The twenty-six books about scientific detective Craig Kennedy were once among the most popular detective stories by an American writer, with sales of two million copies in the United States alone. Arthur B. Reeve was popular primarily because of his emphasis on the use of the latest scientific devices to solve mysteries. Reeve was not one to waste time on deeply etched characters; he focused instead on an imaginative rendition of a scientific marvel—the Maxim silencer, an oxyacetylene blowtorch, the Dictaphone, the seismograph, liquid rubber to conceal fingerprints—with which the crime was committed or by means of which Kennedy could solve the mystery. The very reason for Reeve’s popularity in the years before World War I, his topicality, dates the stories and makes him a largely forgotten author.
Reeve’s straightforward, journalistic style, combined with a lively imagination and an ability to tell a good story in spite of his cardboard characters, makes the earliest episodes readable and entertaining, despite his scientific marvels having become commonplace. The emphasis on topicality makes them documents for the social scientist rather than the literary critic.