(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Having borrowed from Arthur Conan Doyle the basic framework of a highly intelligent hero and an admiring disciple who records his deeds, E. W. Hornung inverted the Holmes stories: As a modern alternative to master detective Sherlock Holmes, he offered A. J. Raffles, master thief. In the Raffles tales, Hornung creates an uncommon blend of detective and adventure fiction; while Bunny’s ignorance of the finer points of Raffles’s criminal plans allows some scope for a reader’s detective abilities, the stories’ main interest lies in the thieves’ exploits outside the law. The element of danger (and snobbery) in these adventures in society crime inspired much English thriller fiction of the 1930’s; Raffles initiates a tradition of gentleman outlaws that includes Leslie Charteris’s the Saint, John Creasey’s the Toff, and his own reincarnation in Barry Perowne’s series. Hornung, however, was writing moral as well as adventure stories, a dimension apparent in Bunny’s alternating devotion to and revulsion for Raffles. Although the Raffles stories are protothrillers, they are also a serious literary record of public-school boys gone half-wrong and of their fluctuating friendship.