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In The Zone . .Emotional Chaos . ..Number 9. . .September 11


Emotional Chaos
Weekly Column by Brian Codagnone

September 25, 2003


Ever since Sherlock Holmes was created in the 19th century, British detective fiction has been popular the world over. Whether set in the foggy London of Jack the Ripper, the bleak and forbidding moors or a remote manor house in the country, readers have gotten to study the suspects, sort out the red herrings and triy to solve the crime before the detective gathered everyone into the sitting room to expose the truth, no matter how sordid. Of course, Sherlock Holmes was the most famous, but he was by no means the only sleuth in Victorian England. The brilliant detective is as much a part of English life as tea and strangely named food.

A lesser known detective of the era was the great Inspector Blancmange. Blancmange, the son of a British mother and French father was always viewed with skepticism by Scotland Yard (a common bigotry at the time. When cases hit a dead end, the Metropolitan Police were known to round up the usual immigrants, drifters, Jews and Frenchmen. Being French, they usually broke first under the rubber hose, solving many a case). Inspector Blancmange was assisted in his work by his friend and biographer, Captain Sebastian Broadbeam, late of the Royal Horse Marine. The first Inspector Blancmange story, "The Case of the Shriveled Grape" appeared in the Strand Magazine on 4 September, 1892. It was quickly followed by "The Spoon Collector's Plight" (Rousing Tales, 12 December, 1892), "The Railwayman's Spleen" (The Times of London, 20 February, 1893) and "The Hell Chicken of Dartmoor" (The Police Gazette, 14 March, 1893). Over the next several years, readers were treated to 42 Blancmange mysteries. "The Mincemeat Enigma", his only full length novel, was published in 1901 (dedicated "To the Memory of HRH Queen Victoria") and a complete collection, "The Singular Casebook of Inspector Blancmange" (1905) is a brisk seller to this day.

His most famous case, "A Deuced Affair at Rotting Molars", set the standard for British country house murder mysteries. Who can forget the cast of players: Wattery Graves, a bounder; Boris Wrackingkov, a White Russian expatriot; Fauldeed, the Arab; Lady Penelope, the dowager with a past; Gwendolyn, the daughter of the house; Hatchett, the butler and, of course, Lord Bevis Knowlton, Fifth Earl of Foetid, Sussex. The story begins at the remote estate of Rotting Molars, ancestral seat of the Earls of Foetid. It's a weekend of shooting, only no one suspects that more than the grouse will taste buckshot before the day is done. We join the scene at dinner:

Lady Penelope: "I say, has anyone seen Lord Bevis? His Spotted Dick is getting quite cold!"

Hatchett: I'll look in the library. I heard gunshots from that direction, perhaps he's shooting some servants again."

Graves: "Serves the buggers right, being lower class!".

Gewndolyn: "Oh, don't be like that! Without the serving class who'd clean the grouse?"

Lady Penelope: "The house?"

Wrackingkov: "I believe she said 'grouse', madam."

Hatchett: "If I may interrupt. Lord Bevis is dead. Shot. Rather messily, I might add."

Everyone: "I say!"

The local constabulary, being as thick as a cast iron condom, call in Scotland Yard. Not being much better at it, but not being stupid either, the Yard calls in the man who's solved all their cases, Inspector Blancmange. Blancmange and Broadbeam round up the usual suspects in the library:

Blancmange: "One of you in this room murdered Lord Bevis!"

Broadbeam: "I hope you don't suspect me, Blancmange!"

Blancmange: "Sit down, you idiot. As I was saying, Lord Bevis is dead, and one of you did it!"

Graves: "Fauldeed's a foreigner and a wog to boot! I say he did it!"

Fauldeed: "I couldn't have done it! My trigger finger was maimed in the service of the Sultan of Turkey! I have no reason to wish Lord Bevis dead! Besides, Wrackingkov is a foreigner, too!"

Lady Penelope: "A conspiracy!"

Blancmange: "Are you done? Can we get on with this?"

Gwendolyn: "So sorry, Inspector, but you know what murder does to one!"

Blancmange: "All too well, miss. Now, as I was saying, the only one of you who had means, motive and opportunity is... Hatchett, the butler!"

Everyone (except Hatchett): "I say!"

Hatchett: "Even though you have no evidence whatsoever, I'll admit I did it! I'm glad I did it! He was a rotter! A right rotter!"

Blancmange: "Well, that solves that."

Gwendolyn: "Good show! Tea and bangers anyone?"

And, for the first time in detective fiction, the butler did it. Of course, over the years it would become a cliche, but for Inspector Blancmange, the immortal detective that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle himself called "A cheap rip off of Sherlock Holmes. You'll be hearing from my solicitors", it was still original, so it was a brilliant piece of deduction. Or a lucky guess.





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©2003 Brian Codagnone
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Home ... Misfits . Rafferty .. . S1019 .. . Star Crossed....
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In The Zone. ..Number 9. . .September 11