Top mysteries review: Trent's Last Case by Edmund Clerihew Bentley

Warning: If you want to be surprised by this mystery, don't read the Wikipedia entry on it.

American title: The Woman in Black
Year of publication: 1913
Genre: Mystery
Type of mystery: Murder
Type of investigator: Amateur (artist)
Setting & time: England, just before World War I.

An American business tycoon is found dead in the grounds of his English country house and it could be either murder or a bizarre suicide. A newspaper publisher calls in Philip Trent, an artist who has a knack for solving mysteries. He methodically sets about solving the case, using scientific methods and eliminating the suspects and theories one after the other.

This is a thoroughly old-fashioned mystery, and yet surprisingly fresh. According to some sources I have found on the web, Bentley wrote it in answer to Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories, in order to contrast a detective who was human and fallible with the methodical and never-wrong Holmes, and perhaps to show the how some of Holmes' deductions could very well have been interpreted differently.

This novel is notable for breaking some of unwritten rules of a genre that was still in its formative years. For one thing, it offers not one, but three solutions to the case, and not in the form of speculations either. For another, it allows the detective to fall in love with a suspect, possibly one of the first detective stories to do so. It also shows just how wrong the deductions drawn from an available set of clues can be, even if they look thoroughly bullet-proof.

Modern readers may find the pacing slow, but this book is well worth taking the time to read. And the best part is that you can do it for free. I chose to link to the American version because the format of the British one is not suitable for reading online.

Rating: A good early mystery that has a few surprises up its sleeve. 4 stars.

Books left in challenge: 94

Place on the list(s): CWA #34; MWA #33.

Here is a recent entry on another blog that explains, better than I have the patience to write down, why you should read it.


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