Two Unique Detectives in Fiction by Carolyn Wells 1913
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Rouletabille appreciated the dramatic value of what Poe called the pungent contradiction of the general idea. In "The Mystery of the Yellow Room," by Gaston Leroux, the following conversation occurs:
"Have you any idea as to the murderer's station in life?"
"Yes," he replied; "I think if he isn't a man in society, he is, at least, a man belonging to the upper class. But that, again, is only an impression."
"What has led you to form it?"
"Well,—the greasy cap, the common handkerchief, and the marks of the rough boots on the floor," he replied.
"I understand," I said; "murderers don't leave traces behind them which tell the truth."
"We shall make something out of you yet, my dear Sainclair," concluded Rouletabille.
Like Lecoq, this young man was not infallible; but his author made him this way for the same reason. Because he figures in a novel, and the infallible detective must do his work in a short-story.
Rouletabille's strong card is pure reason.
"How did you come to suspect Larsan?" asked the President.
"My pure reason pointed to him. But I did not foresee the drugging. He is very cunning. Yes, my pure reason pointed to him."
"What do you mean by your pure reason?"
"That power of one's mind which admits of no disturbing elements to a conclusion. The day following the incident of 'the inexplicable gallery,' I felt myself losing control of it. I had allowed myself to be diverted by fallacious evidence; but I recovered and again took hold of the right end."
Again, he says:
"M. Sainclair, you ought to know that I never suspect any person or anything without previously having satisfied myself upon the 'ground of pure reason.' That is a solid staff which has never yet failed me on the road and on which I invite you all to lean with me."
His pure reason is of the subtlest variety, and his fine work throughout the book commands always the admiration of the connoisseur. In a seemingly inexplicable situation he exclaims:
"Let us reason it out!"
And he returned on the instant to that argument which had already served us and which he repeated again and again to himself (in order that, he said, he should not be lured away by the outer appearance of things): "Do not look for Larsan in that place where he reveals himself; seek for him everywhere else where he hides himself."
This he followed up with the supplementary argument: "He never shows himself where he seems to be except to prevent us from seeing him where he really is." And he resumed:
"Ah! the outer appearance of things! Look here, Sainclair! There are moments when, for the sake of reasoning clearly, I want to get rid of my eyes! Let us get rid of our eyes, Sainclair, for five minutes—just five minutes, and, perhaps, we shall see more clearly."
Mystery and Suspense Writers: The Literature of Crime,
Detection, and Espionage by Robin W. Winks
Rouletabille's subtlety of reasoning rose almost to clairvoyance. In his desperate endeavors to discover the identity of Larsan, he relates his experience thus:
"And why did all the others sit so silent and so motionless behind their dark glasses? All at once, I turned my head and looked behind me. Then I understood, more by instinct than anything else, that I was the object of a common physical attraction. Someone was looking at me. Two eyes were fixed upon me—weighing upon me. I could not see the eyes and I did not know from where the glance fixed upon me came, but it was there. I knew it—and it was his glance. But there was no one behind me, nor at the right, nor the left, nor in front, except the people who were seated at the table, motionless, behind their dark glasses. And then—then I knew that Larsan's eyes were glaring at me from behind a pair of those glasses —ah! the dark glasses,—the dark glasses behind which were hidden Larsan's eyes. If I mention this incident here, it is for the purpose of showing to how great an extent I was haunted by the image of Larsan, hiding under some new form, and lurking unknown among us. Dear Heaven! Larsan had so often proved his talent—I may even say his genius—in this respect, that I felt that he was quite capable of defying us now, and of mingling with us while we thought that he was a stranger—or, perhaps, even a friend."
So fearful is he that one of the seemingly well-known people about him may be Larsan in disguise, that he says to Sainclair:
"Hold your left hand in your right for five minutes and then ask yourself: 'Is it you, Larsan?' And when you have replied to yourself, do not feel too sure, for he may, perhaps, have lied to you, and he may be in your own skin without your knowing it."
There is nothing imitative about this young detective. His methods are unique. His pure reasoning is most subtle; and though the farthest possible remove from realism it presents a semblance of reality that is entirely convincing.
In "The Whispering Man" Mr. Henry Kitchell Webster employs a very different principle for the use of his detective. It may be called the principle of The Inspired Guess, and though improbable, perhaps not more so than the laws of detective fiction permit. The Whispering Man thus describes it himself:
"I had happened to tell him once that I believed that I always knew a criminal when I saw one, without knowing how or why—by just looking at him. He didn't scout that theory as you would if I were to give you a chance."
"And you believed all the while," I repeated, incredulously, "that McWilliams was the man?"
"Not believed; knew. Oh, I don't know how. That's the whole point. That's what I've been preaching all the evening. The only certain knowledge is the inspired guess."
One of the most remarkable Detectives of Fiction is Mr. Zangwill's Grodman, who in "Big Bow Mystery," thus discourses:
"It grew daily clearer to me that criminals were more fools than rogues. Every crime I had traced, however cleverly perpetrated, was from the point of view of penetrability a weak failure. Traces and trails were left on all sides—ragged edges, rough-hewn corners; in short, the job was botched, artistic completeness unattained. To the vulgar, my feats might seem marvelous—the average man is mystified to grasp how you detect the letter 'e' in a simple cryptogram—to myself they were as commonplace as the crimes they unveiled. To me now, with my lifelong study of the science of evidence, it seemed possible to commit not merely one, but a thousand crimes that should be absolutely undiscoverable. And yet criminals would go on sinning, and giving themselves away, in the same old grooves—no originality, no dash, no individual insight, no fresh conception! One would imagine there were an Academy of crime with forty thousand armchairs. And gradually, as I pondered and brooded over the thought, there came upon me the desire to commit a crime that should baffle detection. I could invent hundreds of such crimes, and please myself by imagining them done; but would they really work out in practice? Evidently the sole performer of my experiment must be myself; the subject whom or what? Accident should determine. I itched to commence with murder—to tackle the stiffest problems first, and I burned to startle and baffle the world—especially the world of which I had ceased to be. Outwardly I was calm, and spoke to the people about me as usual. Inwardly I was on fire with a consuming scientific passion. I sported with my pet theories, and fitted them mentally on every one I met. Every friend or acquaintance I sat and gossiped with, I was plotting how to murder without leaving a clue. There is not one of my friends or acquaintances I have not done away with in thought. There is no public man—have no fear, my dear Home Secretary—I have not planned to assassinate secretly, mysteriously, unintelligibly, undiscoverably. Ah, how I could give the stock criminals points with their second-hand motives, their conventional conceptions, their commonplace details, their lack of artistic feeling and restraint."
And in the same book, we get this description of the contrasting official detective:
Wimp was at his greatest in collecting circumstantial evidence; in putting two and two together to make five. He would collect together a number of dark and disconnected data and flash across them the electric light of some unifying hypothesis in a way which would have done credit to a Darwin or a Faraday. An intellect which might have served to unveil the secret workings of nature was subverted to the protection of a capitalistic civilization.
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