E. Phillips Oppenheim Analysis


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

E. Phillips Oppenheim contributed more than 150 novels to the mystery and detective genre. Because he served in the British Ministry of Information during World War I, Oppenheim was privy to at least some of the workings of the British Secret Service, and his protagonists are frequently Secret Service employees. There are no detective series in Oppenheim’s work; each novel introduces a new set of characters. Oppenheim wrote about wealthy supermen and their way of life. His largely upper-class characters share a love of good wine and smoke exotic cigarettes. The women are beautiful and virtuous. While the men fall in love in almost every novel, the excitement of adventure takes precedence over that of romance. Oppenheim claimed to have begun each book with “a sense of the first chapter and an inkling of something to follow,” and his plots are rarely dull.

That the plots of his immense oeuvre are not repetitive is a credit to Oppenheim’s fertile imagination. Most of his books involve some kind of international intrigue, and many of them reveal a surprise hero. His single greatest literary influence was probably his neighbor in the French Riviera, Baroness Orczy, author of The Scarlet Pimpernel (1905). Louis, the maître d’ of the Milan Hotel in A Pulpit in the Grill Room (1938) and The Milan Grill Room: Further Adventures of Louis, the Manager, and Major Lyson, the Raconteur (1940), is reminiscent of Orczy’s armchair detective, the Old Man in the Corner.


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Gadney, Reg. “Switch Off the Wireless—It’s an Oppenheim.” London Magazine 10 (June, 1970): 19-27. The title of this tribute to Oppenheim refers to a marketing slogan appearing on the cover of several of the author’s novels, indicating that those novels were more entertaining than radio.

Hitz, Frederick P. The Great Game: The Myth and Reality of Espionage. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2004. Hitz, the former inspector general of the Central Intelligence Agency, compares fictional spies to actual intelligence agents with the aim of demonstrating that truth is stranger than fiction. Although he does not mention Oppenheim, this work provides context for understanding his work.

Overton, Grant. “A Great Impersonation by E. Phillips Oppenheim.” In Cargoes for Crusoes. Boston: Little, Brown, 1924. This essay on Oppenheim’s work forms part of a wide-ranging study of 1920’s literature and culture. An idiosyncratic but useful reading.

Roth, Marty. Foul and Fair Play: Reading Genre in Classic Detective Fiction. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1995. A poststructural analysis of the conventions of mystery and detective fiction. Examines 138 short stories and works from the 1840’s to the 1960’s. Touches on Oppenheim’s The Great Impersonation.

Scaggs, John. Crime Fiction. New York: Routledge, 2005. Contains a chapter on crime thrillers that provides a perspective on Oppenheim’s work.

Standish, Robert. The Prince of Storytellers: The Life of E. Phillips Oppenheim. London: Peter Davies, 1957. Full-length biographical study of Oppenheim, his fiction, and the real-life experiences that contributed to that fiction.

Wellman, Ellen, and Wray O. Brown. “Collecting E. Phillips Oppenheim (1866-1946).” Private Library: Quarterly Journal of the Private Library Association 6 (Summer, 1983): 83-89. Checklist of Oppenheim’s works targeted at the collector rather than the casual reader.