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. William and Robert Pinkerton. The Pinkerton agency’s second generation is reasonably well chronicled, but I believe the pair’s remarkable lives and careers are still more than worthy of a dedicated biography of their own. (I do think any study of either one will inevitably be a shared biography, all the same, as the two of them were a thoroughly matched set; trying to write a biography of just William or just Robert would be like trying to write a biography about, say, just one of the Van Sweringen brothers.)
  3. William Burns. Unlike the others in this list, William Burns has at least two books dedicated to him, but I still believe there’s considerable room for at least one more. The Incredible Detective is delightfully entertaining reading, but mostly hagiography (and rather careless with dates); Front-Page Detective offers a more balanced look at Burns, but it’s a relatively small volume and also written more as a study of Burns the social phenomenon than Burns the individual. Yet Burns the individual was also a (figuratively) large figure, IMO still deserving of a larger work. This was an energetic, complex man who loomed very large indeed in his industry and era. There’s a lot left for any potential biographer to work with.
  4. Jonathan Whicher. The inclusion of Mr. Whicher on this book is no slight to Kate Summerscale; The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher is thoroughly excellent work. But it isn’t exactly a biography of Whicher. It’s probably a kind of hybrid of biography and case history of the Road murder investigation. And I believe there’s potential for a further work dedicated to Whicher, himself. More than one of his other cases sound arguably just as fascinating as the Road murder or the Tichborne Claimant case, yet they receive only brief mentions from Summerscale—and while I probably would have focused my book’s chapter on Whicher’s two blockbuster investigations anyway, the truth is I couldn’t find much else. But the man was a Scotland Yard inspector for most of his career; there should be information somewhere… Jack Whicher was not a prominent figure on the order of Pollaky, Burns or the Pinkertons, so I list him as a lower priority, but I believe that his life, too, still offers significant potential for another excellent book.

Finally, while she is not a major figure in Brilliant Deduction, as long as I’m making this list I feel like it’s worth giving some special mention to Kate Warne, Allan Pinkerton’s (and likely America’s first) lady detective. I for one would be very glad to read more about this trailblazing woman. The few notes I encountered in reading about the Pinkertons’ history are powerfully suggestive of an individual with remarkable daring and ability, and a remarkable history of her own. Whether that history can ever be recovered, however, I have no idea; I believe that enough records remain of I.P. Pollaky’s life and work that a gifted and determined researcher could just piece together a true biography, but given the loss of Pinkerton’s early records in the Great Chicago Fire, bringing Kate Warne back may simply be impossible.

I certainly encourage anyone who feels like trying, though. I confess that if anyone should ever tackle any of the above projects, it probably won’t be me. I hope to examine something different for my own next writing project, for one thing; for another, as much as I believe that Brilliant Deduction is a good book, I’m still a graphic designer who has done some writing rather than a full-time writer. Barring astonishingly successful sales, I don’t envision myself with the time or resources to spend weeks or months combing through archives in London, e.g., any time soon. If I do some day return to one of the stars of Brilliant Deduction, it may well be for some other type of work entirely. Perhaps historical fiction…

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2 Comments

Dear Mr Kuhns,
With regard to Paddington Pollaky, I read on Twitter that a biography is planned by David Southwell. I think this is an old post, so I don’t know if this is still on the cards. I myself am in the process of writing an opera about him researched from original source material including contemporary newspaper reports and interviews as well as communications from the Agony Columns – although the piece itself will be more fiction than fact.

A copy of your book arrived by post a few days ago, and I am looking forward to reading it (not just the Pollaky section).


 

Wonderful information, Bryan! Thank you for posting it. I hope you will enjoy the book, and look forward to your own project!


 

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