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.