In a clearly written scholarly trek over fresh critical ground, Emrys asserts that Wilkie Collins, inaccurately lumped with early writers of epistolary novels, should be credited with inventing a new form, the casebook or novel in testimony. The format is especially effective for a detective story, planting clues and effecting reader surprises while achieving depth of characterization. All of Collins’ novels and some of his short stories are touched on, with most attention to The Woman in White (1860), more truly a detective story than generally thought, and The Moonstone (1868).
Emrys, who edited the Vera Caspary collection The Murder in the Stork Club (Crippen & Landru, 2009), shows how Caspary consciously adapted Collins’ casebook method in the classic Laura (1943) and later novels. Many readers will be spurred to go beyond that one famous book to a large and distinguished body of work.
The discussion may seem forbiddingly technical and academic at times, but mystery fans and general readers will find enjoyable and useful the discussions of individual titles by the two main subjects and other writers, including Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Michael Innes’ Lament for a Maker, Dorothy L. Sayers and Robert Eustace’s The Documents in the Case, and Julian Symons’ The Immaterial Murder Case. Most surprising is the fairly laudatory discussion of Fergus Hume, a very prolific writer usually dismissed with passing reference to The Mystery of a Hansom Cab. Among contemporary writers touched on are Michael Gruber, Elizabeth Peters, and Michael Cox.
This is one of the year’s best books of mystery scholarship and deserves strong Edgar consideration.