by H. R. F. KEATING The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes edited by Hugh Greene (Bodley Head 40s)
HERE are thirteen substantial crime stories by tea different authors written between 1891 and 1914. the years the Holmes adventures were appearing in the Strand Magazine.
The talcs are, for the most part, pretty good in their own right. But, thanks to the enthusiasm for the feel of their varied backgrounds which animated Sir Hugh Greene in making his choice from hundreds of possibilities, they also give us a wonderfully deepthreat look into our society as it was in what are often called the last days of stability.
The widespread holding of very different moral attitudes from those of today comes out in small significant phrases in story after story. Take an example from Arthur Morrison's The Case of Laker, Absconded, a neat affair of sudden reversal when the "walk-out" clerk of a City bank is accused of making off with the substantial sum he has collected from various other establishments. One tiny phrase says how important it is that the thief be "caught and punished." It is the last two words there that would never occur in a story today.
Or look at the espionage world of those times as it is described by William Le Queux, the Len Deighton of his day telling a good story but much concerned too with the realities of spying. There is as much double-dealing in Le Queux as there is in Deighton. But the former never doubts the simple goodness of his country and its establishment ("That grave, kindly old statesman was greatly perturbed . ."). What a difference in these days.
Sir Hugh's writers take us back to an age which assumed as a matter of course that there were good men and that crime deserved punishment, an age of moral absolutes. Whether it was a better world than our era of situation ethics is something that must be left to each reader to judge.