Saturday, March 16, 2013
E. W. Hornung and the Crime Doctor
The Crime Doctor is Dr John Dollar, a medical man who dabbles in crime-solving. As a young man he had suffered a serious and almost fatal head injury and had been cured by a brilliant Swiss surgeon. The head injury had caused him not just great distress but had effected unpleasant personality changes. The Swiss surgeon’s operation restored him to health and normality. This experience of personal medical crisis made Dr Dollar an even more compassionate man with a personal understanding of psychology, both normal and abnormal.
Dr Dollar is a true medical detective, a man who uses both his skills as a detective and as a doctor to solve his cases.
In 1914 Hornung published a volume of short stories featuring Dr Dollar under the title The Crime Doctor. I’ve so far only tracked down one of these stories, in a vintage crime anthology. The story is A Schoolmaster Abroad.
On holiday in Switzerland Dr Dollar makes the acquaintance of a young man named Jack Laverick. Laverick had been an amiable young man who had done well at school before going up to Oxford. He was popular and he was a devoted and dutiful son. All this changed when he was injured in a toboganning accident. He become morose, irresponsible and a drunkard, the despair of his parents and of his long-suffering tutor, a schoolmaster from Eton.
This behaviour change provides the medical challenge for Dr Dollar, but there is a criminal matter that has also attracted his attention. Someone has tried to kill young Jack Laverick. Even worse, suspicion has fallen upon the very doctor who had saved Dr Dollar’s life years before. This doctor appears to have prescribed a fatal dose of strychnine for his young patient. Dr Dollar will have to find solutions to these two problems, problems that may or may not be linked.
It’s an interesting and unusual detective story, written with Hornung’s customary easy style. It’s a story that is worth seeking out if you’re a fan of offbeat crime fiction.
As for myself, I will now be looking out for a copy of the Crime Doctor short story collection.