Some authors have only one great book in them. But that doesn’t mean they don’t also write a lot of other books. I think of A.E.W. Mason as one of those. The Four Feathers is a masterpiece. It’s the only proper adventure novel I can think of that is also successfully introspective and, you know, intelligent, and…”if you want any whiskey, stamp twice on the floor with your foot; the servants understand.”
But anyway. I adore The Four Feathers, but I’m never quite sure whether it’s my favorite A.E.W. Mason book, because there’s also The Prisoner in the Opal. And The Prisoner in the Opal is indisputably one of the ‘other books,’ but I love it.
I think Mason’s detective, Inspector Hanaud of the Surete, is as direct a predecessor of Hercule Poirot as you’re going to find anywhere — he’s tremendously full of himself, he uses psychology to solve crimes, and his behavior seems calculated to offend the English people with whom he comes into contact. He first appears in At the Villa Rose, in 1910. It’s not so great. I haven’t read any of the other Hanaud books, but I have high hopes for the one titled They Wouldn’t be Chessmen. Read the rest of this entry ?