Friday, May 4, 2018

*The Clue, by Carolyn Wells

The Best Books Publishing, 2018
originally published 1909
151 pp


The Clue is the first of a long lineup of books to feature Detective Fleming Stone.  In this particular story, Stone comes in towards the end and triumphs in solving the case, a feat that neither the police detective nor an attorney/amateur detective has managed to pull off before his arrival.  But more on that a bit later.

Wells caught my attention as I was scoping out which vintage crime novels to read this year. For one thing, I'd never heard of her and for another, this book, The Clue, appeared as part of the Haycraft-Queen Definitive Library of Detective, Crime, and Mystery Fiction.   Wells (1862-1942) was incredibly prolific, the author of "170 books, including detective stories, children's books, humour, parody and poetry," according to the blog Female Poets of the First World War.   The list of her crime/mystery/detective novels is huge, as shown here at, with the Fleming Stone series outnumbering all of her other mystery novels; her detective stories on the whole constituted the largest part of her work.

 Regarding her Fleming Stone novels, (all quotations below taken from the Ramble House blog)  Howard Haycraft wrote in 1941 that
"The surprising fact, perhaps, is not that some of the stories scarcely rise to the mark, but that have not perceptibly diminished in popularity.  Carolyn Wells is in many ways a remarkable woman ... She would presumably be the last to maintain that Fleming Stone belongs in the company of the immortals of detective literature.  The fact that his adventures have given harmless pleasure to many thousands of readers she undoubtedly considers full and sufficient reward."
 Other writers haven't been so kind; Dashiell Hammett said of her work that it was
"conscientiously in accordance with the formula as adopted as standard by the International Detective Story Writers' Convention at Geneva in 1904. One would expect that by now she would have learned to do the trick expertly. She hasn't."
and in 1982, Bill Pronzini wrote that Fleming Stone was
"as unreal an investigator as any of his dime novel predecessors.  In not one of his ... cases does he come alive as a human being, or as anything more than a two-dimensional silhouette with a penchant for pulling murderers out of hats on the flimsiest of clues and evidence."

original cover from Project Gutenberg Australia

While I won't go deep into plot here, the story begins on the eve of the wedding of a young heiress. She is found dead and it seems like her death will go down as a case of suicide, that is, until one of the doctors present discovers evidence that brings in the coroner and an inquest.  The suspects range from the servants to family to friends,  with the fiancé at the top of the list of suspects, having entered the house with his own key; he is also the one who discovered the body and alerted the household.     His best man, a lawyer who fancies himself as a sort of amateur detective, decides to do some digging on his own, but eventually admits defeat.  It is at this juncture, towards the last few pages of the novel, that the bridegroom suggests  bringing  in Fleming Stone, a detective who had done "wonderful work in celebrated cases all over the country."  He is described as having "a most attractive personality," a man "nearly fifty years old, with graying hair and a kindly responsive face."  And really, that is pretty much all we learn about this man except that he is good at taking the most minuscule of clues and solving a crime that seems otherwise impossible.

from Project Gutenberg Australia 

The Clue is another novel that I'm glad to have read because it was written by a woman whose work seems to have faded into obscurity.  I have to say that it would likely be more at home in the library of a cozy reader -- the romance keeps it light in tone as does the amateur detecting going on. And even though all is put right once again in this house, the ending is a bit over-the-top melodramatic, actually causing an eyeroll on my part.   But it does have its moments, for example, in an interchange between two characters who make fun of detective stories; ironically  that discussion ends up with talk of a "Mr. Smarty-Cat Detective," who "deduces the whole story." I say ironically because that is precisely what happens here, with the arrival of Fleming Stone.  He is like the living deus ex machina who comes in, takes a look around and solves the entire case in a short time.  I'd try another one just to see if this is his pattern, just out of pure interest.   I suppose, like many mystery novels, the fun is in the getting there, complete with a host of suspects with motive, a few red herrings, and a crime that borders on the impossible.  


  1. This one sounds 'cute,' and I'd be interested in discovering whether this is her modus operandi.

    1. Not so much cute as light. Truth be told, I guessed the who early on; it was the how that I cared about.


I don't care what you write, but do be nice about it