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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
13
3.8 out of 5 stars
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VINE VOICEon 14 June 2013
The American mystery writer Jacques Futrelle is today rather better known as one of the Titanic victims, heroically staying on board when his wife, along with other women and children were taken off in lifeboats.

This megapack of his collected works features, in all but one instance, `The Thinking Machine', an eccentric scientist who solves cases of crime through the exercise of pure logic. He is a less commanding presence that his British opposite number, Sherlock Holmes, with watery eyes that narrow and a brow that corrugates when he is deep in thought, and he has the small and weak physique of the typical scientist featured in fiction of that period. His solutions are always ingenious - the much-praised `Problem of Cell 13' sets out an entirely plausible outcome from what seems to be a hopeless experiment to find the solution to an impenetrable mystery. Some are probably too implausible, and I am not sure if Jacques' solution to the problem set by his wife in Part I of `The Grinning God' quite holds together.

Other features of the stories include the reporter Hutchinson Hatch, the `Machine's' main contact with the outside world, but not quite a sidekick, various detectives who come up with wrong solutions at the start of cases but are always ready to do his bidding when their deductions unravel, and a series of young women, always attractive, usually blonde, and often in a state of distress.

The collection ends with three novella-length stories. The last, `Elusive Isabel', that does not feature `The Thinking Machine' , is a spy story with the intriguing background of a planned alliance of Latin nations against the US and Britain, with Russia and Germany still to be drawn in.

Rather a lot to read all at once, and best savoured a few at a time. Nicely-presented with a good table of contents and no typos that I can remember offhand.
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VINE VOICEon 6 May 2013
This is a collection of short mysteries written by the author sometimes dubbed the American Sherlock Holmes. He isn't as well known nowadays as he probably should be; and to the extent that he is known, it is as a then comparatively well known person who died on the Titanic, alongside the much better known ones like J J Astor, Benjamin Guggenheim, etc.

The sleuth in these mysteries is Professor Augustus S F X Van Dusen, better known as the Thinking Machine, who solves problems through the inexorability of pure logic ("two and two make four; not sometimes, but all the time" and "don't say something is impossible, it annoys me exceedingly" repeated in early every story). He isn't as well rounded as Sherlock Holmes and Futrelle is no Conan Doyle. However, this is a largely engaging compendium of 44 short stories (and three longer novels I haven't yet read that are not Thinking Machine stories, though he apparently appears in one of them). Van Dusen's Watson is a journalist Hutchinson Hatch, though their relationship is less close; and an Inspector Mallory usually fills the Lestrade role. Some patterns do repeat themselves - there are quite a number of jewel thefts and love triangles and a few rather implausible plotlines (though the same charge can be levelled at some Sherlock Holmes stories).

My favourite stories were: The Leak; The Haunted Bell; Problem of Cell 13 (usually reckoned as his best story); The Fatal Cipher; The Perfect Alibi; The Phantom Motor; Problem of the Opera Box; Problem of the Superfluous Finger; Case of the Scientific Murderer; Mystery of the Flaming Phantom (perhaps my personal favourite here); Mystery of the Golden Dagger; The Grinning God (an intriguing collaboration with his wife May [who survived the Titanic], who wrote up the first part detailing the problem, and left her husband to write the second part giving the resolution); Mystery of the Grip of Death; Mystery of the Man who was Lost; The Tragedy of the Life Raft; Problem of the Interrupted Wireless (the last in the collection, ironically set on a passenger liner, though no iceberg in sight). 4/5
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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.
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on 10 July 2013
I liked these stories because they're clever and full of unexpected twists. I also find professor Van Dusen an intriguing character. Physically frail and strange looking yet a mighty intellect which penetrates to the truth like a laser aimed at amour plate. If one was told he'd stepped off an alien world it would give you pause for thought. I can't understand why these stories aren't more popular.
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on 3 October 2013
I am a great agatha Christie fan however what these stories have which ACs don't are the full facts or at least hints of them. A couple of stories I guessed the outcome but generally very good puzzling novels. Is The Thinking Machine the American Sherlock Holmes? No. Is he entertaining and super intelligently? Absolutely. Hours of entertainment from this collection.
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on 27 August 2013
Readable, but lacking the polish of other detective writers of the period. And he gets a bit repetitive.
I would recommend it to anyone who has run out of all the others.
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on 22 December 2014
Some excellent stories in here and many are quite ingenious,some drift on a bit ,but overall I enjoyed the book and thought it good value for money
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on 10 April 2014
This book and it's stories were probably ahead of it's time when first published ,but now it's little more that children's stories.
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on 2 February 2014
Thought this was worth a go for the money but after reading a few of the stories the endings were easy to guess. Not for me
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on 23 December 2013
A very good read with a large amount of individual stories contained within. Just seven more words and I can post it.
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