Tuesday, October 22, 2013

H. C. Bailey's Mr Fortune, Please

H. C. Bailey (1878-1961) was an extremely successful English crime writer during the golden age of the detective story. He created two memorable fictional series detectives. Josiah Clunk was a slightly shady lawyer who figured in eleven novels. More well-known was Reggie Fortune. Reggie is a medical doctor who spends as much time on his detective activities as on the practice of medicine. He frequently assists Scotland Yard in a variety of criminal investigations.

Reggie Fortune appeared in several novels but most fans seem to regard the many short stories in which he featured as being the best of the Mr Fortune tales (although he is a qualified medical practitioner he is invariably referred to as Mr Fortune).

Mr Fortune, Please was published in 1927 and contain six Reggie Fortune stories. By this time it was fairly well established that the only crime worth engaging the attention of a great fictional sleuth was murder but Mr Fortune investigates a variety of crimes. Some seem trivial at first but turn out to be not merely serious but quite horrifying (as in the Little House which is a very dark story story indeed).

The Cat Burglar deals, as the title suggests, with a series of cat burglaries that are not quite what they seem. The Lion Party is a classic jewel robbery story. The Quiet Lady has the kind of ingenious plot that fans of golden age detective fiction enjoy so much although it could be seen to be bending one of the rules of the fair-play detective story.

The settings are quite varied as well, with Mr Fortune finding himself in the depths of the countryside in The Violet Farm while other stories take place in London. The Violet Farm is one of my favourites, involving a crime whose roots go back to the seventeenth century.

Reggie Fortune is one of those fictional detectives you’re either going to love or loathe. He’s somewhat in the Lord Peter Wimsey style - languid, upper-class, rather affected and lightly eccentric.

Mr Fortune is the sort of amateur detective who is happy to cooperate with the official police although he is at times rather exasperated by their inability to see connexions between clues that seem blindingly obvious to him.

I personally like Mr Fortune a great deal although it’s probably not a good idea to read too many of the stories back-to-back. Mr Fortune, Please being  short collection of only six tales provides an ideal introduction to one of the golden age’s most entertaining detectives. Highly recommended.


  1. I've heard of these. They sound they they're worth re-publishing so I hope somebody does.

  2. John Dickson Carr, in his essay "The Grandest Game in the World," described Mr. Fortune as "moaning like an animated cream-bun." I'm not sure what that means, but it's served to stick Reggie Fortune in my mind ever since.

  3. Because Reggie babbles in a sort of then fashionable form of what can only be described as Baby Talk and because Bailey tended to overuse Reggie's penchant for helping children in danger plots the books have fallen out of critical favor despite the fact there is often good writing, solid detection, and good plots.

    He was a popular character in his day, but Bailey was perhaps too prolific and too successful, and what fans liked critics came to loathe so that when the turn came Reggie never got a second chance.

    I warn that the blathering can become annoying, but beyond that there is some solid Golden Age detection in the series.