Human beings are curious creatures, subject to passions of love and hatred, extremes of pride and compassion. A Double Barrelled Detective Story expresses this with curious – yet characteristic – Mark Twain humor.
Here’s a story I had no idea existed until I stumbled on it in the archives of Project Gutenberg (an excellent source of free books). While I had never heard of it before, the price was right (and the author was Twain), so I downloaded it…and even got around to reading it.
It’s a curious story, skipping over years and to different localities for the relevant pieces of the tale. At the beginning, its theme seems to be revenge, and the darkness in the human soul:
a young wife is disgraced and abandoned by her newlywed husband, a proud and self-centered man. She, also proud and self-centered, resolves to nurse the grudge until such a time as she can craft and execute a fitting revenge. She raises her son with her husband while always keeping this dark scheme in mind.
Yet Twain has a sarcastic streak that allows him to turn a tale of the twisted contortions of humans harming each other into…something funny.
The son, dutiful and inexplicably virtuous, sets out to perform his mother’s wishes for revenge…but everything doesn’t always work out as we would wish it.
Thereupon, the setting shifts to other characters to develop a second (and apparently unrelated) plot-stream that flows in its own bed until the two converge in murder.
I told you it was funny. I especially smiled while the paramount of British logic and deduction, the peerless specimen of manhood and brains, Sherlock Holmes, was matching wits over a murder with the good-old, red-blooded American boy (whose answer to the puzzle stemmed more from an innate talent than self-important reasoning). The clamorous jury (American working-class miners to a T) were also outrageously stereotyped – yet somehow believable – and I found myself wondering just who Twain had in his cynical sights.
Hence, I believe, lies the second barrel of his Double Barrelled Detective Story: taking aim at the detective genre itself. To describe the story further would spoil the effect. It’s short, sarcastic, American, and – to my untrained ears, at least – superlatively Mark Twain.
Try it. It’s free.
The works of Mark Twain, including A Double Barrelled Detective Story, are available as free ebooks (all formats) on Project Gutenberg because their copyright has expired in the United States. If you’re outside the US, we suggest you double-check the copyright laws in your own country.
Portrait of Samuel Clemens courtesy of Wikipedia.org.
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