Ashton-Kirk Investigator is very much in the Sherlock Holmes mould. Ashton-Kirk is a wealthy well-educated young man with a fondness for foul-smelling Greek tobacco and a considerable reputation as an amateur sleuth. He often collaborates with the police and almost invariably solves case that have baffled the official detectives. And in common with so many Victorian and Edwardian fictional detective he is also a master of disguise!
Despite its adherence to the Sherlock Holmes school of detective fiction this novel is of some interest to golden age detection fans as well. It’s not fair-play but Ashton-Kirk’s methods make sense and there are clues which do point in the direction of the solution.
The story involves the murder of a renowned but rather shady numismatist. Stories involving collectors of art and assorted artifacts would become one of the staples of the golden age.
Ashton-Kirk gets involved in this case through a beautiful young lady. The lady is to be married soon but her husband-to-be seems to have recently become very distracted and worryingly reluctant to set a date for the wedding. The young man will soon have much bigger problems to deal with.
The plot has some nice touches. The murdered numismatist was also an indefatigable collector of portraits of Revolutionary Way hero General Anthony Wayne. This obsession, and the reason behind it, will become quite important to the unraveling of the mystery. Other important questions concern a fine violinist whose talent is undimmed but who is now reduced to eking out a living as a street musician, a school for the deaf, modern German drama, the Pitman method of shorthand, candle grease and aeroplanes. McIntyre is certainly throwing lots of ideas into the mix and mostly it works.
Ashton-Kirk is a not a professional police detective but he is a bit more than an amateur. He refuses even to call himself a detective but prefers to be known as an investigator. He is more in the nature of a consulting detective in the Sherlock Holmes mode than an amateur in the golden age mode. He employs several other investigators and his business is well-organised and efficient. His methods of detection involve a good deal of pure reasoning but also a considerable amount of leg work and careful routine investigations - certainly far more so than most detectives of his era.
The police and other public officials such as the Coroner are portrayed fairly sympathetically. They’re honest, they do their best and they’re not entirely lacking in competence, they simply are not in a position to devote the same amount of time and effort to the case as an independent investigator.
There are multiple suspects and they all manage to behave in a manner that is going to invite even more suspicion. There are no hints here of scientific methods of detection and alibis play no part in the story. The major weakness, and one found in a number of writers of the period, is one I can’t say anything about other than that it limits the range of viable suspects. The story isn’t as elaborate as those that typify the later golden age, relying more on some amusing and outlandish details rather than on intricate and tightly connected plotting.
I’m not sure that I’d bother rushing out to buy the other Ashton-Kirk novels but it’s a worthwhile read for those who share my fondness for Victorian/Edwardian detective fiction. Entertaining.