A Double Barrelled Detective Story
I had no idea, but Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) wrote a murder mystery. Kind of. It’s titled A Double Barrelled Detective Story and it is a novella in which there are two unique revenge stories and he makes great fun of Sherlock Holmes. It’s structured around letters written by a young man to his mother as he tries to track down his father who was quite the scoundrel.
It was a unique little tale and did not take much time at all to read, but I was particularly struck by the beauty of the original printing. The red cloth cover with the fancy gold embossing is a pleasure to hold. And that quote is something else–“We ought never to do wrong when people are looking.” It epitomizes a lot of the story in a one sense, but it subverts it in another. The murder (which doesn’t even take place until about 2/3 of the way into the story) is covered up explicitly by disguising the setup for the murder with regular actions in front of Sherlock Holmes. And it would have worked, too, if it wasn’t for the meddling kid and his super-human tracking abilities. Sherlock Holmes had gone on the completely wrong path…
But the beauty of the book doesn’t stop at the cover. Take a look at these gorgeous end pages. They make sense as the majority of the story takes place in mountainous gold mining camps. I was wondering if I could take a page out of this book and create end pages for my novel that are cascades of falling letters…or stamps…
And the pages themselves are gorgeous. They all have a red frame with an accent in the corner. It was a two color job, which must have gotten expensive in 1902 because that meant they had to run each page through the press twice. But just look at how pretty it is! And I love the little annotations in the margin there. They run throughout the book and there are up to three on a page. Sometimes they were simply a note on the text and at other times the way they were phrased was a snarky bit of commentary.
And there were several stunning plates throughout the book. The detail and clarity of each of them was just astounding. If you can’t read the caption, this one is, “He proceeded to lash her to a tree.”
Anyway, an amusing little story, but a gorgeous presentation. This is a true gem of Twain’s that I didn’t even know existed until last month. It’s worth it to read a copy (it’s available in modern paperback and for the Kindle) but if you can get your hands on one of the 1902 printings, that’s even better.