Max Carrados & Louis Carlyle

Created by Ernest Bramah
Pseudonym of Ernest Bramah Smith
1868-1942

“I have no blundering, self-confident eyes to be hoodwinked.”

Ernest Bramah’s MAX CARRADOS, often billed as “The Blind Detective,” was arguably the first of the defective detectives, and certainly one of the worthiest rivals of Sherlock Holmes.

It may have been a gimmick, but it was a good one, with Bramah allegedly frequently outselling  Arthur Conan Doyle. A Carrados story even appeared once in The Strand Magazine, in the  same issue (July 1924) that featured a story by Arthur Conan Doyle. It was the Carrados story, however,  that was featured on the cover.

Max lost his sight because a horse riding accident several years ago. Now you might think that might be a significant disadvantage in a profession the relies so heavily on observation, wouldn’t you? But Max’s other senses were so astoundingly acute — verging on miraculous — that you almost wonder that other detectives didn’t gouge out their own eyes just to be better at their jobs.

No, seriously! The dude could read fine print by feeling the texture of the ink alone, is a whiz on a typewriter (having memorized the keys, naturally) and is a deadly shot with a pistol! And he was never wrong. No wonder many people had no idea he was blind.

An obvious inspiration for subsequent — and more credible — blind private eyes Captain Duncan Maclain and Mike Longstreet, not to mention Marvel Comics’ even more far-fetched sightless superhero Daredevil, created by Stan Lee, Bill Everett and Jack Kirby. Supposedly Baynard H. Kendrick createdMaclain in reaction to what he saw as Max’s excesses.

* * * * *

I should clarify that Max was not a private eye or any sort of professional detective — he never accepted a fee for his services. But most of his “work” is undertaken on behalf of his pal, LOUIS CARLYLE, who runs a small London inquiry agency, handling mostly divorce cases and financial crimes.

The two meet cute (or more accurately, re-meet cute) in their first case, “The Coin of Dionysius” (1913), in which Mr. Carlyle pays a visit to a Wynn Carrados, a wealthy art expert, seeking his opinion on the authenticity of an ancient Greek silver coin featuring Dionysius the Elder of Sicily. But the blind Carrados almost immediately recognizes Mr. Carlyle from his voice. It seems that Mr. Carlyle is actually Louis Calling, his old school mate from St. Michaels.

Carlyle changed his name following a scandal from back when he was a solicitor. But Max is also living under an alias, and for an equally shady reason. Seems Max was living under a false name, as well. His real last name was “Wynn.” He was left a fortune by a distant American cousin who had accumulated his wealth in a less than scrupulous fashion, on condition that Max adopt the surname Carrados.

His ill-gotten inheritance does, however, allow the young bachelor to live in the manner to which he’s become accustomed, fiddling over his extensive collection of bronze coins and smoking his expensive and rare cigars. He has a trusted butler, Parkinson, who acts as his “eyes,” and a private secretary, Mr Greatorex.

Bramah strived to make Max a sympathetic and credible hero, and was known to be touchy about claims that the Carrados stories were too far-fetched. He was quick to point out the exploits of real life blind people such as John Fielding (the Bow Street Magistrate who could supposedly identify over 3000 criminals by their voices alone) and Helen Keller. If you can get past some of Max’s more fantastic abilities, the stories are quite well written, fairly plotted and actually fairly enjoyable, and Max himself is an affable, good-natured kind of guy.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ernest Bramah Smith was born on March 20, 1868 in Manchester, England. His plan was to become a farmer and in fact he spent four years at it, before deciding to become a writer. He started writing a column for the Birmingham News in 1890, and with some help from his father, was able to travel to London to take up journalism as a career. He worked as a secretary and then an editorial assistant at Today Magazineand published his first book, English Farming and Why I Turned It Up in 1894. Unfortunately, it sold squat. He left Today to become the editor of the Minister, and married Lucy Maisie Barker and quit his job to become a full-time writer in 1897.

The Wallet of Kai Lung, a collection of stories about the travels of a mild-mannered Chinese storyteller, was published in 1900. It didn’t do particularly well at the time, although it got decent reviews. Smith kept at it. A science fiction novel, What Might Have Been: The Story of a Social War, appeared in 1907, and received some acclaim (and was said to have inspired Orwell’s 1984). Smith began writing for popular magazines like Punch and News of the World, where he introduced Max Carrados, in 1913. The first collection of Carrados stories, Max Carrados, appeared the next year and was a hit. At the urging of his publisher, Smith began to write more Kai Lung stories, in 1921 . Kai Lung’s Golden Hours, was published in 1922, and was quite successful, leading to the reprinting of the first book. Two more collections and a novel featuring Kai Lung followed, as well as three more Carrados collections.

UNDER OATH

  • “The much praised Wallet of Kai Lung seems to me tedious… it would have been better to have reprinted Ernest Bramah’s excellent detective stories, Max Carrados and The Eyes of Max Carrados. Together with those of Conan Doyle and R. Austin Freeman, they are the only detective stories since Poe that are worth re-reading.”
    — George Orwell,  A Kind of Compulsion 1903-1936 (2000)

SHORT STORIES

  • “The Coin of Dionysius” (August 17, 1913, News of the World; aka “The Master Coiner Unmasked”)
  • “The Knight’s Cross Signal Problem” (August 24, 1931, News of the World; aka “The Mystery of the Signals”)
  • “The Tragedy at Brookbend Cottage” (September 7-14, 1913, News of the World)
  • “The Clever Mrs. Straithwaite” (September 21-28, 1913, News of the World)
  • “The Great Safe Deposit Coup” (October 5-12, 1913, News of the World; also as “The Last Exploit of Harry the Actor”)
  • “The Tilling Shaw Mystery” (October 19-26, 1913, News of the World)
  • “The Secret of Dunstan’s Tower” (November 2-9 1913, News of the World)
  • “The Comedy at Fountain Cottage” (November 16-23, 1913, News of the World)
  • “The Kingsmouth German Spy Case” (November 30-December 7, 1913, News of the World; aka “The Kingsmouth Spy Case”)
  • “The Missing Actress Sensation” (December 14, 1913, News of the World; aka “The Missing Witness Sensation”)
  • “The Virginiola Fraud” (December 21, 1913, News of the World)
  • “The Game Played in the Dark” (December 28, 1913, News of the World)
  • “The Disappearance of Marie Severe” (1923, The Eyes of Max Carrados)
  • “The Eastern Mystery” (1923, The Eyes of Max Carrados)
  • “The Secret of Dunstan’s Tower” (1923, The Eyes of Max Carrados)
  • “The Ghost at Massingham Mansions” (1923, The Eyes of Max Carrados)
  • “The Missing Actress Sensation” (1923, The Eyes of Max Carrados)
  • “The Ingenious Mr. Spinola” (1923, The Eyes of Max Carrados)
  • “The Mystery of the Poisoned Dish of Mushrooms” (1923, The Eyes of Max Carrados)
  • “The Bunch of Violets” (July 1924, The Strand; aka “Said With Flowers”)
  • “The Missing Witness” (July 3, 1926, Flynn’s Weekly; aka “The Missing Witness Sensation”)
  • “The Crime at the House in Culver Street” (1927, Max Carrados Mysteries)
  • “The Curious Circumstances of the Two Left Shoes” (1927, Max Carrados Mysteries)
  • “The Holloway Flat Tragedy” (1927, Max Carrados Mysteries)
  • “The Ingenious Mind of Mr. Rigby Lacksome” (1927, Max Carrados Mysteries)
  • “The Mystery of the Vanished Petition Crown” (1927, Max Carrados Mysteries)
  • “The Secret of Headlam Height” (1927, Max Carrados Mysteries)
  • “The Strange Case of Cyril Bycourt” (1927, Max Carrados Mysteries)

COLLECTIONS

  • Max Carrados (1914)
  • The Eyes of Max Carrados (1923)
  • Best Max Carrados Detective Stories (1972)

NOVELS

  • The Bravo of London (1934)

TELEVISION

  • RIVALS OF SHERLOCK HOLMES
    (1971-73, ITV)
    Two seasons
    26 50-minute episodes
    Produced by Thames Television
    Starring Donald Pleasence, Donald Sinden, John Neville, Robert Stephens, Peter Vaughan, Derek Jacobi, Judy Geeson, Jean Marsh, Robin Ellis, John Thaw, Ronald Hines, Peter Barkworth, Jewremy Irons
    • “The Missing Witness Sensation”
      Based on the story by Ernest Bramah
      Starring Robert Stephens as MAX CARRADOS

RADIO

  • MURDER CLINIC
    (1942-43, Mutual)
    • “The Holloway Flat Tragedy” (August 18, 1942)
      Based on the story by Ernest Bramah
      Starring Alfred Shirley as MAX CARRADOS

  • THRILLER PLAYHOUSE
    (1995, BBC Radio 4)
    • “The Eyes of Max Carrados” (November 23, 1995)
      Based on characters created by Ernest Bramah
      Dramatised by Bert Coutes
      Starring Simon Callow as MAX CARRADOS
      Also starring Lionel Jeffries, Teresa Gallagher, Matthew Marsh, Philip Glenister, David Bannerman, Michael Beint
  • THE RIVALS
    (2011, BBC 4)
    Starring Tim Pigott-Smith as Inspector Lestrade
    A radio anthology, dramatizing early stories of the “rivals of Sherlock Holmes, narrated by Arthur Conan Doyle’s Inspector Lestrade.

    • “The Game Played in the Dark”
      Starring Charles Edwards as MAX CARRADOS
    • “The Knight’s Cross Signal Problem”
      Starring Pip Torrens as MAX CARRADOS
    • “The Secret of Dunstan’s Tower”
      Starring Pip Torrens as MAX CARRADOS
  • MAX CARRADOS
    (2011, BBC Radio 4 Extra)
    Based on the stories by Ernest Bramah
    Narrator: Arthur Darvill
    BBC Radio 4 Extra is a British digital radio station broadcasting archived repeats of comedy, drama and documentary programs, including these audio presentations of several of the Carrados short stories.
    • “The Coin of Dionysius”
    • “The Knight’s Cross Signal Problem”
    • “The Tragedy at Brookbend Cottage”
    • “The Last Exploit of Harry the Actor”
    • “A Game Played in the Dark”
Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.

 

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