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The Gold Bag

October 2, 2009

The first two Carolyn Wells mysteries I ever read were The Gold Bag and Vicky Van. I think the choice was dictated by them being the only two available on PG at the time, but it worked out well, since they sort of represent the best and the worst. I’ve read Vicky Van three or four times now, but I never reread The Gold Bag until last week.

The main thing I took away from my first reading of The Gold Bag was that Herbert Burroughs, the narrator/detective, was gullible and fond of leaping to conclusions. The book opens with Burroughs’ supervisor telling him, “Burroughs, if there’s a mystery to be unravelled; I’d rather put it in your hands than to trust it to any other man on the force…you go about it scientifically, and you never jump at conclusions, or accept them, until they’re indubitably warranted.” My Delicious bookmark (dated June 2006) says, “I’m sorry, an air of truth isn’t evidence, Mr. Burroughs.”

Actually, now that I’ve said that, I’m not sure anything else needs to be added. But I suppose I can’t let that stop me.

There is one very cool, albeit unlikely, plot device: a random series of deductions Fleming Stone makes about a pair of shoes in the first chapter turns out to be part of the solution to the mystery. But other than that, this book  represents everything bad about Carolyn Wells.

After being praised unnecessarily by his chief and randomly asking Fleming Stone to deduce things from a stranger’s shoes, Burroughs is sent to the town of West Sedgwick, where an important financier has been murdered.  He looks around at the guy’s office, and promptly finds several things no one has noticed, such as a newspaper sitting on the desk, and some yellow flower petals on the floor. Then he hides them.

At the inquest, Burroughs does the following things:

  • Judges everyone based on their appearance.
  • Decides what they’re feeling based on their facial expressions.
  • Hears various witnesses make noises (sighs, gasps, etc.) which no one else seems to notice, and uses them to make further assumptions.
  • Falls in love with the dead guy’s niece, who appears to be the most likely suspect.

The niece, Florence Lloyd, is engaged, so Burroughs does his best to prove that her fiance is the murderer. No one suspects the actual murderer at all, until Fleming Stone shows up a couple of chapters from the end.

That’s actually one of my favorite things about the Fleming Stone books — that they’re mostly not Fleming Stone books. Each book is mostly focused on its own cast of characters, who are no more than moderately bright, and it’s taken for granted that pretty much everything they do will be ineffectual. And then Fleming Stone shows up and is awesome for two or three chapters, which is great because if he stuck around for any longer, I wouldn’t be able to stand him (as in The Curved Blades). Of course, this works better in books where the characters aren’t morons, like Vicky Van and Raspberry Jam.

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