Mr. Fortune’s Practice (H.C. Bailey)

Bailey - Mr Fortune's Practice

By H.C. Bailey

First published: UK, Methuen, 1923


Mr. Reginald Fortune, surgeon and scientific advisor to the Criminal Investigation Department, is already well known to lovers of tales of crime, mystery and adventure.  This second series of his cases shows him finding his way through the obscure, the bizarre and the terrible with multifarious knowledge and infinite resource.

My review

The Ascot Tragedy

Barzun & Taylor raved about it, but this is not one of the best Reggie Fortune stories. While exciting enough – the book opens at Ascot with the death of an illustrious diplomat, and concludes with the attack on Reggie Fortune by a Young Turk – the solution is not exactly fair.

The President of San Jacinto

Again, the solution is not quite fair, as the reader should have been given the medical details. That said, this story of an unpleasant squire murdered at his manor is thoroughly entertaining; the murderer locks Reggie and Supt. Bell locked in the cellar while he escapes.

The Young Doctor

A first-class story, in which Reggie Fortune interests himself in the case of a budding Harley Street physician falsely accused of theft, his career ruined, placed in prison. Reggie believes the doctor to be innocent, and brings the case to a successful conclusion.

The Magic Stone

An intriguing tale of archaeology and kidnapping, with plenty of good clues and an exciting raid on the house where the intended victim is to be murdered. One of Bailey’s best.

The Snowball Burglary

The dialogue is as direct and neatly turned as in a play, but the solution is weak, and the reader has little chance of solving it.

The Leading Lady

Another weak one, in which everybody rushes around like a fool for fifty pages.

The Unknown Murderer

“My dear Fortune, you are not as plausible as usual.”

“It isn’t plausible… I know that. It’s too dam’ wicked… Abnormal. Of course the essence of the thing is that it is abnormal.”

One of Bailey’s masterpieces in the short story genre, this thoroughly original story of the truly fiendish villain who kills in order to feel their victims’ pain, is perfection throughout.  Reggie (soon to be engaged to Joan Amber) is in great form as he entertains the children at the orphanage Christmas party, diagnoses arsenical poisoning after another party, and successfully – not to say dramatically – ends the career in crime of one of Bailey’s most memorable creations. Bailey specialised in atmospheres of fear and malaise. Mr. Fortune does not explain how he reached the conclusion that he did, but all the clues are there.  Who was the intrusive “comforter”? Who had access to the surgical knife used to kill Dr. Hall? And Mr. Fortune’s own attitude indicates guilt.

Contemporary reviews

Times Literary Supplement (21st June 1923):

The worst of Mr. Fortune and his friend and colleague, the Hon. Sidney Lomas, is that their conversation is so monotonously smart, and that they infect other people with the same vice—for vice it is.  An exclusive diet of rich cake palls on the greediest child more completely than plain bread and butter, and too much smartness palls on the willingest reader more surely than good average dullness.  Otherwise the young men are good company enough.  Perhaps they are not really so young, because the Hon. Sidney is Chief of the Criminal Investigation Department and Reggie Fortune is surgeon, toxicologist, and scientific adviser to the Home Office; but since in spite of their onerous duties they talk and behave like youths who have just left the university and have nothing to do but amuse themselves, they give an impression of extreme youth.  They are mixed up in this book with seven mysterious episodes, which they have to elucidate and do elucidate—at least Mr. Fortune does with the superhuman sagacity which Providence has bestowed on the great Sherlock and all his progeny, who by now outnumber the seed of Abraham.  All one can say is that Mr. Fortune is as good as any of his brethren and his practice as entertaining.


NY World (E.W. Osborn, 3rd February 1924, 320w):

We are not deeply impressed by Mr. Bailey’s narrative brilliancy as here exhibited, but we are greatly taken with the sunny personality of his titular character.


NY Times (10th February 1924, 550w):

They are swiftly moving, well told and ingenious tales and Mr. Fortune is a very engaging person, endowed with the saving grace of humour.


Boston Transcript (27th February 1924, 230w):

Never was Reginald Fortune in finer fettle than in the seven cases of his practice this volume records: his wit more blithesome, his shrewdness more amazing, his cynical charm more irresistible.


Outlook (5th March 1924, 20w):

Detective stories, ingenious in plot, but so staccato in style as to be irritating.


Lit R (29th April 1924, 180w):

This is a pleasant, plausible, entertaining collection of detective tales.


Int Bk R (May 1924, 300w):

The stories are all very ingenious, and, provided you are in the right mood, entertaining.  Mr. Fortune is hardly so grave and impressive as Sherlock Holmes, but in his own carefree way he is diverting.