Monday, July 29, 2019

The Notting Hill Mystery

The Notting Hill Mystery (1863) by Charles Warren Adams has been put forward as the first published detective novel. Is it? Well, that's a discussion for another time. What it is is an early version of various mystery and crime themes and methods found at work in the next century when such novels really hit their stride. We have a story told in epistolary-fashion, through reports and letters and diary entries. We have an inverted mystery--there's little doubt that Baron R**** is responsible for his wife's death (among others), but is there enough evidence to convict him? We have an insurance agent put to work as detective and endeavoring to prove whether the woman's death was through accident, suicide, or murder. We have a mercenary man determined to kill the people who stand between him and the inheritance of a fortune. There's even a map of the Baron's house. And there is also more than a hint of the gothic involved as we have mesmerism (hypnotism to you and me) and a sort of sympathetic magic between the twins in the story (the Baron's wife and her sister).

Ralph Henderson, the insurance agent, has meticulously compiled letters, diary entries, transcripts of witness interviews, and summation reports and submitted these materials to his superiors for review. We, the reader, have access to every bit of evidence that he has accumulated so that we may consider the facts and come to our own conclusions. He says that his employers will come to their decision about the matter--but it is quite apparent that he believes the Baron to be guilty and the materials point that way. His employers (and we) must decide if the materials support a charge of murder and if there is any real evidence beyond hearsay and inference. And is it possible to prove when (if) someone has been hypnotized into doing something or when a sympathy between two individuals has resulted in the death of one of them?

Provided that the reader is willing to believe in the powers of hypnotism and possibly the paranormal, this is an interesting early take on a somewhat unusual method of murder. Of great value to those interested in the history of the detective novel and reading it in one of its earliest forms (if not the earliest). ★★

Finished 7/12/19
Deaths = 3 (two by direct poison; one through "sympathetic" reactions between twins)
Just the Facts Golden: How (Unusual murder method)

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