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his perfection he should be what Poe calls, "that monstrum horrendum, an unprincipled man of genius."
Moreover, he must be cleverly drawn in order to conceal his identity from the reader until the last. He must appear to be what he is not, and he must not appear to be what he is; and this calls for Machiavelian cunning on the part of both criminal and author. The identity of the criminal, disclosed at the last, must be the greatest surprise of the story.
This is marvellously well accomplished in "Hand and Ring" and "Big Bow Mystery." In both these books the reader cannot possibly guess the criminal, although he is inconspicuously in plain view from the very beginning. But so adroitly is his identity concealed and so definitely is he made to appear what he is not, that detection by the reader is not possible. To be sure, in neither book is the motive so much as hinted at until the final disclosures, and this is not quite in accordance with the unwritten law of the Detective Story. But it is forgivable in the books mentioned, because of their splendid workmanship and original plot.
In "The Leavenworth Case," written many years ago, we have one of the earliest and best examples of the private secretary criminal. Here, too, he is before our eyes from the very beginning, yet we suspect everyone else in the book before we think of him.
j. Faulty Portrayal of the Criminal
Gaboriau was at fault in this matter in the "Widow Lerouge." By the time we are half through the book and long before any hint of the true state of affairs is necessary, we are forced to the inevitable conclusion of the guilt of Noel, startling as that theory seems on its face, simply because Noel is the only possible person who has consistently avoided being the object of suspicion. A still greater mistake is when during the course of a story every character is at some time suspected and then cleared of suspicion, and at the end we learn that the crime is committed by a person of whom we have never heard.
Conan Doyle employs this hitherto unknown criminal frequently. Usually he is some old man who had known and quarreled with his old friend, the victim, many years before. For instance, in "The Adventure of Black Peter" and in "The Five Orange Pips," these are the circumstances. But Conan Doyle's motive is the exploitation of the powers of his Transcendent Detective in discovering the unheard-of criminal, and so in his case the end justified the means. But ordinarily, and especially in a book, it is bad workmanship to absent the criminal from the scene until the last.
Notwithstanding the criminal of the Rue Morgue murders, it is ill-advised to have a freakish or a superhuman agency. The imitators of Poe's masterpiece have not been successful, though many have impressed members of the Simian tribe into their service as criminals.
The ideal criminal is a sane, respectable and well-educated man, like Lawyer Orcutt, or Mr. Grodman. Such as these escape the reader's suspicion by seeming to belong among the reputable characters of the story.
4. The Secondary Detective
The Transcendent Detective being of such importance as to require a chapter to himself, we come next to the subordinate detective. He is usually a Central Office Man, or a young reporter, or a lawyer with a taste for detective work. He serves as a foil for the higher detective's glories. He makes mistakes for the other to correct. He starts false trails to lead the reader astray and to give the superior detective opportunity to scoff at him and to set him right. This character may not be a detective at all, but simply a "Greek Chorus," like Dr. Watson, or like Hutchinson Hatch in "The Thinking Machine," or Walter Jameson in the "Silent Bullet." But usually this character is a detective who variously hinders or assists, as Sweetwater with Mr. Gryce, or Mr. Barnes with Mr. Mitchel.
This secondary detective character is, at times and quite effectively, a woman. In "That Affair Next Door" this role is taken by Miss Amelia Butterworth, who is also the teller of the story. In "The Master of Mysteries," Astro is aided and abetted in his charlatanry by a beautiful young woman called Valeska. In a clever series of stories called "Tales from the Red Ledger," the Transcendent Detective is helped at times by a mysterious and vaguely-pictured woman known as "The Orchid."
But invariably it is a good device to have a major and a minor detective character, that by comparison or contrast their leads and misleads may further the author's ends.
5. The Suspects
The suspects are highly important characters in our Detective Story. They appear one after another, few or many, according to the length of the story. As each suspect is brought forward, the reader must be made to feel certain that this is the criminal. Then a doubt is raised or positive innocence is shown, and the next suspect is brought forward.
In a tale of simple construction, the suspects will come forward, a, b, c, d. The first three are eventually proved innocent and D is the criminal.
A more complex plot would have D wrongly accused and proved innocent and show that, after all, C was the criminal. In this case the reader must be made to insist to himself that he knew it was C all the time, even though the case looked pretty black against D. Or, a clever dodge is to suspect the characters in order, and though A was exonerated long ago, prove at the last that he was the real criminal after all.
It is the variations of these plans that make for interest in a Detective Story, and the characterization of these suspects has much to do with the success of the plot. The breathless fear that the criminal may be the beautiful but headstrong young woman; the ever rising suspicion that the criminal is the handsome, manly hero; the lurking doubt of the nephew who inherits; the distrust of certain old family servants—all these serve to keep interest alive and curiosity piqued.
The principal characteristics, then, of our criminal must be his own importance, his dramatic personality, and his successful concealment until the denouement.
These rules are not inflexible for short-stories, where there is less room for characterization than in books. The criminals in Conan Doyle's stories, like the victims, have little personality, because the fierce light that beats upon Sherlock Holmes leaves most of the other characters in shadow. But in a full-sized novel, where characterization is an important factor of the workmanship, the criminal's make-up is of vital importance.
6. The Heroine and the Element of Romance
As to the advisability of a heroine, authorities differ. The true economy of the Detective Story forbids the introduction of romance, especially in short-stories. The purists hold that the single-minded artist in detective fiction must not introduce two kinds of interest, for they can seldom be so perfectly balanced that one or the other shall not suffer. The mind of the reader does not wish to jump continually from the solution of the problem to a love interest, and back again.
On the other hand, some writers deem it necessary to introduce a charming young woman who has little to do with the story, and who invariably marries the subordinate detective. The truth is, the magazine editors are largely to blame for this use of romance. In their inexorable demand for "a happy ending," they insist upon those wedding bells at the end of the story, that their joyful peals may drown the sound of the sentence pronounced on the criminal.
But Poe and Conan Doyle and all their worth-while successors omit the element of romance, except where it is an inherent part of the plot. Otherwise, romance in a Detective Story is wasteful and ridiculous excess. The whole intent of the problem and its solution is to engage the attention of the reader to the very utmost, and if this be successfully done, the reader has no nook or corner of his attention vacant to accommodate this love interest.
But if, as in "A Scandal in Bohemia," the beautiful woman