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Flaxman Low: The First Psychic Detective

In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle investigates the Victorian world of a neglected ‘psychic detective’

The popularity of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, published in The Strand magazine from 1891 until the 1920s, led to many imitators. As well as such creations as Ernest Bramah’s Max Carrados, the blind detective, and the psychological detective, Dr John Dollar (created by Doyle’s own brother-in-law, Raffles creator E. W. Hornung), a mini sub-genre of fictional detective also emerged: the psychic detective or paranormal investigator. Flaxman Low was not the most successful of these, but he is one of the most satisfying and enjoyable.

Although numerous scholars of the ghost story and psychic detective tale have traced the fictional paranormal investigator back to Dr Martin Hesselius, the creation of the Irish author Sheridan Le Fanu (whose 1869 story ‘Green Tea’ remains popular), it was not until the turn of the century, and in the first few years of the twentieth century, that the fictional psychic detective really took off. This was partly, as I explore in my academic study Bewilderments of Vision, a result of Read the rest of this entry


Max Carrados, the Blind Sherlock Holmes

In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle enjoys the once-popular but now largely forgotten detective stories of Ernest Bramah

The name Ernest Bramah may be largely forgotten now, but he created a detective whose popularity rivalled that of Sherlock Holmes (at least so it is rather improbably claimed). Bramah (1868-1942) created Max Carrados, a popular sleuth whose adventures appeared in The Strand magazine, which also published Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories. But there is one important difference between Max Carrados and Sherlock Holmes: Carrados is blind.

The complete adventures of Max Carrados, a blind detective who can nevertheless solve crimes thanks to his extraordinary skills at reading things with his fingers and paying attention to the sounds that other people overlook, have recently been reprinted as The Eyes of Max Carrados (Tales of Mystery & The Supernatural). Carrados first appeared in 1914 and over the next decade his short stories had many readers in Britain gripped. They still stand up well now. George Orwell was also a fan, claiming that, along with R. Austin Freeman’s Dr Thorndyke stories and Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes tales, the Max Carrados stories are the only detective stories since Edgar Allan Poe that are worth rereading. Read the rest of this entry

Curious Facts about the Golden Age of Detective Fiction

In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle investigates the fascinating facts behind some of the greatest detective novels

The rise of detective fiction is a fascinating topic (previously, I’ve chosen 10 of the greatest examples of the genre), and it’s no surprise that a book telling the story of classic crime fiction in 100 books should yield many surprising and interesting facts. This is certainly the case with Martin Edwards’ The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books (British Library Crime Classics), a beautifully produced book from the British Library which charts the rise of crime fiction during the genre’s ‘Golden Age’ of the first half of the twentieth century.

Over the course of 24 entertaining and accessible chapters, which are based around various themes (including London-based crime fiction, crime fiction in the countryside, the seemingly ‘impossible crime’ of the locked-room mystery, parodies and humorous examples of the genre), Martin Edwards considers some of the most emblematic and readable examples of crime and detective fiction written between 1900 and 1950 (loosely).

As well as telling the story of crime fiction as an overall genre, Edwards also offers mini-histories of not only his 100 chosen novels but also the authors who wrote them. The Story of Classic Crime is packed full of curious biographical trivia, which delve into the alternative lives Read the rest of this entry