Thursday, January 9, 2014

The old man in the corner

Books out of copyright are in the public domain and are increasingly available for e-readers like Kindle. All but ten of the Conan Doyle Sherlock Holmes stories are in that category as are most other books published in the US before the 1920s. I just came across a collection of detection stories by Baroness Orczy, also author of the Scarlet Pimpernel books. The "Old Man in the Corner" is her detective. Howard Haycraft, in Murder for Pleasure (1939), considered these stories a minor—but pleasant—contribution:
The nameless "Old Man in the Corner," who solves crimes as he sits at a corner table of a London ABC tea shop, tying and unraveling complicated knots in a piece of string as he talks, made his appearance in a book of the same title in 1909.... A danger inherent in the arm-chair" method, and frequently illustrated by the "Old Man" stories, is the tendency of the plots to become static; too often, also, they mistake intuition for deduction. .... Her (Orczy's) contribution to the detective story has been neither large nor significant, but it is essentially pleasant and entertaining. (pp. 71-72)
The Old Man in the Corner is available here, free, in every e-book format and also here at Gutenberg.

The first story begins:
The man in the corner pushed aside his glass, and leant across the table.

"Mysteries!" he commented. "There is no such thing as a mystery in connection with any crime, provided intelligence is brought to bear upon its investigation."

Very much astonished Polly Burton looked over the top of her newspaper, and fixed a pair of very severe, coldly inquiring brown eyes upon him.

She had disapproved of the man from the instant when he shuffled across the shop and sat down opposite to her, at the same marble-topped table which already held her large coffee (3d.), her roll and butter (2d.), and plate of tongue (6d.). ....