If you are interested in blogging or want to promote your book next year, please contact E. B. Davis at writerswhokill@gmail.com

Our April author interviews: Perennial author Susan Wittig Albert--4/5, Sasscer Hill, horse racing insider--4/12, English historical, cozy author, TE Kinsey--4/19, Debut author, Susan Bickford--4/26.

Saturday Guest Bloggers in April: Heather Baker Weidner (4/1), Christina Hoag (4/8), Susan Boles (4/29). WWK Saturday bloggers write on 4/15--Margaret S. Hamilton and on 4/22--Kait Carson.

Julie Tollefson won the Mystery Writers of America Midwest Chapter's Holton Award for best unpublished manuscript (member category) for her work in progress, In The Shadows. Big news for a new year. Congratulations, Julie.

Congratulations to our writers for the following publications:

Warren Bull's new Lincoln mystery, Abraham Lincoln In Court & Campaign has been released. Look for the Kindle version on February 3.

Shari Randall's "Pets" will be included in Chesapeake Crimes: Fur, Feathers, and Felonies anthology, which will be published in 2018. In the same anthology "Rasputin," KM Rockwood's short story, will also be published.

Margaret S. Hamilton's short story, "Once a Kappa" was published as a finalist in the Southern Writer's Magazine annual short story contest issue. Mysterical-E published her "Double Crust Corpse" in the Fall 2016 issue. "Baby Killer" will appear in the 2017 solar eclipse anthology Day of the Dark to be published this summer prior to the eclipse in August.

Linda Rodriquez has two pending book publications. Plotting the Character-Driven Novel will be released by Scapegoat Press on November 29th. Every Family Doubt, the fourth Skeet Bannion mystery, is scheduled for release on June, 13, 2017. Look for E. B. Davis's interview with Linda here in June!

Cross Genre Publications anthology, Hidden Youth, will contain Warren Bull's "The Girl, The Devil, and The Coal Mine." The anthology will be released in late November 2016. The We've Been Trumped anthology released by Dark House Press on September 28th contains Warren Bull's "The Wall" short story and KM Rockwood's "A Phone Call to the White House." KM writes under the name Pat Anne Sirs for this volume.

James M. Jackson's 4th book in the Seamus McCree series, Doubtful Relations, is now available. His novella "Low Tide at Tybee" appears February 7 as part of Lowcountry Crimes: Four Novellas, which is available for order.

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Friday, March 18, 2016

Trent’s Last Case by E.C. Bentley Reviewed by Warren Bull



Trent’s Last Case by E.C. Bentley Reviewed by Warren Bull

There is no doubt that writers of the Golden Age of mystery writing found this novel to be remarkable. Dorothy L. Sayers said: “...a tale of unusual brilliance and charm, startlingly original.” Agatha Christie chimed in with: “One of the three best detective stories ever written.” I’d like to know what the other two best detective stories ever written were. For G.K. Chesterton, Trent’s Last Case was, in his words, “the finest detective story of modern times.”

That is a heavy burden for any book to bear. It sets the reader up to expect marvelous style, innovative plotting and a revolutionary resolution. I was frankly a bit uneasy about reading it. Tastes vary so much among people. Not long ago, one novel that won a national award, left me wondering why it even got published. Another novel, described by a friend as the best my friend had ever read, left me so bored that I quit before the midpoint of the book.
There is great. Then there is transformative. I believe Trent’s Last Case is the latter. Let me illustrate, once I heard a young man comment that he didn’t understand all the praise of the Star Wars movies. He said the robots looked silly and the special effects were commonplace. I think he was looking through the wrong end of the telescope. He was not alive when the first movie came out. He didn’t have a context for how it felt to moviegoers at the time. His frame of reference was contemporary film. All the movies he knew were influenced by the original Star Wars. He was unaware of the transformation.

Also, I once read a review by two English professors that complained Shakespeare used common images and figures of speech. That was true at the time of the review. It was not true at the time when the plays and sonnets were written. Due to its descriptive power and memorable quality, much of Shakespeare’s language has made it into common vernacular. They too were unaware of a transformation. Shakespeare had and still has a strong influence on writing.

Trent’s Last Case involves a main character that is more or less an ordinary man. He has no oracular power. He hasn’t made a study of cigar ash to the extent that he can tell Cuban tobacco ashes from Virginia tobacco ash. He has only real world skills. The main character makes mistakes like the rest of us do. He is certainly likeable. He is observant, persistent and intelligent. He is, in a word, believable, which when the novel was published, was a new approach.

To me in this day and age, the novel did not seem remarkable. It did, however, have a compelling character, actual detection, and a plot that carried me along throughout.

The novel was written in 1913. It could have been written this year. For a novel to feel contemporary more than one hundred years after it was published is quite an accomplishment. The motivations of the characters persist. Greed, pride, fear and curiosity are still part of the human experience.
I can identify parts of the novel that are more consistent with the attitudes of the early 1900s than now. Only one, a casual joke in a silly song that used a racial slur, jolted me out of reading and destroyed my suspension of disbelief that reading induces. Fortunately, the slur happens very close to the end of the book. So I read the great majority of the book first. Trent’s Last Case won high praise from some of the best mystery writers of all time. It is still highly readable with one caveat. It passes the test of time.


What books written more than a century ago read like contemporary literature to you?

8 comments:

KB Inglee said...

I can't think of a single book a century old that reads like new. But then, I don't want them to. I read them for the morality, the atmosphere, the language, the feeling for their time. I have not read Trent's Last Case for at least 30 years and I have no memory of it at all. I will find a copy.
I hope other people come up with some other books that fit the bill. I'd love to read them.

Susan Oleksiw said...

I'm very glad to see one of the classics reviewed here. You picked a good one.

E.C. Bentley wrote this novel to put an end to the crime fiction of his age, which was appallingly bad--stick figure copies of Sherlock Holmes and the like. His sleuth was the first "silly ass" detective, which zoomed to popularity in the 1930s. Unfortunately for Bentley, after he proved that his sleuth was a flop, falling in love with the main suspect and getting the guilty party wrong, he had to get serious and solve the crime in order to finish the book. He did. And in doing so he renewed the genre. Instead of putting an end to crime fiction, which he deplored, he gave it new life. Many of the tropes we think of as typical of the 1920s and 1930s mystery novel grew out of Bentley's mystery.

As for the slur near the end, the writers of this period were often blatantly racist, etc. "Snobbery with Violence" by Colin Watson studies this aspect of crime fiction in detail.

Shari Randall said...

Another one for the TBR!
Have you read Wilkie Collins' The Moonstone? One of my all time favorites. TS Eliot said it was the godfather of British detective fiction, and some said that he invented the detective story, not Poe. DIscuss!
Though it was written in the 1860s, it feels fresh. The story, about the theft of a storied, perhaps cursed, Indian jewel takes place in the familiar setting of British colonialism, with lines of social class and decorum tightly drawn. But Collins' humor (some of this book is hysterical) and use of multiple POV are surprisingly modern. It is a great read.

Gloria Alden said...

Warren, like KB, I don't expect a book written in the past to read like a modern one. I like them true to the times and the way people felt then. I put this one on my list to read.

Kait said...

Warren, you have such wonderful reading habits. Thank you for the introduction (or the revisiting) of some wonderful classic, golden age, books.

Margaret Turkevich said...

Many times the only difference between a book set before 1980 and present day is the lack of home computers and cell phones. I remember PD James had a seasoned police officer tell Dalgleish that the only motives were "love, lust, lucre, and loathing." That pretty much sums it up, past or present.

I grew up reading my grandparent's collection of Perry Mason books, Allingham, Tey, and Marsh.

KM Rockwood said...

Thanks for bringing some of these old books to our attention. I had to smile at the circular thinking of those who commented on Shakespeare using cliches (when he was the origin of them) and people not recognizing the innovation in Star Wars, because so many others had copied it.

When I was teaching in Baltimore City, we were covering significant events in African American history. Much to my dismay, some of the students "didn't get" the Civil Rights movement. Why were people worried about stupid things like eating at a lunch counter? Everybody knows everybody has the right to eat there. Why the fuss?

Kait said...

I have never read Marsh or Tey. I always tell myself I will, then I don't. Off to Amazon while the thought is in the front of my mind.