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Max Carrados

January 9, 2011

I recently acquainted myself with Max Carrados, Ernest Bramah’s blind detective. The Carrados stories were first published in the Strand Magazine, alongside the Sherlock Holmes stories, and were apparently just as popular. And actually, they’re pretty good. They’re a little too fantastical, probably, but in such an entertaining way that I hesitate to call that a complaint.

The first story, “The Coin of Dionysius”, gives us the setup: Max Wynn takes on the name Carrados in order to inherit a fortune earned by fraud on the part of an American cousin. Later he gets poked in the eye with a twig while riding and is blinded. Meanwhile, his school friend Louis Calling has become a lawyer and, after being disbarred and changing his name to Carlyle, a private detective. Carlyle has what may be a forged tetradrachm on his hands, and consults Carrados, who is a noted numismatist. Tetradrachm and numismatist, incidentally, are both words that I really enjoy.

Carrados has only to touch the forged coin to know the name of the forger. Granted, he figures it out mostly because of his preexisting knowledge of the coin-collecting community, but still. The skills Bramah gives this guy are ridiculous — very often the other characters refuse to believe that he’s blind, and it’s hard to blame them. Anyway, he solves the case, and from then on Carlyle brings him all of his most difficult problems and Carrados solves them with ease. And maybe that’s my real complaint about these stories. Carrados never seems to have the slightest bit of trouble figuring anything out. The mysteries are outlandish, but they’re too easy for him. And the explanations of how he figures things out are great, but he’s kind of too smart to be an engaging character. I mean, he’s likable, but he’s also essentially unknowable. If Carlyle was engaging, it wouldn’t be a problem, but Carlyle constantly made me wonder why anyone would entrust him with any kind of intellectual problem at all, much less allow him to run a detective agency.

Really, though, the absence of characters one can engage with is barely a problem. The mysteries may not work as stories about people, but they do work as puzzles, and work well.

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8 comments

  1. I think I read one of these in the Oxford Book of English Detective Stories. It was very bizarre, about a child being poisoned and whether or not it was murder.


    • Did it have something to do with mushrooms?


      • Yes! I forget the details, but I don’t think that particular story really appealed to me. I’ll have to try some of the others.


  2. Okay, I’m a huge Holmes fan (although almost more of the offshoots than the original stories), so I’m interested in trying this out. But so far I’m a paragraph in, and the number of clauses in each sentence is KILLING me. Those sentences just go ON and ON and ON. Will persevere, though. A good mystery is perfect for our current weather.


    • At this point, the only run-ons that phase me are S.S. Van Dine’s. So, um, in your search for good mysteries, you might want to steer clear of Philo Vance.


      • Okay, I’ve finished. The sentences either improved or just ceased to bother me partway through the first chapter. I enjoyed it, but I definitely agree that Carrados is too good for me to really love.


  3. Interesting — I just finished Isabel Ostrander’s At One-Thirty (1915), featuring blind detective Damon Gaunt. He’s also a bit over-the-top, detecting circles around his sighted friends in the police, but there’s some good character development as well. From what I can tell, Ostrander didn’t use him in any other novels, which is a shame. I’ll have to pick up the Carrados stories.


    • Just started At One-Thirty, and Ostrander has already won me over by having Gaunt say, “Yeah, the printing on this particular business card is too fancy for me to read with my fingers,” and pass it off to someone else.



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