One of the classic detectives of all time is Philo Vance. I had problems finding free kindle versions of any of the S.S. VanDine books that feature this character, until I stumbled upon my friends at Gutenberg/Australia
. The first few chapters are a tough slog. The author spends way too much time telling
us about Philo Vance, as opposed to showing
us what he's like (the latter always makes for more interesting writing). Through out the book, Vance comes across as a total effete jerk. He's one of those privileged, rich people who don't see anything wrong in being intentionally offensive, so long as the offensiveness is masked under the guise of humorous banter. I'm pretty sure that at some point he mentioned how important it was to be gentlemanly and polite. All the while, however, he thinks his exalted state of being makes it ok to trample all over peoples' senses of self worth. Or something. Suffice to say he's an asshole. The very good review by dfordoom
indicates that people tend either to love Philo Vance or else hate him.
That being said, after I'd slogged through a third of the book, it got to be interesting, and kept my attention until the end. Perhaps I'd become used to Vance's jerkiness and could shrug it off.
One has to suspend reality when reading Philo Vance. He's convinced that everything can be explained if one only understands human psychology adequately. So, using his psychological methods, he fingers the murderer almost immediately, but then feels a need to slowly walk the law officers through the steps of arresting the correct person, because they lack the imagination and psychological insight to understand the issues on their own. Of course, almost a century later, we realize that psychology is not at all a science, but is pretty much a bull-shit field of endeavor, populated heavily by hacks and charlatans, much like the field of economics.
Another interesting thing is that the actual convicting evidence was mostly obtained by illegal means. The murderer would never have been convicted in a modern court of law. I didn't realize how little respect people had for the Fourth Amendment a century ago. I can't decide if I'll read any more Philo Vance or not. I don't have a high level of tolerance for intentional jerks, but on the other hand, the story was interesting in its own way. We'll see. First, however, I'll sample Charley Chan.