Tuesday, April 24, 2018

TNB: The Great Detectives (Scholarly Sleuths)

As I noted in my last enstallment, when The Tuesday Night Bloggers heard that a book called The 100 Greatest Literary Detectives, edited by Eric Sandberg and including contributions from various writers – including our own Kate Jackson was coming out to educate the unsuspecting about some of the best detectives in the business, we were excited. But then as we sat and munched on toasted crumpets and sipped our tea, we decided to revive our weekly meetings and discuss the detectives we think ought to be included in any list of the "Greatest" detectives. Because no matter how good Eric Sandberg is, he's bound to miss somebody worthwhile. We also wanted to include some of the really good detectives who don't get as much press as say a Sherlock Holmes or a Miss Jane Marple or (ahem) Hercule Poirot [many press clippings for our Belgian sleuth may found over at Brad's place Ah Sweet Mystery Blog aka "The Shrine To Agatha Christie"].

As Moira mentioned in her first post over at Clothes in Books, some of us have decided to divide our detectives up into categories--including yours truly. I've had quite a month and haven't been able to devote quite the attention to the task that I would have liked. In fact, I managed to miss last week's meeting altogether. So, this week I'm going to squeeze in a quick look at last week's focus: Scholarly Sleuths.

Anyone who has paid much attention to what happens here at The Block, knows that I have quite an affinity for mysteries with an academic bent. I work in the English Department of a university, so I feel quite at home in the halls of academe. And, truth be told, it's sometimes quite satisfying to read about academic types getting their comeuppance. There are a number of academics who have taken up their magnifhying glasses and gone hunting for clues. From an early amateur detective in The Professor's Mystery (1911) who finds himself wrapped up in a more romantic mystery than a true murder to the more modern Kate Fansler who stars in books by Amanda Cross. But the two I want to promote are Adam Ludlow in a series of five books by Simon Nash and Stuart Palmer's schoolteacher -turned-detective, Hildegarde Withers.

Adam Ludlow is my favorite type of academic sleuth. He is scholarly and erudite without being pompous. He is full of apt quotations and specialized knowledge that help to solve the mystery, but his knowledge isn't anything that would be outside the grasp of someone with a well-rounded education. He is also human enough to make mistakes and encourage the reader to think that they might have every bit as good a chance of solving the mystery as Ludlow. The other strong feature in his favor is that his final outing (Unhallowed Murder) serves up a mystery that is just as strong as the previous stories. Nash (aka Raymond Chapman, Emeritus Professor of English at London University and an Anglican priest) provides consistently intriguing plots for Ludlow to unravel and interesting characters for him to interact with. I have not yet read the fourth in the series, but I have every reason to believe that Adam Ludlow will provide an entertaining academic sleuthing adventure equal to his others.

Palmer's scholarly sleuth, Hildegarde Withers is what Miss Marple might have been if she had been born in America and taken up teaching as an occupation. Like Miss Marple who uses her knowledge of personality and character types from village life to inform her observations in questions of murder, Miss Withers uses her experience as teacher to aid her efforts at investigation. After all, “[She's] taught school long enough to know when anybody is telling the truth or not.” Her sharp eyes and inquisitive intellect are often a help to Inspector Oscar Piper. And, like her pupils, she holds Piper to a higher standard--not allowing him to settle for the easiest, most convenient, or most politic answer when it's obvious it's not the correct one.  
Miss Wither's mysteries are a little more action-oriented than Miss Marple's (or even Adam Ludlow's) and they are filled with Palmer's characteristic humor. Her stubborn commonsense approach very often comes into humorous opposition to the gruff police detective Piper. But they play well off of one another and Piper calls her "God's horse gift to all dumb cops." 

I intended to to a round of Dynamic Duos--featuring Colonel Primrose/Grace Lathem [Leslie Ford]; Jeff & Haila Troy [Kelley Roos]; and Lord Peter Wimsey & Bunter [Dorothy L Sayers]. After all, I did tell my fellow Tuesday Night Bloggers that I would cage fight them for Lord Peter--but, alas, April has proved to be a cruel month for blogging (I am SO behind on my reviews!) and I'm just not going to be able to do justice to the last group. Perhaps a future post on these detective twosomes may materialize....

1 comment:

Clothes In Books said...

Sheer joy! Like you, I love a scholarly sleuth. I'd forgotten about Simon Nash and must get back to him.