Fisher’s comic strip A. Mutt. It doesn’t look like many, if any, of these early pre-Jeff strips have been reprinted, though, so tracking down archives of the circa-1907 San Francisco Examiner may be your only option. (And then there’s a more-recent vignette you may have seen…)

Finally, I’m again pretty well stumped for any fictional prose stories inspired by Ellis Parker, though he too appeared once or twice in comics. Though it may not quite count as fiction, biographer John Riesinger describes “a highly glamorized version of [Parker’s] Ivy Giberson murder case” appearing in the pages of Crime Patrol, presumably in the late 1940s or early 50s. Otherwise, well, I don’t think that Commissioner Dolan of The Spirit was actually based on Parker in any direct way, but I have wondered on occasion…

If anyone has other additions to suggest, comments are open.

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