This article has been transcribed from a copy of the Cardiff Times in the online collection of scanned Welsh newspapers 1804-1919 in the National Library of Wales, with grateful recognition of the free access accorded to all readers. Paragraph breaks have been introduced for easier reading.

Samuel brings common sense and his experience as a journalist to bear in a critique of literary and theatrical conventions of the detective, and popular misconceptions, fed by sensational reporting. For the purpose he adopts a style levelled with that of those who consume popular acounts of the detective. —— David Skilton

Skipped it to Spain –of course: the detective staff all napping.

HATEVER odium the British detective may incur, sir, he does not as a general rule deserve it. People gull themselves. They have been misled – the people, I mean, by those awful perverters of the truth, the novelists; by those fathers of lies, the dramatists; and by those veritable children of Ananias and Sapphira, [Acts 5:1-10] the writers of detective stories. If you can, for straightforward lying, find me the equal of the average writer of detective reminiscences – especially the man who foxes that he has been a ‘tec’ himself – I'll give in and go and be a nunnery, or something or another. As I say, when justice in the shape of the detective force fails to successfully dog the footsteps of a treble-brazed, seamless, warranted-for-twenty-years-a-criminal, the public howls out about the inefficiency of the detective force – it judges detectives not as they are but for what it imagines them to be. It says to itself ‘Does not the detective of the stories always run his man to earth? Does not the littie [sic] black-whiskered man with the ferret, bead-like eyes always come in at the right moment and put the ‘darbies’ [handcuffs] on the villain, whom no one else is the story had previously suspected any more than they would the Pope of Rome? Why of course – and here our detectives of to-day can't find a mere common, vulgar murderer. Its abominable, that's what it is.’

The stage detective who assumes some eight disguises (capital part for a quick change actor of the versatile school), and who smells out the villain so quickly that one wonders he does not put a stop to the latter’s goings on in the first act (but of course if he did the piece couldn't go on, could it?), can always nail his man, and as for the so-called ex-detective story-writing man, he can walk straight to the perpetrator of any given deed of blood with his eyes shut. By-the-way, just at this time when people are having such a go in at the detective force, I wonder that some of these supernaturally astute gentlemen don't resume business and claim one of the very considerable rewards now going begging. Well, the public have an ideal detective in their minds, the ideal consisting of a mixture of ‘sleuth-hound’ (very favourite word with that inscrutable personage, the novelist), fox, eagle, snake, chameleon, and other monstrosities of the animal creation. Their detective is silent, self-contained, has an iron will and muscle, can speak several languages, can act a part as well as any character actor on the boards, can be in a pool of water or under a hot fire-grate all night in order to obtain possession of a secret, can disguise his identity even from his own employer, can jump at a conclusion and build up a whole fabric of evidence from a simple pin on the floor, or the head and tail of a shrimp on a plate, and can – well, do any number of things besides. And when the people who have this model in their own minds find that the detectives of real life have failed to track some person who has probably left no trace of a clue behind, they raise a great outcry or sneer at the force. They rail at him in public-houses, they scarify him, and call for his dismissal in newspapers, they ‘make game’ of him on the stage, and allege that he has taken up ‘a thousand or two -- on suspicion,’ and they ask questions in Parliament about him, and, wiseacres that they are, are unanimous for once in agreeing that he is a fraud, and that he has flies on him.

Always can tell him –even when he tries to look like gentleman: severe, very.

Now let us exercise a little common-sense in this matter. Except that he is a practised, a wary, and, an infinitely diligent maker of inquiries, the detective is no more good in any case which does not deal with the criminal classes than any other man of average intelligence. In the case of the criminal classes he is all the good in the world. Suppose that he is engaged in a case of burglary, he knows pretty well by the tactics that have been adopted by the perpetrators that the job is likely to have been the work of one particular gang, for all thieves have not only their specialities, but also their mannerisms, which are as striking as handwriting itself. It is the business of the detective to pretty well know and recognise such mannerisms and then to commence the hunt in the right direction. As for ‘information received,’ that is simply the ever-existing refutation of the mendacious saw who gives credit for there being ‘honour amongst thieves.’ If a man could be really honourable to anybody he would not be a thief, which fact is a logical refutation of the saw in question. In point of fact, all detectives have members of gangs of thieves in their pay, and these put them up to ‘jobs.’ As I have said, the detective is, for the reasons given, of great use so far as the criminal classes are concerned, but where he is matched with a consummate criminal who has brought all the resources of fertile brains and devilish caution to his aid, he is no better (except, as I have said, as an enquirer} than any other man of the same standing. But the Press in particular never regard these things. Its motto is, when all else fails, have a go at the detective force or at the police generally; and how it does wire in [set to with a will], to be sure. It does not stop to consider that mayhap the criminal is a man of most superior cunning and education – an educated plotter, and that the men who are told off to catch – if they can – are merely stolid, regulation pattern, very indifferently paid, tolerably illiterate detectives.

Frightfully official – nothing like the average official for drying up all the sources of information.

I don't myself, sir, blame modern de[c]tectives themselves so much as I do the system under which they work. They are mere machines, and are not positively allowed to exercise the slightest discretion in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred. And you can always tell them. They are men of somewhat military carriage as a rule, and have one cut of whiskers for the most part. And they are prone to carrying short sticks in their hands, and to wearing hard regulation boots. In fact, they are men who are veritably stereotyped as to their outward bearing. And they have their faults. They are too much afraid of public opinion for one thing. When any crime occurs, they in order to stifle popular clamour, are only too ready to arrest somebody or other, whether he or she has anything to do with the crime or not.

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Last modified 12 March 2022