Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

According to E. F. Bleiler, editor of Best “Thinking Machine” Detective Stories (1973), which includes “The Problem of Cell Thirteen” and eleven other Thinking Machine tales, the Jacques Futrelle hero occupies a significant place in the development of detective fiction. While The Thinking Machine shares his intellectuality with Holmes and Dupin and shares some of their eccentricities, Futrelle moves the world of the detective toward the greater realism that characterizes detective fiction in the later twentieth century. He drew such fiction away from the exotic murder weapons and haunted manors of Doyle and the Parisian drawing rooms of Poe toward the everyday life and the realistic dialogue of working police officers and journalists and actual ladies and gentlemen.

Sentences and language, too, are simple and direct. Futrelle was primarily a journalistic writer. “The Problem of Cell Thirteen,” in fact, was published as a six-part serial in the Boston American between October 30 and November 5, 1905; prize money was offered to readers who could devise methods for Van Dusen’s escape. The ease of writing and naturalness of diction and, especially, of dialogue cause the Thinking Machine stories to seem considerably less dated than are many American and British works written in that last glittering decade before the 1912 Titanic disaster in which Futrelle died and the outbreak of World War I in 1914.