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I am always being reminded that the most serious public figures of our time, from Woodrow Wilson to W. Enchanted though I had been with Sherlock Holmes, I got bored with the Thinking Machine and dropped him, beginning to feel, at the age of twelve, that I was outgrowing that form of literature.In my present line of duty, however, I have decided that I ought to take a look at some specimens of this school of writing, which has grown so prodigiously popular and of which the output is now so immense that this department has to have a special editor to deal with its weekly production.It was only when I looked up Sherlock Holmes that I realized how much Nero Wolfe was a dim and distant copy of an original.
I even began to mutter that the real secret that Rex Stout had been screening by his false scents and interminable divagations was a meagreness of imagination of which one only came to realize the full horror when the last chapter had left one blank.
tradition does not represent all or the best that the detective story has been able to do during the decades of its proliferation; there has been also the puzzle mystery, and this has been brought to a high pitch of ingenuity in the stories of Agatha Christie.
This I had found also a source of annoyance in the case of Mr.
Stout, who, however, has created, after a fashion, Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin and has made some attempt at characterization of the people that figure in the crimes; but Mrs.
Lovecraft’s “boyhood game” has since been championed by other critics and by writers such as Joyce Carol Oates and Stephen King.
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Almost everybody I know seems to read them, and they have long conversations about them in which I am unable to take part. Now, except for a few of the Father Brown stories by Chesterton, for which I did not much care, I have not read any detective stories since one of the earliest, if not the earliest, of the imitators of Sherlock Holmes—a writer named Jacques Futrelle, now dead, who invented a character called the Thinking Machine and published his first volume of stories about him in 1907.If I say that my somewhat extravagant imagination yielded simultaneous pictures of an octopus, a dragon, and a human caricature, I shall not be unfaithful to the thing.A pulpy, tentacled head surmounted to a grotesque and scaly body with rudimentary wings; but it was the general outline of the whole which made it most shockingly frightful.I was somewhat disappointed in the stories that made up this most recent book—“Not Quite Dead Enough” and “Booby Trap”—but, as they were both under the usual length and presented Nero Wolfe partly distracted from his regular profession by a rigorous course of training for the Army, I concluded that they might not be first-rate examples of what the author could do in this line and read also “The Nero Wolfe Omnibus” (World), which contains two earlier book-length stories: “The Red Box” and “The League of Frightened Men.” But neither did these supply the excitement I had hoped for.If the later stories seemed sketchy and skimpy, these seemed to have been somewhat padded, for they were full of long episodes that led nowhere and had no real business to be in the story.The veteran was Wayne Barlowe, a mild, bespectacled man in his fifties; he had collaborated with del Toro on “Hellboy” and had helped define many of the creatures in “Avatar,” including the Great Leonopteryx, the flying beast that Jake Sully tames on the planet Pandora.Barlowe still draws with pencils, and he sat in a sunny corner room.Cthulhu also shows up in Lovecraft’s novella, “At the Mountains of Madness,” which del Toro is currently preparing to film.In the Profile, Zalewski describes a pre-production session at which an art team working for del Toro showed the director their ideas for the monsters in the movie, including Cthulhu.I finally felt that I was unpacking large crates by swallowing the excelsior in order to find at the bottom a few bent and rusty nails, and I began to nurse a rankling conviction that detective stories in general profit by an unfair advantage in the code which forbids the reviewer to give away the secret to the public—a custom which results in the concealment of the pointlessness of a good deal of this fiction and affords a protection to the authors which no other department of writing enjoys.It is not difficult to create suspense by making people await a revelation, but it demands a certain originality to come through with a criminal device which is ingenious or picturesque or amusing enough to make the reader feel the waiting has been worth while.