The Benson Murder Case is somewhat dry and austere as a plot. It is a straightforward murder and its solution without the symbolic resonances of the next two books. Instead its focus is on the mind and personality of Philo Vance. The book is written in Van Dine's magnificent English prose style, a style out of sync with the plain vernacular popularized in the 's by Ernest Hemingway, Sinclair Lewis and others.
Van Dine's portrait of a reasoning mind in his depiction of Philo Vance's solving the mystery is genuinely impressive, and combined with Vance's rich verbal fluency forms a believable portrait of human Intellect at work. Narrator 'Van' Van Dine originally met Philo Vance at college and is now not only a close friend but also his full-time legal and financial advisor. He is thus on the spot to record cases in which Vance becomes involved. Vance is rich and cultured, possessing many beautiful and rare examples of art and artefacts from various eras and continents.
He easily out-Wimseys Wimsey, what with addressing people as 'Old dear' and constantly talkin' ragin' nonsense, often dropping French or German into conversations with an occasional bit of Latin for variety, not to mention quoting luminaries such as Milton, Longfellow, Cervantes, and Rousseau as well as Spinoza and Descartes. But it's all a front, of course. Alvin's brother Major Anthony Benson has asked Markham to take charge, and Markham had promised Vance he would take him along on his next important investigation. It seems the authorities were casual about protocol as well as crime scenes, because not only do both Vance and Van tag along but they are also present at several interrogations.
At one point Vance produces a list of suspects based upon reasoning from available information and physical evidence. The only snag is they are innocent. It is a demonstration of his conviction that "The truth can be learned only by an analysis of the psychological factors of a crime and an application of them to the individual". Who then is the culprit? The actress Muriel St Clair, in whom the dead man had taken more than a passing interest? Her fiance Captain Philip Leacock, he of the hasty temper and jealous disposition?
Major Benson, given the brothers did not get along? What about Mrs Anna Platz, Alvin's housekeeper, who seems to be hiding something, or the precious and impecunious Leander Pfyfe, a close friend of the deceased? So we're treated to a whole gamut of bonkers notions, from physiognomy the idea that criminals have distinctive cranial features through gender distinctions in the committing of crimes. That would be okay -- you expect any novel published in to have some antiquated aspects -- but all of this is couched in the most flowery, pretentious language imaginable. If something can be expressed in ten words using a Latin phrase or poetical quotation or a French one, or a German one or.
Although I'm all for arcane vocabulary -- I love to pick up the occasional new word -- here the use of obscure words in preference to everyday ones is taken to a degree far beyond the plainly ludicrous. Markham, you'll recall, is a grizzled DA, a hardbitten fighter of crime, yet he's using terms like "Socratic elenctus"? Just what the hell is "elenctus," anyway, if not something you see on the labels of dusty bottles you eye nervously when you come across them at the back of your grandmother's medicine cupboard? A quick check of my Chambers Dictionary made me realize that what was meant was actually a word that I've come across but would never in a million years use: "elenchus" -- Socratic refutation.
I don't know if Van Dine, industriously parading his erudition for us all to see, got confused by the word's adjectival form, "elenctic," or if perhaps this is a proofing error either in the original or for the more recent digital edition I read. I spotted other oddities like "redintegrating" for "reintegrating"; I don't blame the proofreader, for this must have been a nightmare task.
I preferred simply to translate morbidezza as "cheese" in my mind and leave it at that. Makes perfect sense in context.
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For Vance isn't a clone of Ellery Queen at all or, more accurately, vice versa ; he's more nearly a clone of the early Lord Peter Wimsey, as encountered by those fool enough to read Dorothy Sayers's Whose Body? At least Wimsey had some redeeming characteristics, even in that early incarnation and he did improve as time went on ; Vance seems to me to have none. The profound affectation of his speech -- doncha know, m'dear, eh, what, old bean? The affectation carries through to all the other aspects of his character, not least his conviction of his own intellectual superiority to all around him and his deeply ingrained snobbery a snobbery that extends to the narrative as a whole.
Clearly he regards democracy as something ghastly that gives rights to all those frightful inferior people the world is full of. For no good reason other than to prolong the period during which he can strut like a supercilious popinjay, keeping his secret, he delays for days telling his friend -- his friend! He delights in toying sadistically with those who are genuinely not the brightest bulbs on the chandelier, making it plain he thinks they're asses, happily leading them to make public fools of themselves.
Again, I'm not sure if it's a product of the pretentious Van Dine's ignorance or just a typo. Apart from that, Mr. Grant, how did you enjoy the play? Well, there's the occasional alleviating feature -- there's a nicely constructed false alibi at one point -- but there aren't very many of them and it's easy not to notice them as they float by on the ordure-laden stream. I kept trying to tell myself that Van Dine was an early practitioner, at least in the US, of this sort of mystery fiction; but he wasn't that early -- I mean, he was late enough to rip off the character of Wimsey, whom I've never regarded as being an especially early figure in detective fiction.
You'll forgive me, I trust, after I've castigated the novel for its maddening overuse of foreign tags, but I was moved to dig out one such as I tried to sum up the character of Philo Vance. In fact, if I ever filmed an S. Van Dine novel, Shkreli would be my first casting choice as Vance. After spending a couple of days in the company of Philo Vance, wading through the extraordinary pretensions and repulsive attitudes of Van Dine's prose, I feel I'm in desperate need of a strong purgative dose of, I dunno, Mickey Spillane, James Hadley Chase.
Okay, maybe not something that extreme, but. Damn' stupid waste of a bargepole, doncha know, eh, what? View all 8 comments. Of all the books that have some claim to being considered classics of the crime genre none have divided readers quite so dramatically as S. The features that exasperate and enrage critics of these books are the very things that delight their admirers. The Benson Murder Case kicked off the series in He has developed some interesting theories on the subject and it would amuse him greatly to put them to the test.
When wealthy broker and somewhat notorious playboy Alvin Benson is found shot to death in puzzling circumstances Markham is finally persuaded to give Vance his opportunity. To Vance they seem to be hopelessly addicted to the pernicious practice of looking for physical clues and circumstantial evidence. All of which is complete nonsense, as he informs them with more candour than tact. His own theory is that psychology is the key. Some people are psychologically capable of murder; some are not.
And some crimes could only be committed by people with a very particular personality profile. All of which is of course complete moonshine, but that just adds to the fun of the Philo Vance mysteries or if you are not a fan it just makes them all the more annoying. If you like plots that make sense and if you like your fictional detectives to employ realistic and plausible methods of criminal investigation then these books are not for you.
His aristocratic arrogance, his very affected English accent acquired during a prolonged stay in England , his contempt for modern life, his political views circumstantial evidence is, he explains, almost as great a folly as democracy , the fact that no matter what subject comes up during an investigation Vance will prove to an expert in that field - all these things will either delight or incense the reader.
Nov 26, Ishita rated it it was amazing Shelves: genius , ebooks , the-good-ones. What a brilliant series! I am so glad I finally decided to pick the series up, it's been shelved for me for quite a while now! The story starts with the art Connoisseur Philo Vance sitting at breakfast with Van Dine, who run his own business, when they're called upon by the district attorney himself- Markham.
He tells them about a favor a close friend asked of him and offers them to join him. The favor- a through investigation of his brother's murder. As they reach the crime scene, they're faced with a murdered Alvin Benson reclining in his chair in a position so natural you almost expect him to "to turn to us and ask why we were intruding upon his privacy".
Alvin's brother, Major Anthony Benson, Markham's friend, like a good ol' big brother, offers every assistance he can and turns over a list of few names for them to start their investigation. What makes a crime mystery truly worth reading is it's unpredictability. And in this book, when you look at it and finally understand it, it's not so extraordinary- the motive, the means, opportunity. But what baffles us is- we never suspected him- the murderer. Not even until the very end when Vance finally demonstrates his case against him.
But what's extraordinary are his methods of deductions. It gets further exciting when he finally explains his methods in the last chapter. With all the art and literary euphemism and references you'd think he's a philosopher of life but as it turns out, his methods do have substantiality to them. PLOT What more about the story and makes it that much more interesting is the fact that this is a real life case. Philo Vance, obviously not his original name, does exist.
The case was indeed confusing and required considerations from more than one angle and had Vance not provided us with his great insights, we must've gotten confused with the circumstantial evidence against those suspected too. Despite of there being a twist, it's not so much because obviously Vance has known it since "five minutes later he entered the Benson living room". He's ingenuous! And to think that he really exist! He's, and likes to think of himself, some sort of literary philanthropist.
He's quite amusing but starts to get on your nerves at times. Amusing because he's fascinating to watch and I picture him as some sort of guff, dressed in silk which he really doesn't! His "don't y'know"s are annoying at first but as the book moves on, it kinda grows on you and you find yourself reading those with an accent. It's quite funny, the voice you use!
At the same time, that vanity is precisely why he starts getting on our nerves- he thinks everyone else naive for following protocol. Not that he talks down on them but it's almost as if he pities them. That's plain irritating! But then- we can't really blame him, seeing as all minds brilliant in that respect have been some kind of "high functioning sociopaths"! Van Dine is not just a writer, he's an attorney and has worked with Vance all through these series of cases.
The Benson Murder Case (Philo Vance #1)
However, while sometimes it is refreshing to have someone who can make Vance sound less sarcastic and to level things up, we don't really see much of him. He's like a personal one-man entourage of Vance. I wish we'd seen more of him and, being as he's been following the entire case and everything, I wish he'd put some of his own remarks in it too. He plays the role of the narrator through the series and that's just that. I believe he could've come out stronger as an entity if only he'd played a little more part in it. One would think he'd understand Markham, being an attorney himself!
And that scenario must've made these proceeding even more exciting- to watch him struggle as to understand what to believe- Both Vance and Markham are experts in what they do and he's very well acquainted with one while he can completely stand in the shoes of another! That unintelligent agony! Markham was a strong character. If anyone, he had the nerves to both stand and stand up against Vance with resolution. He's smart, in the conventional sense of the word, and is also a good officer.
He's not intelligent the way Vance is but is clever all the same. Although, there've been times when I found myself pitying him. But then there've also been times when I've shared his feelings of exasperation with Vance because of his know-it-all, oversmart, I've-outsmarted-you-but-I-won't-reveal-it-yet or I've-known-it-for-ages-now-you-legal-psychologically-unintelligent-fool attitude.
The Benson Murder Case
Now stop with that I-told-you! The possibilities in this case were amazing. Everyone seemed like an obvious suspect while he wasn't so obvious at the same time. Vance demonstrates with brilliance his ways and his belief that anything and everything is possible when provided with sufficient circumstantial and material evidences accompanied by the willingness to believe in it. His methods of deductions are amazing and nothing but plain intelligent. And although brilliant, no one with a psychological knowledge would really be surprised with it.
But that doesn't mean they won't be impressed! Not to mention the writing! This was one of those beautifully technical while lyrically written books that render a different charm to crime mystery books, altogether. In my opinion, this is what makes Classic Mysteries the best combination of two of my absolute favorite genres- Classics and Mysteries. While you can be assured of having a beautiful writing experience with a classic, a story that keeps you guessing is a treat when it comes to crime mysteries.
For me, the book accomplished both with superb elegance. This is an amazing series, one of my favorites now, and I sure am gonna read it through to the end. Anyone who loves an intelligent mystery would love it.
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Feb 10, C. This exceptionally annoying book is a chilling visit to the Old Boys' Network in New York before the war. Why this popinjay is tolerated by the D. View 2 comments. Aug 09, Ebenezer Arvigenius rated it did not like it. It is probably not fair to judge a classic by the standards of the books which will follow in its footsteps.
Unfortunately, the fact that Van Dine could not rely on previous authors to avoid unnecessary errors does not make the read any more enjoyable. From the pages and pages detailing Vance's art collection to the sneering superiority with which the main character lavishes such gems as "Evidence is irrelevant. Every halfway competent criminal expects the police to look for it and will therefore It is probably not fair to judge a classic by the standards of the books which will follow in its footsteps.
Every halfway competent criminal expects the police to look for it and will therefore avoid leaving any" on the rubes, the book is both padded and annoying. Adding insult to injury, the criminal case that Vance uses to show his brilliance is so easy that any Agatha Christie reader will have figured out before the half-time mark. The few red herrings used are tame and barely adequate to cover the fact that all relevant information is already revealed in the first 50 pages or so.
In the end you have a lackluster crime novel with unnecessary lengths and an annoying protagonist. If you want a window into the life of the upper class during the short period between the great depression and the great war this might be worth a read. Otherwise there are a lot of classic crime novels significantly better at what Van Dine was trying to do here. Jul 19, Jokoloyo rated it liked it. A fine standard classic mystery. My first read of the author. For mystery game, the author played by the rule fairly.
For personal taste, I am tired with the many philosophical quotes in the main protagonist's voice in talking. Maybe for fulfilled number of words quota of the novel? Jun 11, Alexander Inglis rated it really liked it Shelves: golden-age-whodunit , amateur-detective , pulp. Another 11 novels appeared, about one per year, until his early death in at the age of There are some, like the current Philo Vance wiki author, who believe "Vance's character as portrayed in the novels might seem to many modern readers to be supercilious, obnoxiously affected, and highly SS Van Dine, the pseudonym of Willard Huntington Wright, created the popular fiction detective Philo Vance.
There are some, like the current Philo Vance wiki author, who believe "Vance's character as portrayed in the novels might seem to many modern readers to be supercilious, obnoxiously affected, and highly irritating" and, actually, that's true. Throughout this tale, I heard the unmistakable inflected accent of Lord Peter Wimsey, without his corresponding business-like masculinity.
But that's really unfair. Yes, the book is a little padded, and the explanations at times wearyingly long-winded, but there's also terrific charm. And, without question, the work is an expression of its time: the period shortly after WWI when New York was re-emerging from the chill of war and for the first time feeling its strength as a true International capital -- and before the devastation that would hit four years later as the markets crashed. It was a time of much greater class delineation, and certainly an era where being called an immigrant was not yet pejorative.
Much of this tale inhabits the privileged class of which Vance was securely, and proudly, a member. So, there's my own long-winded way of putting it: a charming bon-bon of classic early American detective fiction that's well worth devouring. Aug 01, Marty Milner rated it it was amazing. I enjoyed this book.
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I have to admit I binge read it and loved the New York settings and the accurate characterizations of New York types. Some people are highly critical of this style- I enjoy all kinds of books. Remember this book is almost years old and for a detective mystery it moves along with style and ease- bouncing from one dump of red herrings to another. I intend to read the others over time as this is an acquired taste. I like to read books that are only available as eBooks , sci I enjoyed this book. I like to read books that are only available as eBooks , science thrillers and ones that might be a little unpolished as I enjoy digging in the author dirt.
Lord knows there are enough trolls out there steeped in anger and negativity so I perfer to be encouraging if the writer has put in a worthy effort. Even though this one has been dead for some time I gave it 5 stars and admire that the work is still worth the read! Consider it if you'd like something different that doesn't read like a movie script Jul 10, Sonic rated it did not like it. Jan 13, Beth Cato rated it liked it Shelves: classic , research , mystery , I read an annotated version of this book within the massive tome Classic American Crime Fiction of the s.
I must say, the first chapter of this book convinced me that it was going to be absolutely dreadful. It probably didn't help that preceding information in the book had pointed out that the Philo Vance series eventually withered and died because the insufferable, rambling nature of the lead character became too aggravating to bear.
But once I made it past that initial introductory chapter I read an annotated version of this book within the massive tome Classic American Crime Fiction of the s. But once I made it past that initial introductory chapter and to the actual murder, the story was much more engaging.
The positives: It's a good murder mystery. The set-up is complex and intriguing, and it nicely utilizes New York City. Alvin Benson is found dead, shot in the head, and the clues in his house are myriad, from the handbag and gloves left on the mantle to the car parked out front during the night. The district attorney invites his friend Philo Vance to see the crime, and on a whim, the insufferable art collector digs into the mystery, and digs in deep.
The way Philo Vance psychologically examines people is fascinating. I liked that I guessed the murderer quite early on. The negatives: Philo Vance. He's aggravating. He boasts throughout that he's known who the murderer is from the time he first viewed the corpse at the crime scene, but he strings along his DA friend for days, relentlessly teasing him and shredding apart his reliance on circumstantial evidence. While the latter is necessary the DA was ready to convict several people on tenuous evidence , the whole know-it-all aspect gets old really fast.
The choice of narrator felt utterly useless, too. Another of Vance's friends is the observer of everything, and he contributes nothing to the story. He's no Watson, there to offer occasional advice or act as a foil or do medical examinations. No, this guy is just there, a shadow. I can't even remember his name; it only came up at the very beginning, I think.
The annotations probably helped my reading experience a lot, too, providing translations or context for the French and Latin Vance often employs, explaining Vance's commentary on art, and noting what NYC locations were real and fictional. Interestingly, the author muddled a lot of period details himself. By the calendar within the book, the murder should be set in , but various details on geographical locations or police technology didn't exist until the early s. Writers these days can check those kinds of things through Google I wouldn't read onward in this series, I think, because the very idea of Philo Vance becoming even more annoying is a big turn off.
That said, this book offered me a tremendous boon in terms of research, with fantastic period details and cultural references. Oct 22, Ren rated it did not like it. I was listening to a podcast about the Elwell murder case, and they mentioned that it was the same case that inspired this book.
I had fond memories of reading some of my dad's mystery books about an American amateur sleuth, so I decided to get the ebook of the Benson Murder Case. After a few chapters, a few things became apparent: 1 S. This is a bad book. I can't overstate how bad it is. The prose conta I was listening to a podcast about the Elwell murder case, and they mentioned that it was the same case that inspired this book. The prose contains some of the worst sentences I've been unfortunate to encounter in my life, and my work involves reading a lot of Facebook post.
Van Dine can't handle more than two characters in a scene. Several times, two characters are doing something, and then he cuts back to a third to relate what he was doing while the other two were doing something else. Not to mention the narrator, his own alter ego, who shadows Philo Vance for the entire book without ever saying a word or doing anything aside from looking at things. At one point he gives up entirely on trying to describe what the characters are even doing, and an entire dialogue is in script form.