E. C. Bentley Analysis


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

In crime fiction, vivid, enduring character, not to be confused with caricature, is rare, as it is often cramped by the machinery of the plot. Also, to the practiced reader, mystery often becomes anything but insoluble. In Philip Trent, however, E. C. Bentley created a memorable companion, and in Trent’s Last Case (1913, revised 1929), the first book in which Trent appeared, he devised a plot of successive thrilling denouements and an ending quite impossible to foresee. The book was written to divert the course of English detective fiction, and in this, as well as in sales and reviews, it was an outstanding success.

Sherlock Holmes, an important figure of Bentley’s youth, so dominated the field that his inventor, Arthur Conan Doyle , was called on to solve real crimes. Bentley challenged Doyle’s icy, introverted, infallible hero with a good-humored, susceptible extrovert who caught the public mood and became as much a model for less original writers as Sherlock Holmes had been. The shift in the heroic notion from the disdainful self-sufficiency of Holmes to the sociable misapprehensions of Trent prefigures the change in sensibility accelerated by World War I, in which old certainties as well as young men died.

E. C. Bentley Bibliography

(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Chesterton, G. K. Autobiography. 1936. Reprint. London: Hutchinson, 1969. Novelist Chesterton details his relationship to Bentley and the mutual influence of the two writers.

Chesterton, G. K. Come to Think of It: A Book of Essays. London: Metheun, 1930. Includes Chesterton’s thoughts on the work of his friend and colleague.

Haycraft, Howard. Murder for Pleasure: The Life and Times of the Detective Story. 1941. Reprint. New York: Carroll and Graf, 1984. Organizes the history of detective fiction into a “biography” and situates Bentley’s works in relation to others in the narrative.

Kestner, Joseph A. The Edwardian Detective, 1901-1915. Brookfield, Vt.: Ashgate, 2000. Discusses the brief but distinctive Edwardian period in detective fiction. Compares Bentley to such other Edwardians as Chesterton and John Buchan.

Panek, LeRoy. “E. C. Bentley.” In Watteau’s Shepherds: The Detective Novel in Britain, 1914-1940. Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green University Popular Press, 1979. Compares Bentley to his contemporaries and details his contribution to and reception by British culture.

Roth, Marty. Foul and Fair Play: Reading Genre in Classic Detective Fiction. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1995. A post-structural analysis of the conventions of mystery and detective fiction. Examines 138 short stories and works from the 1840’s to the 1960’s. Sheds light on Bentley’s work.