A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Thomas Baird

ERNEST BRAMAH – Max Carrados. Methuen, UK, hardcover, 1914. Hyperion Press, US, hardcover, 1975. Moran Press, softcover, December 2015. All 26 Max Carrados short stories are included in The Collected Max Carrados Investigations: The Cases of the Renowned Blind Edwardian Detective, Leonaur, hardcover/paperback, 2013.

   For some years it was thought that Ernest Bramah was the pseudonym of some other mystery writer who was doing double duty; or, alternatively, that the pen name represented a group trying its hands at a specialized type of story. Eventually, the author revealed himself (a little bit), and what he revealed was that the pseudonym stood for Ernest Bramah Smith.

   He was extremely self-effacing; however, details are plentiful about the life and adventures of his greatest creation, Max Carrados, the first and probably the best blind detective in fiction.

   Carrados was very much in the Great Detective mold. Even though blind, his personality dominates the stories. He is sophisticated, cynical, and whimsical, and he awes friends, clients, and enemies with feats of subtle brilliance, “seeing” what no blind man can see.

   Carrados lives at the Turrets in Richmond (just west of London), surrounded by his menage of secretary, young, brash Annesley Greatorex, and valet,the solemnly decorous Parkinson. He is interested in crimes of originality, and is called upon to solve cases of arson, madness, embezzlement, jewel burglary, a divorce murder, the theft of one of England’s greatest relics, a post-office robbery connected with Irish outrages, and to thwart German naval spies. A commentator has said that the setting of these stories is much closer to Raymond Chandler’s “mean streets” than to the unreal English country house of Agatha Christie.

   The Carrados stories are an Edwardian tour de force, and Ellery Queen called Max Carrados “one of the ten best volumes of detective shorts ever written.” The eight stories in this collection contain the inevitable meeting between Carrados and disbarred lawyer turned inquiry agent Louis Carlyle, who becomes his “Watson.”

   The tales range from a problem in numismatics (one of Bramah’s own little enthusiasms), to train-wrecking tinged with racism, to looting of safe deposits as a result of religious enthusiasm. The problems are logical, the characterizations are excellent, and the backgrounds are exceptional.

   In the much-anthologized “Tragedy at Brookbend Cottage,” a man proposes to remove his wife by the latest scientific methods. Of course, Carrados intervenes, using clues only a blind man can find, and brings the case to its ironic conclusion.

   Critics have praised the stories highly, and the two other collections — The Eyes of Max Carrados (1923) and Max Carrados Mysteries (1927) — are also well worth attention, although the later stories tend to get ponderous and are uneven in quality. The only Max Carrados novel, The Bravo of London (1934), proves conclusively that Bramah was a good short-story writer.

   Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007.   Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.