Sunday, September 8, 2013

Malcolm Sage, Detective: Review

What's up with the give-away cover?
Malcolm Sage, Detective (1921) is a collection of short stories by Herbert Jenkins.  Sage had been involved in intelligence for Britain's Z Division during World War I and when the war ended Sir John Dene (who owed much to Sage) helped set him up in the Malcolm Sage Detective Bureau--meant to be a British Pinkerton's.  This volume details the first years of the agency's cases.  Sage has a staff of devoted and able men and women--James Thompson, his principle assistant; Gladys Norman, confidential secretary; William Johnson, junior staff member; and Arthur Tims, chauffeur. What follows is a set of seven cases.  The stories are broken up into more than one named chapter--which makes it look like there are seventeen mysteries.

Sage's style owes much to the Sherlock Holmes school.  He examines everything and keeps some of the clues in reserve.  But, unlike Holmes, he reveals just enough that the astute reader can get a hint of the proper solution.  In fact, in a couple of the stories, there are questions asked that should immediately flag the culprit.  But Sage also offers a preview of the Hercule Poirot style--using psychology and a keen eye for detail when interviewing witnesses.  Two of the stories have a bit of a speculative fiction feel to them--involving, resepectively--race memory as a motive and a youth serum--but it is straight detective work that solves the cases--no hocus-pocus.  These stories are short and feature a clever and likeable detective--as well as likeable supporting characters.  There are two early "locked room" murders and SPOILER a "the butler did it" story that precedes Mary Roberts Rinehart (highlight previous to view possible spoiler).  A very enjoyable collection from the early 20th Century.  Three and a half stars.

Here is a brief run-down of the cases:

"Sir John Dene Receives His Orders": details the beginnings of the Malcolm Sage Detective Bureau and gives background details on Sage and his staff.

"The Strange Case of Mr. Challoner" and "Malcolm Sage's Mysterious Movements": Mr. Challoner is found, an apparent suicide, dead of a gunshot wound.  The door is locked with the key in it and all the windows are locked as well.  But Sage finds little indications that it must be murder and suspicion begins to rest on Challoner's nephew who had quarreled with his uncle earlier in the evening.  But is he the only one with motive?

"The Surrey Cattle-Maiming Mystery" and "Inspector Wensdale Is Surprised": Over 30 incidents involving the mutilation and deaths of cattle have occurred over the last two years.  The police have already been on the case--with no results.  And the local men have organized a village watch to no avail.  So, when General John Hackblock's mare is attacked he decides to consult Sage--who despite asking all sorts of questions and looking up various things in the almanac seems reluctant to get involved.  But it's all a blind to keep the culprit from knowing he's on the case (a la Holmes and The Hound of the Baskervilles).

"The Stolen Admiralty Memorandum" and "The Ourtrage at the Garage": Sage is summoned to a country mansion where the Prime Minister, the First Lord of the Admiralty, and the Secretary of War are all in a panic.  A very sensitive memorandum has gone missing and a great deal of damage could be done if it finds its way into the wrong hands.  There is a houseful of weekend guests and servants.  Who is the guilty party?

"Gladys Norman dines with Thompson": A non-mystery intermission in which Gladys muses on the whys and wherefores of the staff devotion to their "Chief."  A fun little send-up of the expectations for romance in the mystery/thrillers of the time.

"The Holding Up of Lady Glanedale" and "A Lesson in Deduction": A jewelry-loving cat burglar seems to be on the loose.  Five weeks ago, Mrs. Comminge was the victim of a burglar who crept into her bedroom and threatened to shoot her if she didn't hand over her jewel case and keep quiet until he could make his escape.  Now, it appears that he has struck again at the home of Lady Glanedale.  The Twentieth Century Insurance Corporation Limited calls in Sage to verify the particulars--and he reveals the surprising identity of the Glanedale cat burglar.

"The McMurray Mystery" and "The Marmalade Clue": Professor James McMurray has been hard at work--trying to perfect a "youth serum," or at least one that will lengthen the average life span.  He is discovered dead in a locked laboratory....with a blow to the head from a poker and a strangely youthful appearance to his features.  Sage must discover how the murderer got in and out....and decipher the clue of uneaten marmalade (every bit as significant as the depth that parsley sinks into butter).

"The Glyston Slander" and "Malcolm Sage Plays Patience": It's a case of poison pen notes in the village of Glyston.  Sage must find out who hates the vicar's daughter and/or the curate enough to write such vicious notes about them and spread lies throughout the community.

"The Missing Heavyweight" and "The Great Fight at the Olympia": Charley Burns, the British champion is set to fight Bob Jefferson (whose name changes to "Joe" towards the end of the story) for the heavyweight championship of the world.  But then he disappears two days before the match.  It's up to Sage to find the clues that will produce the fighter in time for the bout.

"Lady Dene Calls on Malcolm Sage": is a non-mystery closer in which Lady Dene stops by to festoon Sage's office with roses--in honor of the first anniversary of the Malcolm Sage Bureau.  She also presents him with an antique ring to "adorn his lovely hand."  [He regularly studies his hands when interviewing clients, witnesses, and suspects.]

Detective Wisdom:
An empty stomach neither sees nor thinks. ~Malcolm Sage (p. 264)


Peggy Ann said...

I read this a couple of years ago and enjoyed it!

Ryan said...

I adore mystery short stories, so I think I need to find this one at some point in time.