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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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.

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Ellis Parker: the lost Dolan brother?

Posted by Matt Kuhns on May 15, 2013

This is almost certainly coincidence. But it’s something of an amusing coincidence, I think. I recently purchased several back issues of the late Will Eisner’s classic comic strip, The Spirit (it was adapted into a ridiculous-looking action movie a few years ago). I’ve been acquainted with The Spirit for a number of years, but as I read through these latest acquisitions, I was struck by the odd resemblance of Police Commissioner Dolan to someone else I’ve gotten to know through extensive reading…

Photos of Ellis Parker and drawings of Commissioner Dolan

Dolan’s the one in the bottom row (Parker photos courtesy William Fullerton)

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Great detectives in comics: Pinkerton

Posted by Matt Kuhns on Feb 8, 2013

In my chapter on Allan Pinkerton, I make some observations about Allan Pinkerton’s relatively durable fame compared with most of his peers, and about some of the unusual forms that fame has taken:

The Pinkertons were effectively the nation’s law force during the Civil War and the Wild West era. Allan himself planned strategy with Abraham Lincoln, hunted fraud for the great railroad magnates, and waged war against the Renos and the James Gang. With such famous company, Pinkerton and his agency never vanish for very long before some new retelling or re-imagining, from a children’s book, to a television documentary, to the fictionalized historic background of a Batman graphic novel.

I happen to own the last item referred to, though I didn’t realize that it had any tie-in with great detectives when I purchased it. Or at least, great detectives other than the Dark Knight Detective himself, whose reputation as a detective is (IMO) more of a tradition based on his first appearance in Detective Comics issue #27 than on the modern character being particularly more of a detective than any other costumed crimefighter. The 2003 graphic novel Detective No. 27 by Michael Uslan and Peter Snejbjerg, however, is an “imaginary story” which takes Bruce Wayne out of costume to unravel a mysterious conspiracy alongside a number of other famed detectives, some fictional and some historical.

The latter includes Allan Pinkerton, along with a couple of his own best detectives. Appearing only in flashback to the conspiracy’s beginnings, none of the Pinkertons meet “Detective Number 27,” i.e. Bruce Wayne., but they get considerably more ink than the cameos for which Nick & Nora, Nero Wolfe, et al. have to settle. They also get lively action scenes with a bit of a Wild Wild West flavor, such as these panels in which Allan, disguised as Charles Darwin, is exposed by one of the bad guys:

Allan Pinkerton in 'Detective No. 27'

Art by Snejbjerg, dialogue by Uslan

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