An Introduction by Bob Adey
No. 1. The Hole in the Roof
No. 2. The Snakeshead Chaplet
No. 3. Kotabos
No. 4. The Tragedy of the Science Club
No. 5. The Lobby Ghost
No. 6. A Net Laid Privily
No. 7. The Law-Giver’s Crown
No. 8. An Important Engagement
Quality Trade Paperback, 134 pp.
ISBN 978-1-55497-219-7 $18.00
Introduction by Bob Adey
There can be few British schoolchildren, now of a certain age, who are unfamiliar with the name Arkwright. History lessons at some point invariably dwelt (and probably still do) on the industrial revolution which began in 18th century Britain, where one of the most significant players in that arena was Richard Arkwright, born in 1732, innovator and entrepreneur, and famous inter alia for his connection with the spinning jenny (reputedly the brainchild of James Hargreaves) and the carding machine (invented by Lewis Paul) to which he made significant, indeed vital, improvements and which helped make for him a considerable fortune.
But it is not Richard who concerns us here, but his great great grandson John Stanhope Arkwright, born in 1872, and himself something of a Renaissance man. Educated at Eton and Christ Church Oxford, he was called to the bar and later elected as Conservative MP for Hereford. He even played football for Hereford Town, but it is in another sphere that he is also still remembered today. A writer of poetry, he had had a volume, The Last Muster, commemorating those who had died in the Boer War, published as early as 1901. However in 1917 he set words to a hymn tune composed by a Herefordshire rector, Charles Harris, and this now famous version, entitled "O valiant hearts", achieved immediate fame and popularity when it was sung at a service in Westminster Abbey attended by the royal family later that year to mark the Great War’s third anniversary. It is still sung today at the annual remembrance service.
But there was still one more string to John Stanhope Arkwright’s not inconsiderable bow (which was not well known then and is completely forgotten now): he wrote detective stories. In March 1907 the first issue appeared of the Herefordshire Magazine, a regional monthly which seems to have been the brainchild of its editor, the Rev. Compton Reade. The reverend gentleman was himself a fairly catholic (with a small "c") author with novels, poetry, humorous short stories and a well received biography of the novelist Charles Reade to his name. Not surprising then that the Herefordshire Magazine carried not only the items of local interest which are the standard fare of such publications (including a series of "Prominent People in Herefordshire" in which our very own John Stanhope Arkwright appeared), but also a pot-pouri of poetry and fiction from the editor himself and other writers including a long historical serial with a nun as romantic heroine, Emma Agar’s "The Dove of Mimigard."
Then in the June 1907 issue appeared the first in a series with the not exactly self-deprecating title "Tales of a Great Detective" in which we meet London man Nicholas Saunders (he has a "curious little house near Paddington Station" — the terminus of course for the West Country rail service with which the author would have been very familiar). His Watson is his friend Molyneux (first name never given), a man of independent means, it seems ("my time is my own")—that is unless he was a banker. Their first case concerns a terrorist plot in which the prime minister, on his way to seek Saunders’ assistance, kills an assailant (oh, that we had such men of action at our helm today); and even the King and Queen come under threat. Saunders investigates and the villain is brought to book (though in truth small thanks to our dynamic duo) whereat the tale concludes.
Seven more adventures follow involving, inter alia, race fixing, skulduggery in the houses of Parliament, jewel thefts, even experiments on the dead. We don’t really learn a great deal more about either the detective or his sidekick, or their lives. A manservant, Thomas, plays a vital role in one of the stories and a lesser one in another. Inspectors Bond and Cutbold each feature in one story. There are references, often tongue in cheek, for those who know, to places in or near the author’s constituency, including, amusingly, a thieves’ lodging house called "the Craven Arms" (the name of a small Herefordshire/Shropshire border town).
That the writing was influenced by Conan Doyle and his Holmes seems fairly obvious: the detective duo with the Watsonian amanuensis, cases brought by members of the aristocracy, police acquiescence, even one where an effigy of the detective plays a part. But though they follow Doyle, (and here I paraphrase Sainsbury in his comparison of historical novelist G.P.R. James with the earlier maestro, Walter Scott) they follow at a long distance. Nevertheless there is much here that is of worth and they are overall great fun to read, provided that not too critical an eye is cast.
The eighth and last Saunders case was written up in the January 1908 issue of the Herefordshire Magazine and the following issue began with the publisher’s announcement that with very deep regret owing to the grave illness of the editor it would be necessary to suspend the publication. This proved to be permanent, and February 1908 marked the end of this entertaining little magazine. Compton Reade died the following year, and as far as I am aware John Stanhope Arkwright made no further forays into the world of detective fiction.
— Bob Adey
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