June 9, 2012


Sometimes, reading a certain strand of fiction can start to feel a little bit similar after awhile; as a reader, I start to almost predict when a certain cliche or storytelling device comes into play. I also begin to stereotype a particular strand of literature. I've been exploring Victorian detective literature as a result of watching The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes on DVD (a British anthology series from the 1970s focusing on other detectives) - partially out of enjoyment, partially for a comic idea that I plan to write - and one character in particular has had a very striking effect on me.

Ladies and gentleman, I bring you Horace Dorrington, featured in The Dorrington Deed-Box, a collection of short stories by Arthur Morrison, for your reading pleasure.

Originally published in 1897, and almost near impossible to find on sale (there's a Kindle version for about a buck), Dorrington Deed-Box is unique in that it completely subverts the reader's expectations of detective fiction. Normally, the tendency is to pit a righteous detective who is neither "tarnished nor afraid" (to quote Raymond Chandler) against a corrupt police force....and an even more corrupt society. Morrison, probably best known for A Child of the Jago and creating Martin Hewitt (aka, "the guy whose stories took over after The Final Problem), gives us a unique twist - a corrupt, almost criminal detective against a corrupt police force in an even more corrupt society.

Unlike Raffles of The Amateur Cracksman, there's no overt contempt for high society or even a sense that the people he is threatening deserve their treatment: for Horace Dorrington, a dishonest profit is still a profit. Although these stories can be a little uneven in quality, what's striking about the collection is how unrepentant Morrison is in showing Dorrington's behavior - it seems matter of fact in describing how, say, Dorrington attempts to outswindle a con artist, or even attempt to drown a client before uneasy truths are discovered.  It's a very intriguing book, and quite honestly, well worth reading for even a casual fan of Victorian literature.

In a strange way, Dorrington Deed-Box has me considering volunteering for Librivox. Oh, sure, I would have to work on a community project, but bringing this audiobook to life? It's worth putting on an already crowded schedule because this is quite an enjoyable tome. And definitely worthy of committing to mp3.

And it's freely available in a variety of formats via the Internet Archive. Download it. Tell your friends. You'll thank me later.

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