Mr. Fortune’s Trials (H.C. Bailey)

  • By H.C. Bailey
  • First published: UK: Methuen, 1925; USA: E.P. Dutton, 1926

My review

The Furnished Cottage

An unusual story in which Reggie himself is the intended victim of a mistakenly obsessed woman’s revenge. The motive and the situation are excellent, and the final redemption at the end—instigated by Fortune—is vital to the story’s themes of guilt, innocence, redemption, and expiation.

The Young God

A weak example of the “traditional” country house variety (which never finds H.C.B. at his best); there is a lot of physical evidence, but few clues.

The conviction of the reluctant alderman of the murder of the inspector of taxes—“a popular but ugly case”.

The Only Son

A scientific scheme directed against an unstable young man and his mother. The plot is strong, the atmosphere suitably menacing, and Mr. Fortune’s rôle as Nemesis at the end is excellent.

The case of the wrong false teeth, a story I wish Bailey had written!

The Hermit Crab

Mr. Fortune feels that this story “is, perhaps, my masterpiece”. Bailey in a light vein (comic relief after the horrors of “The Only Son”), as a band of Amazons kidnap an unpleasant and domineering woman, Miss Platt-Robinson, and hold her prisoner on an island. Miss P.-R. is a very amusing—yet menacing—portrait of a type recognisable today (“That is one of my principles!” indeed). The story is fast-moving and unpredictable, and everything ends as it should.

The matter of the infested marmoset (a crime, you remember, of passion).

The Long Barrow

A first-class tale set in Dorsetshire, with a menacing atmosphere, a strong sense of landscape, and some sinister archaeology (the crank Larkin is intent on proving that a British barrow is Phoenician). The sinister rustic (similarities to Elijah Hawke in Black Land, White Land), the strange noises around the house, the long barrow itself, and the Greek codes are all artfully combined.

The inquest on Zuleika the lemur—a strange, sad case.

The Profiteers

Bailey leaves the realm of the detective story in this masterpiece, “not one of our simple cases. A lot of dark background. And something rather queer in the dark.” Although two people die under suspicious circumstances, someone else had a hand in the matter, and Fortune reveals a particularly unexpected and disturbing truth at the end, this is NOT a detective story proper at all. Rather, it belongs to those hybrids of the detective and the ghost story: M.R. James’ “Uncommon Prayer-Book”, Gladys Mitchell‘s The Devil at Saxon Wall, and John Dickson Carr‘s The Burning Court. As such, it is excellent (the solution is an effectively eerie surprise), but, as a DETECTIVE STORY, it is bound to fail.

Fortune’s success in proving the daughter of the Lithuanian millionaire, Baron Lampe, innocent of the assault on the abominable Roumanian fiddler is mentioned.


1925 Methuen

Another collection of the exploits of Mr. Reginald Fortune, scientific adviser of the Criminal Investigation Department.  Although the mysteries in this book include the darker horrors of crime Mr. Fortune never loses that gaiety and sense of humour which make him the most genial of detectives.

Contemporary reviews

Times Literary Supplement (21st May 1925): In this third book of Mr. Reginald Fortune’s adventures the author cleverly contrives that they should be just as fresh and original as if the detective type was almost unknown in modern fiction; and makes his hero handle the cases in such a way that a new reader will probably straightaway take steps to become acquainted with the chronicles of Mr. Fortune’s earlier career.  Family honour, avarice, and revenge, a budding but ill-founded and unjustified blood feud, and the “sins of the fathers” provide the inspiration for four of these stories, of which the last mentioned is rather eerie and outside the usual field of a detective’s activity.

NY World (24th January 1926, 150w): In four of the six short detective stories which compose this collection there is evident a general excellence of workmanship that should rank them with the best of their kind being written to-day.  The opening tale is not up to the mark of its successful fellows.

Lit R (C.P.S., 30th January 1926, 120w): There are half a dozen very interesting tales in this volume, all of them well told.

Boston Transcript (6th February 1926, 350w): In any detective story it seems well nigh impossible to make the hero other than a prig, and Mr. Bailey has not avoided it.  Mr. Fortune bored and blasé, with a penchant for peace and quiet, is hardly a superman, nor in these tales are his methods those of the ‘supermensch’.