Eugene Valmont

Created by Robert Barr
Pseudonyms include Luke Sharp
(1850-1912)

“Every detective follows a wrong clue now and then, and every detective fails more often than he cares to admit.”
— 
“The Siamese Twin of a Bomb-Thrower”

The wild success of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes inspired a slew of imitators on both sides of the Atlantic from roughly from the late 1880s to the early 1920s. There were lady detectives and gentleman detectives, and to a piece they were brilliant. Sharp, intuitive deductive geniuses.

And then there was Robert Barr’s EUGENE VALMONT.

Barr, Scottish-born and Canadian-raised, had relocated to London after a brief stint at the Detroit Free Press, to establish an English version of that paper, and became a well known figure in that city’s literary circles, palling around with the likes of Jerome K. Jerome and Conan Doyle, so he was well aware of the rise of detective and mystery fiction.

So the cheeky bastard, the eternal outsider, was in a perfect position to parody and satirize the genre, while taking a few pokes at English (and European) values along the way.

One of his first efforts, “The Adventures of Sherlaw Kombs”(1892), zeroed in on Holmes himself. But by the early 1890s, he had widened his scope, taking on the whole genre. Stories about his own Valmont began to appear in various British and American magazines, such as Windsor Magazine, Pearson Magazine and The Saturday Evening Post, and in 1906 the stories were rounded up and published under the title of The Triumphs of Eugene Valmont.

Valmont is a private detective, a cultured and elegant gentleman sleuth, working in London. But he’s not British — he’s French. Once one of the shining lights of the Parisian police, the celebrated “Chief Detective for the Government of France,” he was summarily dismissed from his lofty position — not for incompetence or failure, he is quick to point out –  but out of national embarrassment. Apparently, he threw “the most celebrated English detective into prison” while investigating a high-profile jewel theft. The French media had a field day.

Merde!

No wonder London’s now his home. Okay, Valmont’s still a smug, pompous git, completely full of himself and totally condescending towards the English, whom he considers his inferiors. But the real problem is that he’s not a very good detective.

But that’s what makes the stories so much fun. They’re more about Valmont’s failures than his successes. In fact, his success are usually mentioned only in passing, while his failures are related in detail. He routinely bungles the recovery of stolen diamonds, arrests the wrong people, fails to apprehend anarchists, murderers, counterfeiters, schemers, blackmailers and a ghost with a club foot.

Suffice it to say Barr’s tongue, at this point, was firmly in cheek.

The stories are rip-snorting affairs, playfully plotted and chockfull of adventure, romance and humour, having great fun with the literary (and often social) conventions of the time. A delightful blend that finds the sweet spot somewhere between Hercule Poirot and Inspector Clouseau of the Pink Panther movies.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Barr was born in Glasgow but grew up in Toronto, Canada, becoming a teacher  and eventually the headmaster of the Central School in Windsor, Ontario. He began to write short stories for the Detroit Free Press, right across the river. In 1876, he joined the Free Press fulltime. In 1881, he moved to London to establish the English edition of the paper, but retired in 1895 to write full time, enjoying considerable success.

The Triumphs of Eugene Valmont is a fascinating collection of stories from the Gaslight Crime Era – contemporaries of Sherlock Holmes who deserve to be better known. The Triumphs of Eugene Valmont (1906) brings together tales of the multifarious exploits of Robert Barr’s elegant and cunning sleuth, Valmont, a brilliantly ironic parody of Sherlock Holmes. Exhibiting the crucial combination of realism and imagination that characterizes the finest crime writing, A notable figure in 1890s literary London and a friend of Conan Doyle, Barr was acutely aware of style as a form of statement and the stories are full of literary effects, commentary on the detective mystery genre, and Valmont’s disparaging reflections on English values.

The Triumphs of Eugene Valmont brings together tales of the multifarious exploits of Robert Barr’s elegant and cunning sleuth, Valmont, a brilliantly ironic parody of Sherlock Holmes. Exhibiting the crucial combination of realism and imagination that characterizes the finest crime writing, the stories exude playfulness and blend mystery and quasi-Gothic thrills with humorous detours and romantic adventure.

The title is something of a misnomer for, despite his Poirotian conceit, intellectual vanity and condescending attitude towards the English he does not understand, Valmont’s “triumphs” are really a series of failures. In the first case, his arrest of an English private detective, failure to recover the jewels and bamboozlement by the man who bought them result in his making France a laughing-stock and his dismissal from the force. In the best story in the collection, “The Absent-minded Coterie”, he discovers the criminals’ ingenious fraud but is thwarted by them and ends up paying five shillings a week indefinitely. In another case, he frees the wrong man from an American prison and helps to commit a murder (at best, manslaughter); and in the last story he is fooled by a couple of young lovers. These are all witty and amusing parodies of the detective story, complete with the great number of titled and illustrious personages common in the period, villainous anarchists and ingenious frauds.

By the way, despite all those pokes at Holmes, Barr and Doyle remained good friends. In Doyle’s Memories and Adventures, a serial memoir published 1923–24, he fondly described Barr as “a volcanic Anglo—or rather Scot-American, with a violent manner, a wealth of strong adjectives, and one of the kindest natures underneath it all.”

SHORT STORIES (U.K. edition)

  • The Mystery of the Five Hundred Diamonds
  • The Siamese Twin of a Bomb-Thrower
  • The Clue of the Silver Spoons
  • Lord Chizelrigg’s Missing Fortune” (April 29, 1905, The Saturday Evening Post)
  • The Absent-Minded Coterie” (May 13, 1905, The Saturday Evening Post)
  • he Ghost with the Club-Foot
  • The Liberation of Wyoming Ed
  • Lady Alicia’s Emeralds

SHORT STORIES (U.S. Version)

  • The Finding of the Fated Five Hundred
  • The Scene in the Sale Room
  • The Midnight Race Down the Seine
  • The Oddities of the English
  • The Siamese Twin of a Bomb Thrower
  • A Rebuff and a Response
  • In the Grip of the Green Demon
  • The Fate of the Picric Bomb
  • The Dinner for Seven in the Temple
  • The Clew of the Silver Spoons
  • “O My Prophetic soul, My Uncle!”
  • Lord Chizelrigg’s Missing Fortune
  • The Futility of a Search Warrant
  • Mr. Spenser Hale of Scotland Yard
  • The Strange House in Park Lane
  • The Queer Shop in Tottenham Court Road
  • The Absent-minded Coterie
  • The Sad Case of Sophia Brooks
  • A Commission from Lord Rantremly
  • The Ghost with the Clubfoot
  • The Secret of a Noble House
  • Liberating the Wrong Man
  • The Fascinating Lady Alicia
  • Where the Emeralds were Found

ALSO OF INTEREST

  • “The Adventures of Sherlaw Kombs”(1892, The Idler)
  • “The Adventure of the Second Swag” (1904)
    These two Holmes parodies by Barr were included in The Triumphs of Eugene Valmont

COLLECTIONS

  • The Triumphs of Eugene Valmont (1906) Buy this book | Kindle it!
    The British edition included eight short stories, but they were broken up into twenty-four chapters to make it “novel-like” in the American edition. Both editions also included Barr’s two Holmes parodies.

TELEVISION

  • THE RIVALS OF SHERLOCK HOLMES
    (1971-73, ITV)
    Two seasons
    26 50-minute episodes
    Produced by Thames Television
    Starring Donald Pleasence, Donald Sinden, Charles Gray, John Neville, Robert Stephens, Peter Vaughan, Derek Jacobi, Judy Geeson, Jean Marsh, Robin Ellis, John Thaw, Ronald Hines, Peter Barkworth, Jewremy Irons

    • “The Absent-Minded Coterie”
      (1973)
      Based on the story by Robert Barr
      Starring Charles Gray as EUGENE VALMONT

RADIO

  • THE RIVALS
    (2011-15, BBC 4)
    16 30-minute episodes
    Starring Tim Pigott-Smith as Inspector Lestrade

    • “The Clue of the Silver Spoons”
      Based on the story by Robert Barr
      Starring as Eugene Valmont

RELATED LINKS

Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.

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