Saturday, July 22, 2017

The Adventuress

The Adventuress
Arthur B Reeve (1880-1936)
First published in 1917, 220 pages.

I found this little hardback book, and was initially attracted to the cover. The reason being that they book is published with the original 1930s cover. The original 1917 cover is on the back.

I had never heard of Arthur B Reeve before, but the inside cover of the book describes him as:
a New York author and criminologist, whose creation, the scientific detective Craig Kennedy, became famous as "the American Sherlock Holmes". Reeve's cutting edge stories, newspaper serials and movies about Craig Kennedy made him the most popular detective writer of the era, and The Adventuress was his first full-length novel.
I was interested by that description on many counts, and the foreword expanded upon this by suggesting that his use of cutting edge technology was what made him so well loved at the time, but may also have counted against his longevity, as it has not aged well.  

One criticism I would make on this, is that it is clearly the work of someone who may be versed in short stories, trying their hand at longer form novels. This may be a full length novel, but the story contained within could easily be edited down to a much shorter tale. Indeed, it may actually benefit from that. 

The first 100 pages or so, are actually a bit of a slog. With Kennedy, the Scientific Detective, a dead man's lawyer and some secret service types are following round the members of the deceased's family. This may indeed reflect real detective work, both from the perspective of a PI, and the secret service, but it does not make for a compelling read. This is clearly a pre-Chandlerian novel, in that we don't actually see another corpse after the initial death that starts it all, until page 117! 

That's not to say the initial 100 pages are not without merit. There's a nice scene where Kennedy uses the of the day to trace a bug in the lawyers office. Even the fact that there is a listening device seems to be a novelty to the other characters in the book. The stolen McGuffin is also original and forward looking in it's scientific description, and does coem back into the story in a useful fashion, making it les of a McGuffin. Indeed, the book borders on Sci-Fi in some aspects of its function, even though the novel never goes down this path.

The book is written through the eyes and words of Kennedy's journalist companion, Walter Jameson. This means we do not get the direct thoughts of Kennedy, and in many ways I think this means we don't actually get to know much of Kennedy, and he seems quite 2 dimensional because of this. He may have been known as the American Sherlock Holmes, but Holmes is a much more interesting character. Holmes is always described as much more over the top, and in some ways, this is required, as we never get to hear his internal thoughts, except for through Watson's words. Kennedy on the other had, is a much more calm and steady character, and the relationship between him and Jameson is much more equal, which all adds together to make them less interesting. 

In summary, I did enjoy this book, it is well written, and the personal relationships between the family and suspects is interesting, in that the story investigates these interactions deeply. So the human motivations are the key to the mystery that the science is used to solve, a nice balance. I do think it would be worth while to search down some of Reeve's short stories, to see if they hold the attention better than this long form novel (Arthur B Reeve on Gutenberg. Also may of the books are free on amazon as kindle ebooks).

Gaming the Book.

What sets this novel aside from others of the genre is the use of various sciences of the day, from radio broadcasting, to graphology, and no doubt what made it popular, is also what ages it. It would be very difficult to take this science, and make it playable in a straight RPG these days, mostly because it is almost impossible for the players to know what is cutting edge for the day, without having a list of skills, or machines which they have access to, which becomes rather unwieldy quickly.

In a pulp setting, we can get away with much more, and even though this is not set as a pulp action thriller, but is supposed to be more grounded, the science comes across as much more pulpy these days.

The second way to look at it is to bring it up to the modern day, to where the players are aware of where the edges of science lie, and how this can be used in game. I usually steer clear of technology in horror games, but in detective and investigation games, it is a different story. Having a scientist of any kind, who is able to bring bleeding edge science to the table, without making the rest of the game too pulpy, would be very interesting.

I found another review of the story here.

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