Tuesday, December 30, 2008

PIs and I.

Detective fiction is a genre I've enjoyed all my life. I remember my father buying me a hardbound copy of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, published by John Murray. This happened to be in one of my childhood summers at 233 Khetwadi Main Road http://digbig.com/4xyxy. I was recuperating then from a severe bout of tonsillitis. I used to suffer from this ailment not infrequently at that time and was a frequent user of glycerin acid tannic, "the throat 'paint' of choice". http://digbig.com/4yarg. Sorry for the digression. After devouring the first collection of short stories and getting well, I was hooked on Holmes. I rapidly ploughed through the entire "Canon": 4 novels and 56 short stories written by Sir Arthur Conon Doyle between 1887 and 1927 - a total of 660382 words according to Charles E Lauterbach's calculation in 1960. Holmes had a special appeal for me because, like me, he preferred to sit down and ratiocinate. http://digbig.com/4yaty. I'm not saying my deductive logical ability was a patch on his legendary though fictional one, of course. To continue the story, I made a logical progression to Agatha Christie's inimitable egghead, Hercule Poirot and, thence, to Miss Marple http://digbig.com/4yatm in the last year of school and, later, in college. Ellery Queen, reputedly the American heir to the Holmesian legacy, happened somewhere along the way. I remember being particularly impressed at that time with the way a challenge to the reader used to be thrown towards the end of the earlier EQ novels when the reader was supposed to have been given all the essential clues. I had even read and enjoyed the four Drury Lane novels written by Queen under the Barnby Ross nom de plume. These, I recall, belonged to the locked room mystery sub-genre, a format of which John Dickson Carr was a leading practitioner. For a while around then, I was a steady follower of Mike Shayne, the Miami PI, as well. Then, the focus of my attention shifted to Erle Stanley Gardner's Perry Mason. I began to think that thinking on one's feet and wisecracking in a trial court was the height of sophistication. Then I discovered his Donald Lam and Bertha Cool series written under his AA Fair pseudonym and found it far more witty and entertaining. My meeting with The Saint http://digbig.com/4yfre I recall, was fortuitous. I happened to browse through a Saint novel at the shop on Lamington Road http://digbig.com/4ybgc where I used to borrow comics and other reading material when I was in college. I was taken in by the flippant style and tone. I went on a pilgrimage of Saintly reading borrowing all the titles in the circulating library and even buying a few second-hand titles. Another source of my detective literature supply was the JB Petit Institute at Flora Fountain of which my father and I were members. I read quite a bit of Edgar Wallace http://digbig.com/4ybge there, including a book of hilarious short stories about a race course tout. I remember its red binding distinctly but have forgotten its name. I read, if memory serves, almost all Dorothy L Sayers (Lord Wimsey) mysteries and some by Georges Simenon (Maigret is no PI, mind!) and Rex Stout, all borrowed from the Institute as well. Dick Francis came later and became for a while quite an addiction. The Institute also gave me the opportunity to enjoy Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine for several years. Although I have not read much of Patricia Highsmith and Nicolas Freeling, I hold them both in high esteem. I must confess that although I read some of Ross MacDonald, he didn't appeal to me much. Neither for that matter did Raymond Chandler who considered himself a mere pulp writer but was the toast of the British literary and intellectual circles including notably JB Priestley, WH Auden, Cyril Connolly and Edith Sitwell. Maybe, I ain't no mystery connoisseur in verity.