Let's travel back in time today, all the way back to 1878. Mystery fiction was still fairly new at that point. Sherlock Holmes wouldn't be along for another eight years. But 1878 saw the publication of a book that really became a signpost pointing towards what the modern mystery would soon entail. The book was The Leavenworth Case, by Anna Katharine Green, and it introduced a detective, Ebenezer Gryce, who would become the first American series detective. The Leavenworth Case is the subject of today's audio review on the Classic Mysteries podcast, and you can listen to the full review by clicking here.
The book begins with the murder of Horatio Leavenworth, a wealthy New York industrialist. It was quite clearly a case of murder - and it must have been committed by someone living in the house. Suspicion is directed at Leavenworth's two nieces, one of whom stands to inherit practically all of the dead man's fortune. A young lawyer, Everett Raymond, who serves as our narrator, is on hand to assist the young women, but he is increasingly concerned when the evidence seems to indicate that one of them must have committed the crime. Fortunately, the police investigation is in the hands of Ebenezer Gryce, and Gryce's surprising discoveries will take quite a number of unexpected twists before the crime is solved.
A word about Mr. Gryce: he stands as the first American detective to appear in a series of mysteries, for Anna Katharine Green used his character as the detective in several more mysteries after The Leavenworth Case. He is quite intelligent, and he welcomes the offer of assistance from our narrator. Gryce laments that his one major failing is that he is not a “gentleman” – at least as the term was understood, even in the U. S., in those Victorian times; Mr. Raymond, he says, can go into corners of upper-class society – including the Leavenworth family – where Gryce would be most unwelcome and highly unlikely to be successful in his investigations. Raymond collects information for Gryce, and it is the latter who understands the significance of what is learned. The book ends with one of those marvelous confrontation scenes where the detective gathers the suspects and traps the killer into a confession, in the best fashion of, say, Nero Wolfe or Hercule Poirot. It was a relatively new idea when Anna Katharine Green used it, and it works extremely well.
The Leavenworth Case is long out of copyright, and there are free electronic editions available, but I'd recommend the Penguin Classic version (whether in paper or as an e-book), which has the benefit of a first-rate introduction by Michael Sims. After 137 years, this book holds up amazingly well.
The 2015 Bingo Challenge
Continuing my participation in the 2015 Vintage Mystery Bingo challenge. under way at the My Reader's Block blog, Call Dr. Fortune is my entry for the square (fourth row, third column) calling for one book with a man in the title.