RARA-AVIS: Hammett on Anthony Berkeley/Roger Sheringham

From: William Harker ( wharker@verizon.net)
Date: 02 Apr 2006

I am writing an article based upon Dashiell Hammett's book reviews for the Saturday Review of Literature and the New York Evening Post.

One review, in the April 26, 1930 edition of the New York Evening Post, was of Anthony Berkeley's Roger Sheringham book The Wychford Poisoning Case.

Hammett begins the review (this book was the first of six to be reviewed in that day's "The Crime Wave" column) in this fashion:

"Of all the facetious amateurs -- count them yourself -- engaged in solving mysteries that are too much for the police Roger Sheringham is the most amusing -- well, anyhow, the least annoying -- to me."

He then briefly describes the case and concludes by saying "you are not likely to guess the right one [murderer], but you can blame the author and not yourself, for this book runs a brisk, entertaining race to a flabby and unsporting end."

For Hammett, the description of Sheringham as "most amusing" or
"least annoying" is almost high praise given his remarks about amateur detectives in other columns. Of course, you can also say he's damning with faint praise. I have looked in various Hammett biographies and his "selected letters" and can find no other reference to Sheringham or Berkeley. Unfortunately, I have never read a Sheringham book (although I now have ordered one).

But, I'm wondering if those of you who have read a Berkeley/Sheringham book might have a sense of the reasoning behind Hammett's relatively mild reaction in this review. What makes Sheringham different from other amateur detectives of the period, including Holmes, whom he targeted in stories ("The Master Mind") and other reviews as well as his introduction to the 1934 Modern Library edition of The Maltese Falcon?

Bill Harker

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