Contribution

(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Using real crimes and criminals as the basis of fiction is a well-established literary device, as works such as the anonymous The Tragedy of Mr. Arden of Feversham (1592), Henry Fielding’s The History of the Life of the Late Mr. Jonathan Wild the Great (1743, 1754), and Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Mystery of Marie Rogêt” demonstrate. No one, however, had considered using a historical figure to solve these crimes before Lillian de la Torre recruited Samuel Johnson as a private investigator. Combining her extensive knowledge of eighteenth century British literature and history with the conventions of the classic detective story, de la Torre produced more than thirty enjoyable short stories. Nevertheless, her purpose went beyond mere entertainment; as a self-described “histo-detector,” she solved mysteries that puzzled contemporaries and eluded historians. Although most of her serious histo-detecting was reserved for nonfictional, book-length works, some of her short stories also reveal how actual crimes might have been committed.