Top critical review
Pre-WWI American Pulp Stories
on 13 August 2013
You may well have spotted the problem with claiming that this author was "widely considered "the American Sherlock Holmes" for his series of stories about Professor Augustus S. F. X. Van Dusen" ...surely it should have been "the American Sir Arthur Conan Doyle" for that to be a valid comparison?
Sadly, Jacques Futrelle doesn't compare well. He gives Professor Van Dusen a sidekick, a housekeeper and a pet police detective but styles the Prof as "the Thinking Machine" and bestows powers of intellect and insight on him to beat Mycroft Holmes. That puts a huge onus on the author to both contrive plausible plots and unravel them in a satisfying way, and Mr Futrelle further handicaps himself by abandonning Conan Doyle's conceit of writing in the first person as Dr Watson.
Futrelle's stories quickly become annoying; Van Dusen doesn't develop as an interesting or engaging character, he's "the Thinking Machine" and lies and manipulates to solve the problems he's presented with. The problems, and their solutions, also become contrived... to be generous, we could call his discovering that an Orangoutan had committed a crime an homage from Futrelle's Augustus Van Dusen to Poe's Auguste Dupin, but it's still lazy.
Worse than that, Futrelle "cheats" ...we get identical twins (one innocent, one guilty), who switch places in a way, and for reasons, that remain unexplained. To coin a phrase from "The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother" the solution of the "Thinking Machine's" problems rely on Sheer-luck! His Van Dusen is like a flawed prototype of Hercule Poirot or, if you prefer, a demonstration of 'how not to write dective stories' from before Agatha Christie.
For me, although he didn't drown when the Titanic sank, Arthur B Reeve's "Craig Kennedy" stories are better than these. Although I should add that I think R Austin Freeman's "Dr Thorndyke" is the best scientific detective, post-Sherlock Holmes, in the Arthur Conan Doyle style.
I'm giving this 3 stars because it was so cheap, and properly formatted for my Kindle 3G (Keyboard), with navigation between the table of contents and stories properly implemented. If I'd paid even 99p, it would have got a 2 at most.