What I'm reading now: 13 July 11
So, my current kick comes by way of the far side of the world...
I've talked about gutenberg.org, the website that provides the text of books in the public domain. I should perhaps be more clear about that, though: gutenberg.org has content that's in the public domain in the United States. There are two related but different sites that I know of : gutenberg.ca and gutenberg.net.au. The .ca is the Canadian site, and folllows Canadian rules for public domain. I don't like it much, although Canadian laws are (at least for the moment) somewhat less stringent than those of the US. The problem I have is with the website itself - it's not very easy to browse, the content is limited, and there's a huge foreword about pending changes in Canadian copyright law that is so lengthy that I have lost sympathy with the cause before I make it to the end of their argument. (For the record, I agree with them, but I think they could state their case more succinctly.)
Then, there is gutenberg.net.au. It calls Australia home, and there, too, the laws of public domain embrace more material. There are (or have been) a lot of content contributors, and the website designers have made it easy to navigate. So when I began searching out more classic detective writers, I searched Gutenberg Australia as well.
I found a treasure trove of SS Van Dine there. SS Van Dine writes the Philo Vance mysteries. Van Dine is both the author and a character - a Watson to Vance's Sherlock, who follows along and records everything, occasionally asking the questions the reader is dying to ask. Vance is one of the New York elite - an intelligent snob, but with ample excuse for snobbishness, it appears. He solves crimes by looking at the psychology of the crime and the criminal, and is known to bemoan the fact that people consider material evidence and motive to be indicators of guilt or innocence. The three full-length novels I've read so far are all slightly dated (especially by some aspects of the psychology Vance espouses), but still fun. I'm reading them in publication order: The Benson Murder Case, The "Canary" Murder Case, The Greene Murder Case, and (my current read) The Bishop Murder Case. Definitely fun, and it's hard to argue with free.
I've also been reading some of Edgar Wallace's J.G. Reeder short stories. I know I read one of them years ago in some mystery anthology for teens ("The Treasure Hunt" was the title, and in it, Mr. Reeder uses the criminals intent on robbing him to unwittingly uncover what really happened to Sir James Tithermite's wife, supposedly lost at sea.) I wish I could remember the title of the anthology, as there were a few other authors who might bear looking up. I recall another story in the anthology about a woman who was poisoned, almost fatally, because she was the caretaker of a dog who had inherited millions. Other than that, the only thing I recall are the illustrations, one per story - line drawings on a single-color background (green or something like that) which mostly hinted at the contents of the story while hiding anything unsavory. The illustration for the woman with the dog story was the unfortunate exception to that rule.
Back to the topic at hand- the J.G. Reeder stories. They're enjoyable in their quiet way, although I find the use of slang a bit disconcerting. I prefer Wallace's short stories and novellas to the full-length work I read, though.