Sunday, December 24, 2006

Collecting Jacques Futrelle

The notion of a writer, referred to during his life as the American Arthur Conan Doyle, who perished aboard the Titanic at the height of his career. . . well, I was intrigued.

During his short life, Futrelle produced 8 novels and 48 published short stories. He is best known for the 48 short stories and novelettes he wrote featuring Professor Augustus S. F. X. Van Dusen, Ph. D., LL. D., F. R. S., M. D, the brilliant logician known popularly as "The Thinking Machine."

The Thinking Machine's "Watson" was news reporter Hutchinson Hatch. The most famous "Thinking Machine" story is "The Problem of Cell 13," in which Professor Van Dusen challenges the claim that the new cells at Chisholm Prison are completely inescapable. Sadly, five years after van Dusen proves the inescapable cell to be escapable, the "unsinkable" HMS Titanic would sink, leaving May Futrelle a widow.

I found the Scholastic Books collection of Thinking Machine stories easily. The Dover collection, edited by Everett Bleiler, was equally accessible. "The Problem of Cell 13" can be found in countless anthologies. But getting my hands on original Jacques Futrelle books proved to be more of a challenge, even in this age of eBay and Internet commerce.

About a year and a half of eBay searching yielded most of the non-Thinking Machine books.

Diamond Master (1909) (left) is a crime novel involving a conspiracy to upset world commerce by producing man-made diamonds. There's nothing Jewish about the story - no Jewish crooks, diamond-merchants, or conspirators. But the Saturday Evening Post serialized the story with the cover art shown on the right.

Other non-Thinking Machine titles include The High Hand (1911) and My Lady's Garter (published posthumously in 1912). The Chase of the Golden Plate (1906) was Futrelle's first novel, and while I haven't read it yet, I've been led to understand that it contains The Thinking Machine incidentally.

Here is my real prize: a nice, pristine first edition of The Thinking Machine (1907). I particularly like the portrait of Professor van Dusen surrounded by the scribbly signature-like design. Within a year of finding The Thinking Machine, I acquired a copy of the 1917 reprint (retitled The Problem of Cell 13) as well as the small volume The Professor on the Case (the British printing of The Thinking Machine of the Case)

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