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4\. The Tricks of Imitation

  • These tricks of the trade are of course faithfully copied by the imitators and
  • successors of these great authors. An example in point is this from Jacques
  • Futrelle's "The Thinking Machine;"
  • > "Now, Mr. Hatch," said The Thinking Machine in his perpetually crabbed
  • voice, "we have a most remarkable riddle. It gains this remarkable aspect from
  • its very simplicity. It is not, however, necessary to go into that now. I will
  • make it clear to you when we know the motives."
  • The following paragraph of philosophy has proved of immense use as a model:
  • > "All this seems strange to you," continued Holmes, "because you failed at
  • the beginning of the inquiry to grasp the importance of the single real clew
  • which was presented to you. I had the good fortune to seize upon that, and
  • everything which has occurred since then has served to confirm my original
  • supposition, and, indeed, was the logical sequence of it. Hence things which
  • have perplexed you and made the case more obscure have served to enlighten me
  • and to strengthen my conclusions. It is a mistake to confound strangeness with
  • mystery. The most commonplace crime is often the most mysterious because it
  • presents no new or special features from which deductions may be drawn. This
  • murder would have been infinitely more difficult to unravel had the body of
  • the victim been simply found lying in the roadway without any of those outré
  • and sensational accompaniments which have rendered it remarkable. These
  • strange details, far from making the case more difficult, have really had the
  • effect of making it less so."
  • Its principles are embodied in this quotation from Gordon Holmes' "A
  • Mysterious Disappearance:"
  • > "The greater the apparent mystery," he communed, "the less it is in reality.
  • We now have two tracks to follow. They are both hidden, it is true, but when
  • we find one, it will probably intersect the other.
  • >
  • > "You are not to blame, White," he said, "for having failed to note many
  • things which I have now told you. You are the slave of a system. Your method
  • works admirably for the detection of commonplace crime, but as soon as the
  • higher region of romance is reached it is as much out of place as a steam-
  • roller in a lady's boudoir. Look at the remarkable series of crimes the
  • English police have failed to solve of late, merely because some bizarre
  • element had intruded itself at the outset. Have you ever read any of the works
  • of Edgar Allan Poe?"
  • The detective answered in the affirmative. "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" and
  • "The Mystery of Marie Roget" were familiar to him.
  • > "Well," went on Bruce, "there you have the accurate samples of my meaning.
  • Poe would not have been puzzled for an hour by the vagaries of Jack the
  • Ripper. He would have said at once—most certainly after the third or fourth in
  • the series of murders—'This is the work of an athletic lunatic, with a morbid
  • love of anatomy and a morbid hatred of a certain class of women. Seek for him
  • among young men who have pestered doctors with outrageous theories, and who
  • possess weak-minded or imbecile relatives.' Then, again, take the murder on
  • the South-Western Railway. Do you think Poe would have gone questioning
  • bartenders or inquiring into abortive love affairs? Not he! Jealous swains do
  • not carry pistols about with them to slay their sweethearts, nor do they
  • choose a four-minutes' interval between suburban stations for frenzied avowals
  • of their passion. Here you have the clear trail of a clever lunatic, dropping
  • from the skies, as it were, and disappearing in the same erratic manner."
  • In "The Master of Mysteries," Mr. Gelett Burgess puts this principle into the
  • mouth of his psychic detective, Astro:
  • > "It will probably be easy and interesting," he remarked to his assistant,
  • Valeska, who had been present at the interview with McGraw. "It is these cases
  • which are apparently so extraordinary that are most easily solved. Given any
  • remarkable variation in the aspect of a crime, and you know immediately where
  • to begin. This will be only play, I fancy."