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. Read more…

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The He-Man Woman Haters’ Club?

Posted by Matt Kuhns on Mar 4, 2013

I’ve been thinking a bit this week on whether Brilliant Deduction might be considered a “guy” book.

There is something to the idea, based on traditional concepts of gender in our society at least. First and foremost, women play only limited roles; it isn’t The Hobbit or The Shawshank Redemption, but as I note in the book’s introduction, the phenomenon of real-life famous detectives that I examine was the product of a particular culture and era, i.e. Western society during the “Long Nineteenth Century.”

That culture and era generally did not regard police work—from which the detective profession grew—as an appropriate career for women. For that matter, it didn’t exactly regard the idea of having a career as appropriate for women. Thus most of the other people appearing in my book—politicians, financiers, industrialists—are also men. Even among criminal society, with little concern for social strictures in other areas, women were almost equally underrepresented (or, I suppose, so much more effective that they avoided notice far more often).

Meanwhile, the world that shows up in Brilliant Deduction is not only predominantly male per numbers, but per (traditional concepts of) style and emphasis. Heavyset, bearded men enjoying brandy and cigars with their comfortable boys’-club connections; train robberies, bomb plots and jailbreaks; classic “man cave” settings from smokey taverns to William Pinkerton’s office* to Ellis Parker’s Elk’s Lodge. Is this, then, a book simply made to adorn the modern man cave? What kind of audience do I really have in mind, here?

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Great photos of great detectives, no. 1

Posted by Matt Kuhns on Jan 26, 2013

Inspired by Mark Evanier’s “Great Photos of…” series, I’ll drop an interesting picture into the blog now and then.

Pat Connell, William Pinkerton and Sam Finley

Pat Connell, William Pinkerton and Sam Finley, c. 1880. Library of Congress photo [ LC-DIG-ppmsca-10781]

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