Love in Mysteries: Trent’s Last Case & Before the Fact

Recently Curt Evans @ The Passing Tramp wrote a very interesting post where he discussed certain rules laid down by writers Kurt Steel and S.S. Van Dine as regards the writing of mysteries. One rule that struck a chord with me was this one laid down by Van Dine:

#There must be no love interest in the story.  To introduce amour is to clutter up a purely intellectual experience with irrelevant sentiment.

I don’t know why but somehow I too find that a romantic angle involving the detective often puts my teeth on edge.

So while reading E.C. Bentley’s Trent’s Last Case, when I came across these lines, it set alarm bells ringing:

But I am under an intolerable dread of Mabel being involved in suspicion with regard to the murder. It is horrible to me to think of her delicacy and goodness being in contact, if only for a time, with the brutalities of the law. She is not fitted for it. It would mark her deeply. Many young women of twenty-six in these days could face such an ordeal, I suppose. I have observed a sort of imitative hardness about the products of the higher education of women today which would carry them through any thing perhaps. I am not prepared to say it is a bad thing in the condition of feminine life prevailing at present. Mabel, however, is not like that. She is as unlike that as she is unlike the simpering misses that used to surround me as a child. She has plenty of brains; she is full of character; her mind and her tastes are cultivated; but it is all mixed up with ideals of refinement and reservation and womanly mystery. (258-259)

Delicacy, Goodness, Brains,Character, Cultivated Tastes, Refinement, Reservation, Womanly Mystery!!!!!!!!!!!!! No wonder our hero Philip Trent falls in love with the woman even before seeing her and of course her first glimpse is enough to strengthen his ardour all the more. So even while suspecting her of being part of the crime, he cannot really bring himself to pronounce her guilty because there is one part of him which confesses to the woman that: a man who, after seeing you and being in your atmosphere, could associate you with the particular kind of abomination I imagined is a fool.

And so our hero not only does not make public the evidence he has collected, he loses his integrity to such an extent that the murder he was investigating becomes a matter of joke. To be discussed with a laugh while partaking food and drinks.

Give me a break!

The other novel which discusses another aspect of love is Francis Iles’ (Anthony Berkeley) strange Before the Fact. Lina McLaislaw is known for her brains but that is before she meets Johnnie Aysgarth. She becomes so infatuated with the man that she overlooks all his faults: lying, cheating, stealing, extra-marital affairs and even murder. All that seems to matter is that she has to save Johnnie from making that fatal mistake that would put him in the clutches of the law. So Lina who thinks of Johnnie not only as her husband but also as her child continues to pamper his wishes.

A very-very strange story but with an acute description of emotional manipulation. Did Iles write it as a warning to women? The sub-title calls it a “Murder story for Ladies”. But I doubt whether any woman would be as accommodating (and dumb) as Lina.

First Line: Between what matters and what seems to matter, how should the world we know judge wisely.

Title: Trent’s Last Case
Author: E.C. Bentley
Publishing Details: NY: Random House, 1941
First Published: 1913
Pages: 164
Source: CERF [823.808 C 3351 TH]

First Line: Some women give birth to murderers, some go to bed with them, and some marry them.

Title: Before the Fact
Author: Francis Iles
Publishing Details: NY, Random House, 1941
First Published: 1932
Pages: 233
Trivia: Alfred Hitchcock’s Suspicion is based on this novel.
Source: CERF [823.808 C 3351 TH]

7 thoughts on “Love in Mysteries: Trent’s Last Case & Before the Fact

  1. You make an interesting point about that rule, Neeru. Certainly romantic angles in a story can complicate matters. And romance can make people behave irrationally. Hmmm…


  2. Margot, at times the romantic angle adds to a book's charm but more often than not it makes the detective act like a love-sick teenager and that is something I find very irritating.


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