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A Detective Story Far Out of the Common.
[Review of Three Men and a Maid by Robert Fraser, i.e. Louis Tracy and M. P. Shiel]
New York Times Book Review, April 20, 1907, p. 250


There is nothing in the unfamiliar name of Robert Fraser, nor in the unimpressive title of his "Three Men and a Maid" (Edward Clode) to give any one that this is another of those "first books" that turn up at pleasant intervals on the reviewer's table and fairly amaze him with their all-around excellence of plot, construction, and style, and their utter lack of any sign that would indicate a novice as their author. There is always the possibility of course - made surer by its frequent past fulfillment - that the first success will never be followed by a greater or even an equal one, but certain it is that the discovery of such good promise of a worth-while addition to story tellers affords a satisfaction quite distinct from and superior to that to be derived from well established sources. There is no knowing at the beginning of what wonders one is assisting, and possibilities are always interesting.

It is in the well-worn field of the detective story that Mr. Fraser makes his first essay and shows his fitness by concocting a series of happenings so involved and mystifying that not only is everybody in the story led away on a wrong trail, but the reader himself, though apparently the author's confidant and chuckling all the way along over his own perspicacity is astounded on the seventh page from the last by a denouement of which he has never even dreamed except as a possibility for "another story." If this capital trick has ever been played before by the ingenious makers of mysteries, it has escaped memory, but its effectiveness is so great that one can appreciate to the full the chagrin of the star detective in the story who finds his brilliance distinctly dimmed at the end by the same humiliating discovery of the one thing he did not know. A charming little touch of the author's, by the way, is this discomfiture of the great Mr. Webster, and it is calculated to soothe the reader's ruffled vanity.

Unpromising enough of excitement would seem the remote Yorkshire village of Hudston, which Mr. Fraser chooses for the scene of his strange drama, did we not know well enough that the darkest of tragedies have over and over again developed in just such deadly quiet surroundings. A Country Squire and his most villainous cousin, a vicar and his nephew, an inn-keeper's two handsome daughters, a scoundrelly lawyer or two, and a most excellently drawn detective furnish the personnel of the narrative, the special recommendation of which is that it is not put in the first person, and has not a visible trace of the tiresomely wise deductions and logical puzzle-reading that are the ordinary accompaniments of the detective story. Mr. Webster is built on quite a different plan from his predecessors, but he is much more human and convincing than most of them. The "maid" seems all that her lovers thought her - which is vastly more than can be said of most heroines - and the "three men" are strong characters skillfully portrayed. There is always one personality which stands out beyond the rest in any story, seeming to best respond to the author's efforts, and in this case it is the wicked sister, Hannah Neyland, who dominates the scene and is its tragic figure.

The keynote of the tale is the rivalry of the three men for the hand of Marjorie Neyland. She is only the village inn-keepers daughter, but she has had the advantage of spending much time in London, and is the object of her sister's venomous jealousy. One of the three is found murdered, and as his death is greatly to the benefit of the other two and the piling up of the circumstantial evidence in the affair is both enormous and enormously mystifying, it will be seen whither Mr. Fraser's ingenious fancy wanders, but it would be a thousand pities to spoil a splendid story by telling any more about it than that it is well worth reading.






Best Books for Summer Reading
[Review of Three Men and a Maid by Robert Fraser, i.e. Louis Tracy and M. P. Shiel]
New York Times Book Review, June 15, 1907


THREE MEN AND A MAID. (New York: Edward J. Clode, $1.50) - By all accounts this tale bt Robert Fraser is such an ingenious and absorbing and tantalizing mystery story as one finds only rarely. The scene is laid in a remote Yorkshire village, and the action hinges on the rivalry of three men for the love of one Marjorie Neyland, an innkeeper's handsome daughter, admitted by unprejudiced readers to be not a whit less lovely than the three rivals think her. There is, of course, a country Squire, and this gentleman is blessed with a singularly vile rogue of a kinsman. There is, also, equally of course, a vicar. This vicar has a nephew. A couple of precious scoundrels engaged in the malpractice of the law and a detective of a very superior brand furnish, with a wicked young woman, the rest of the book's company. The very wicked young woman is the sister of the heroine and is, like her handsome. The charm of the story lies, however, chiefly in the diabolical ingenuity discovered by Mr. Fraser in leading you off on false scents - and not only you - but his own superior sleuth.




Transcribed by Victor A. Berch
Cover scan by John Squires


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