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The Benson Murder Case

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 27, 2012

    I Also Recommend:


    SS Van Dine, the pseudonym of Willard Huntington Wright, created the popular fiction detective Philo Vance. His first appearance was in The Benson Murder Case, which was published by Scribner's in 1926. Another 11 novels appeared, about one per year, until his early death in 1939 at the age of 51.

    There are some, like the current Philo Vance wiki author, who believe "Vance's character as portrayed in the novels might seem to many modern readers to be supercilious, obnoxiously affected, and highly irritating" and, actually, that's true. Throughout this tale, I heard the unmistakable inflected accent of Lord Peter Wimsey, without his corresponding business-like masculinity. As Ogden Nash quipped: "Philo Vance / Needs a kick in the pance".

    But that's really unfair. Yes, the book is a little padded, and the explanations at times wearyingly long-winded, but there's also terrific charm. And, without question, the work is an expression of its time: the period shortly after WWI when New York was re-emerging from the chill of war and for the first time feeling its strength as a true International capital -- and before the devastation that would hit four years later as the markets crashed. It was a time of much greater class delineation, and certainly an era where being called an immigrant was not yet pejorative. Much of this tale inhabits the privileged class of which Vance was securely, and proudly, a member.

    So, there's my own long-winded way of putting it: a charming bon-bon of classic early American detective fiction that's well worth devouring.

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