Sunday, January 24, 2016

Review: Final Proof or The Value of Evidence by Rodrigues Ottolengui

by Mary

A few thoughts on this collection recording the friendly rivalry between detective Jack Barnes and Robert Leroy Mitchel, "the gentleman who imagines himself to be able to outdo detectives in their own line of work". According to the preface, the pair had previously worked together in An Artist In Crime and The Crime of the Century, neither of which I have read. The chronologically arranged stories in this book begin after the close of An Artist In Crime.

It's always difficult to review short stories without giving too much away, but ever ready to have a stab at it, I plunge into the melee forthwith.

The Phœnix of Crime A drowned man is identified by certain indications of an illness so rare that only a couple of other cases have been reported in the country -- but how can this be, when he was recently cremated?

The Missing Link The corpse of a woman sans head, hands, and feet is found In the bathtub of a house open for inspection by prospective purchasers. The mystery is solved with the aid of the titular item, although I confess I feel the solution will require readers to suspend their disbelief so much it'll do it a mischief.

The Nameless Man A man asks for help in establishing who he is, for he has lost his memory. A bicycle is an important clue to his identity -- though all is not what it seems.

The Montezuma Emerald. The emerald's last owner was murdered. Mitchel, a gem collector, purchases it and is subsequently found in the river, a dagger in his back.

A Singular Abduction A wealthy man's daughter is kidnapped but brought safely home with the aid of personal ads and a cyclometer.

The Aztec Opal Who stole the titular opal -- it once formed an idol's eye -- when the lights went out?

The Duplicate Harlequin Continuing the previous story, the man with the other eye (that would be a good title for something or other!) attempts to obtain the matching opal by trickery.

The Pearls of Isis Each pearl is said to represent the price of a maiden's honour because its gift permitted her to avoid temple service. A society woman obtains the pearl necklace by blackmail and then it is stolen during a masquerade ball...

A Promissory Note A man elopes with a rancher's wife, leaving an IOU for her. The husband forces the man to sign a thirty-day note to be paid with his life. Just when he thinks he's safe, the specified time having expired....a nice twist ending to a locked room story. Perhaps the best in the collection

A Novel Forgery Forged cheques are being drawn on a businessman's account. I was intrigued to learn at one time the amount of a cheque was also punched into it, and even then it was sometimes possible to alter it!

A Frosty Morning A 1,000 pound note vanishes in a room occupied only by a solicitor and a couple of other people, none of whom have it on their persons. A midnight vigil and frost ferns on a window help solve the case.

A Shadow of Proof A society woman is convinced one of two visitors, both of whom she dislikes, stole her diamond stud. The solution is not entirely fair to the reader although it's certainly ingenious.

My verdict: The solutions to most of these stories will be easy for mystery fans to deduce but they're interesting in their own right given their publication date. I liked Mitchel's theory that by purchasing great jewels such as those mentioned "hundreds of crimes would be prevented, even before they had been conceived", while also affording him "abundant opportunity for studying the crimes which are perpetrated in order to gain possession of them". In any event, the duelling characters caught my interest enough to look forward to reading A Modern Wizard courtesy of Gutenberg. As for this collection? Difficult to grade, so I shall settle on B- Please do not throw cabbages.

Etext: Final Proof or The Value of Evidence by Rodrigues Ottolengui

NOTE: A pioneering dentist, Rodriques Ottolengui was also an early proponent of the detective story.Final Proof, first published in 1898 was lauded by Ellery Queen as one of Queen's Quorum -- the most important collections of detective short stories.

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