Jacques Futrelle Analysis

Contribution

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.

Bibliography

(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Benvenuti, Stefano, and Gianni Rizzoni. The Whodunit: An Informal History of Detective Fiction. Translated by Anthony Eyre. New York: Macmillan, 1979. Brief but valuable discussion of Futrelle.

Bleiler, E. F., ed. Introduction to The Best Thinking Machine Detective Stories, by Jacques Futrelle. New York: Dover, 1973. Provides a detailed discussion of Futrelle’s work.

Bleiler, E. F., ed. Introduction to Great Cases of the Thinking Machine, by Jacques Futrelle. New York: Dover, 1976. Provides a history and criticism of Futrelle’s work.

Ellison, Harlan. Introduction to The Thinking Machine: The Enigmatic Problems of Prof. Augustus S. F. X. Van Dusen, Ph.D., LL.D., F.R.S., M.D., M.D.S. New York: Modern Library, 2003. Characteristically provocative commentary on Futrelle’s work by the famous science-fiction author and pundit.

Haycraft, Howard. Murder for Pleasure: The Life and Times of the Detective Story. 1941. Rev. ed. New York: Carroll & Graf, 1984. Brief but valuable discussion of Futrelle.

Pederson, Jay P., ed. St. James Guide to Crime and Mystery Writers. 4th ed. Detroit: St. James Press, 1996. Chronicles the development of the crime and mystery genre, placing Futrelle as one of its instigators. Dictionary of terms and bibliography.

Reilly, John M., ed. Twentieth Century Crime and Mystery Writers. 3d ed. Chicago: St. James Press, 1991. Chronicles the development of the crime and mystery genre, placing Futrelle as one of its instigators. Dictionary of terms and bibliography.

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. Helps place Futrelle within the context of the genre.