(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

W. W. Jacobs, at one time an extremely popular writer of short fiction, is remembered for only one tale, “The Monkey’s Paw.” His other stories and novels are entirely forgotten. Even the book in which “The Monkey’s Paw” appeared, The Lady of the Barge, and Other Tales (1902), has long been out of print.

No one questions Jacobs’s literary talent: His mystery and supernatural tales are brilliantly written. His stories of life on the docks and the waterways of England, despite some dated dialogue, remain witty and clever yarns. Even his dockside characters, Ginger Dick, Henry Walker, and Bob Pretty, are still attractive and enjoyable. Yet literary fashion has passed them by.

Jacobs was a master of the economical style. He never offers more than is necessary about the characters involved. V. S. Pritchett once called him “one of the supreme craftsmen of the short story.” This high praise is deserved; unfortunately, to the interested reader only “The Monkey’s Paw” is available for judgment. Nevertheless, in such a story as “The Interruption,” a tale of a hidden crime, his mastery of plot is clear; no time is wasted. Jacobs added quality to the telling of the mystery story and sharply defined the “well-made tale” from the hastily written pulp story.