Review: Max Carrados by Ernest Bramah

Max Carrados - Ernest Bramah

The book contains eight short stories, all mysteries but it's the detective that's unique. Max Carrados was in a riding accident that resulted in blindness, and when he bumps (not literally) into his old school friend Carlyle and finds a new career with him as a detective.

Helpful Links: wikipeida, Gutenberg

Short version: mystery stories from 1914, interesting take on the consulting detective


I first heard of  the stories via a reading of this book on BBC Radio 4, and am finding the written versions even more interesting. A lot of this has to do with how the author uses a phrase or two to sum up a scene or a personality.


"Butterfly brain" and "the enviable side" for instance.


The Clever Mrs Straithwaite, 39% in: "In the meanwhile, at Luneburg Mansions, Mrs Straithwaite had been passing anything but a pleasant day. She had awakened with a headache and an overnight feeling that there was some unpleasantness to be gone on with. That it did not amount to actual fear was due to the enormous self-importance and the incredible ignorance which ruled the butterfly brain of the young society beauty—for in spite of three years’ experience of married life Stephanie Straithwaite was as yet on the enviable side of two and twenty."



In the story The Knight's Cross Signal Problem, Carrados is yet again having to explain to Carlyle how he can still manage, although blind:


..."Yes,” replied Carrados, with interest. “I read the whole ghastly details at the time."
"You read?" exclaimed his friend suspiciously.
"I still use the familiar phrases," explained Carrados, with a smile. "As a matter of fact, my secretary reads to me. I mark what I want to hear and when he comes at ten o’clock we clear off the morning papers in no time."
"And how do you know what to mark?" demanded Mr Carlyle cunningly.


Carrados’s right hand, lying idly on the table, moved to a newspaper near. He ran his finger along a column heading, his eyes still turned towards his visitor.
"'The Money Market. Continued from page 2. British Railways,'" he announced.
"Extraordinary," murmured Carlyle.
"Not very," said Carrados. "If someone dipped a stick in treacle and wrote ‘Rats’ across a marble slab you would probably be able to distinguish what was there, blindfold."
"Probably," admitted Mr Carlyle. "At all events we will not test the experiment."
"The difference to you of treacle on a marble background is scarcely greater than that of printers’ ink on newspaper to me. But anything smaller than pica I do not read with comfort, and below long primer I cannot read at all. Hence the secretary. Now the accident, Louis."


Carlyle is one of those disbelieving types. Then again, Carrados always manages to inexplicably solve the mystery, so perhaps it's natural Carlyle is always thinking there's a magic trick involved.




I'm still trying to imagine this brooch described in The Knight’s Cross Signal Problem:


"The Romans, Parkinson, had a saying to the effect that gold carries no smell. That is a pity sometimes. What jewellery did Miss Hutchins wear?"
"Very little, sir. A plain gold brooch representing a merry-thought - the merry-thought of a sparrow, I should say, sir. The only other article was a smooth-backed gun-metal watch, suspended from a gun-metal bow."


According to the internet, merry-thought is a Britishism for "wishbone."

Via this dictionary and this World Wide Words article, from which I'll quote:


"The name of wishbone comes, of course, from the folk custom in which two people hold its ends and pull, the one left with the longer piece making a wish. Merrythought refers to an older version of the custom, in which it is assumed that the one left with the longer piece will get to marry first. So the bone-pulling ceremony resulted in what were euphemistically called “merry thoughts” among those taking part."


Oddly I think my grandmother used to wear a wishbone brooch...




Contents: (8 short stories)

The Coin of Dionysius

The Knight’s Cross Signal Problem

The Tragedy at Brookbend Cottage

The Clever Mrs Straithwaite

The Last Exploit of Harry the Actor

The Tilling Shaw Mystery

The Comedy at Fountain Cottage

The Game played in the Dark