There are times, when reading the short stories about Average Jones, that it seems they must have been written with today's collection of politicians, corrupt businesses and misleading advertising in mind.
Not so. "Average Jones," a collection of short stories by Samuel Hopkins Adams, was first published in 1911, 102 years ago, but they are as fresh - and as much fun - as if they had just been written last year. The stories about "Average Jones" are the subject of this week's audio review on the Classic Mysteries podcast, and you can listen to the full review by clicking here.
Samuel Hopkins Adams was a muckraking investigative journalist, and his newspaper and magazine articles about the evils of advertising in general and medical advertising in particular are generally credited with forcing Congress to create the Food and Drug Administration, the FDA.
His detective - not a detective, really, but as he calls it, an "ad-visor," is Average Jones. A strange name? Well, yes, but his parents had given him the full name of Adrian Van Reypen Egerton Jones, or A. V. R. E. J., which explains why his friends called him "Average." He used to scan the daily newspapers for their classified ads - and there were many of them - that intrigued him. For many business leaders at the time, the philosophy of advertising, of course, was largely "caveat emptor," let the buyer beware. and Jones, like his creator, would often find that a strange ad led him straight to a criminal conspiracy. The stories involve all kinds of criminal behavior, including kidnapping and murder. Some of the stories have wonderful, bizarre atmospheres, although the solutions are generally based on science - strange inventions and stranger animals, sometimes, but all pretty much legitimate. Given Adams's background as a muckraking journalist, these stories generally ring true; occasionally we find ourselves wondering how much really has changed in the century since they were written.
Sometimes - too often, perhaps, for some readers - Jones relies on coincidences to reveal the secrets he is investigating, although, as he says, "Detective work, for all that is said on the other side, is mostly the ability to recognize and connect coincidences." I found the stories to be a lot of fun, and I recommend them highly. There are still paperback and hardcover editions available - but it's worth noting that the Kindle edition (at the link above) is free.