The Clue of the New Pin

“It is not sufficient that you can show motives. You must produce the means! Until you can say the murderer obtained admission to the vault by this or that door, in this or that way, or that he employed these or those means to restore the key to the table from the outside of a locked door through which no key could pass, you cannot secure a conviction.”

There’s just something dramatic and fun about vintage mysteries; the atmosphere provides so much more suspense than modern cozies, as much as I enjoy them. Clue Of The New Pin by Edgar Wallace, first published in 1923, is no exception.

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Despite having made a fortune in China, old Jesse Trasmere is an established miser. He provides a relatively meager allowance for his nephew Rex Landers, demands exact accounting in any business ventures, and keeps his money locked in a basement vault. When an old associate from China, Wellington Brown, shows up, Mr. Trasmere goes out of his way to avoid him, claiming through his butler to be out of town. Instead, he is found shot dead in the vault–with the key locked inside! Inspector Carver is assigned to investigate. However, much of the story is told from the perspective of Tab Holland, a young reporter and Rex’s roommate. Tab has met Carver on the beat before and serves as his sounding board while getting the scoop. Before the case ends it involves connections to rising actress Ursula Ardfern and Chinese restaurateur Yeh Ling,  as well as a second body.

I think reporter is one of my favorite professions because it allows for all sorts of information and adventures that wouldn’t be plausible otherwise; take Clark Kent, for example. Tab Holland is no exception. He’s bold, level-headed, confident, and easily intrigued, which makes him the perfect companion for Carver. The Inspector, too, is likable, though given less of a personal story.  According to Tab his brains and instinct make him the anomaly in an ineffective police force, and they are indeed well-honed. He also lacks any sort of ostentatious manner that would sometimes accompany them.

The book is a product of the 1920s, with the fascination for Orientalism. Yeh Ling could in some sense be viewed as a stereotypical Chinese character, and others have racial prejudices. On the whole, however, the portrayal did not really strike me as a negative one. The characters are pretty aware of their own preconceptions about him. He is mostly regarded as different rather than inferior, and is ultimately respected for following his own strict code of honor.

The nature of the plot is also typical for the times. I love the mental challenge of a locked room mystery, and though the who and why weren’t too hard I was proud to have figured out the how as well. Mr. Wallace plays fair and provides enough clues scattered throughout the story to determine the solution. He shows skill in both character and plot. Apparently he was a crime reporter as well, which explains a lot. I was unfamiliar with his work before but I’d like to track down more.

The edition of this book that I found at the library was reissued by Black Dagger Crime, the same as for Murder at the Villa Rose. I’ll have to keep them in mind for more classic detective fiction!

Published in: on July 17, 2010 at 10:23 pm  Comments (2)  
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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I keep hearing about Edgar Wallace, but have never actually looked him up to see who he is, so thanks for blogging about him. I will have to look up his books one of these days, this one looks like it might be a cosy read.

    • Melinda–apparently he wrote over 150 novels, so he shouldn’t be too hard to track down. His personal life seems like it could have been from a book as well.

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