Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The Problem of the Forgotten Futrelles

A few years back, and after hearing much discussed about Edwardian-era mystery novelist Jacques Futrelle, I bought a Modern Library collection called Jacques Futrelle’s “The Thinking Machine.” That volume naturally includes “The Problem of Cell 13,” which is certainly Futrelle’s best-remembered short story, featuring “diminutive egghead scientist” and “impossible crimes”-solver Professor Augustus S.F.X. Van Dusen. Although in his time, Futrelle was quite well known (some called him “the American Arthur Conan Doyle”), he’s pretty much forgotten today, despite his lead role as a detective in Max Allan Collins’ captivating 1999 novel, The Titanic Murders. (Futrelle was one of the 1,522 passengers who perished after the RMS Titanic hit a North Atlantic iceberg in April 1912. He was just 37 at the time.)

I found the stories about Van Dusen, aka “The Thinking Machine,” delightful in an old-fashioned way. But Steve Steinbock, an author and--as it turns out--one of my fellow Seattle-area residents, developed a much greater interest in Futrelle. Via Mystery*File, I came across Steinbock’s remarkable collection of original Futrelle works, including a number of non-Thinking Machine books and the “real prize: a nice, pristine first edition of The Thinking Machine (1907).” Thank goodness, someone out there spends the time and money necessary to keep such works out of trash bins. For the sake of my retirement fund, I’m just glad it doesn’t have to be me.

READ MORE:Jacques Futrelle and the Titanic,” by Jeffrey
Marks (Mystery Scene).

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