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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Jack Whicher returns on ITV

Posted by Matt Kuhns on May 10, 2013

Programming notice: the estimable Mister Whicher will return to television Sunday, May 12 in The Murder in Angel Lane on ITV. For those who actually have ITV as part of a television subscription package, it runs from 8 to 10 pm, presumably British Summer Time. (Making it 3 to 5 pm for American Eastern Daylight Time, I believe.)

I think just about anyone with just about any internet connected device should be able to access the show thereafter, though. I’ve not done it before, but that’s the impression I get from the ITV site. I will certainly try to view the Mister Whicher sequel somehow, and reference to a “free 30-day catch-up” seems promising.

Watch this space.

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A thorough New Jersey Man

Posted by Matt Kuhns on Mar 18, 2013

The stars of Brilliant Deduction are “forgotten” figures in the sense that they were once prominent figures, regularly in the news, at least regionally. Isaiah Lees, once a name familiar to nearly the entire city of San Francisco, is now almost vanished; William Burns, in his day perhaps the most famous real-life detective in history, has thoroughly lost out to his great rivals the Pinkertons (the exception to the rule) in popular memory. Ellis Parker, though the last to depart the stage, has fared little better; despite a recent biography, my efforts to acquire a photo of the man via the same newspapers that regularly featured his picture within living memory met with zero recognition of him.

Still, it’s more accurate to describe the reduced profiles of Parker et al. as “obscure,” because none of them is entirely forgotten. Since publishing Brilliant Deduction, in fact, I have heard from various others interested in one or another of its heroes, beyond those biographers and other chroniclers I found during my research. Just recently, their number has been joined by two gentlemen working to restore a little of the faded reputation of The Garden State’s greatest sleuth.

The first of these, attorney and local historian George R. Brinkerhoff, has written an excellent feature article on Ellis Parker for JerseyMan Magazine. Having spent a good deal of thought and effort on how to condense down Parker’s life and career, myself, I feel I may say with fair qualifications that Mr. Brinkerhoff has succeeded admirably. Parker’s origins, key information about his most remarkable cases, a good sense of what he was like as a person, and a thoughtful analysis of his story’s unhappy ending; it’s all there.

Having also observed how published reminiscences of Parker grew fewer and farther between since his death, I’m glad to see at least one local periodical taking note of his fascinating story again. Better still, there may be more to come, from the second gentleman; as noted in the JerseyMan story, Parker grandson Andrew Sahol has been preparing to write his own account of “Pop” as few other living people could.

Read more…

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