(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Jacques Futrelle wrote seven novels and some fifty short stories. Clearly indebted to Edgar Allan Poe’s Monsieur Dupin and Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, Futrelle’s Professor Van Dusen nevertheless has his own distinctive features. Futrelle deliberately exaggerates the reasoning powers of his hero, for example, to promote an ambiguous result: One is never sure if the Thinking Machine incarnates an idol of the master sleuth or if the ultimate end is to ridicule overindulgent logic. His language is at times clever, at times full of typical detective jargon, at times teeming with subtle humor. Other than Van Dusen, Futrelle’s characters are normal, ordinary people, but his solutions to criminal puzzles are always unique and often border on the bizarre. His inventiveness has attracted critical praise. Writing at a time when it was fashionable to emphasize quick action, incidents, and criminal situations, Futrelle preferred to carve out stories of ideas and analysis. He helped reverse the trend toward violence and raised the level of detective fiction by portraying intellectual, rather than physical, combat. Aside from his eccentric detective and the clever solutions, Futrelle is cited for his variety of locked-room mysteries, which he developed to perfection, and a subtle satiric voice not always recognized. He extended the realm of Dupin and Holmes, but he sacrificed character to focus on illustrations of the power of logic. Some may argue that his range is limited, and it is true that his novels have lost some appeal over the years. Still, Futrelle’s early death ended what many saw as a developing genius.