Tuesday, March 1, 2016

E.C. Bentley

Once upon a time I collected early editions of detective novels that historians of the genre considered important. I bought E.C. Bentley's Trent's Last Case (1913) from a British bookseller sometime in the '70s. Bentley was perhaps G.K. Chesterton's closest friend and succeeded GKC as President of the Detection Club even though this was the only detective novel he had written. Bentley later wrote a prequel and a number of short stories featuring Trent. Today the Facebook G.K. Chesterton site linked to "Trent’s Last Case by E. C. Bentley: First Among Mysteries?" from which:
My copy
.... But that one mystery, that single contribution to the genre of detective fiction, was hailed by Chesterton, Christie, and Sayers as, perhaps, the single best mystery story ever written. High praise indeed. Though Bentley’s first mystery, it featured the last mystery of his detective. And though President Bentley swore that he would defend the principle of detectives detecting crimes using the wits bestowed upon them by their creators, his own Trent’s Last Case could be seen as breaking that rule. For throughout the twists and turns of its scintillating plot, the impotence, instead of the omnipotence, of human reason is revealed. ....

Trent’s Last Case is not a mystery story that exposes the mystery maker as much as it exposes the mystery story itself. The book is a romping and riveting and rhetorical parody leading to the Golden Age of detective literature. Trent is not the keen amateur who sidesteps and blindsides the dunderheaded professionals. He pursues criminals not out of a brooding sense of justice, but because he finds it an engaging lark. Trent is a man that has a brain in his head, but he also has a heart as big as his head. By turning the world of detective fiction upside down with Trent’s Last Case, E.C. Bentley was one of the first mystery authors to place an innovative importance on duping readers through a series of false conclusions and multiple solutions, rather than bedazzling them with gymnastics of reason that hit the truth with unerring precision. [more]
Bentley may have been been just as well known for the Clerihew:
A clerihew is a whimsical, four-line biographical poem invented by Edmund Clerihew Bentley. The first line is the name of the poem's subject, usually a famous person put in an absurd light.
For example:
The art of Biography
Is different from Geography.
Geography is about maps,
But Biography is about chaps.
or
Sir Humphrey Davy
Abominated gravy.
He lived in the odium
Of having discovered sodium. more
Trent’s Last Case by E. C. Bentley: First Among Mysteries? - Crisis Magazine, Edmund Clerihew Bentley Poems - Famous poet at allpoetry