E. C. Bentley (1875 – 1956)


clerihewE.C. Bentley, in full Edmund Clerihew Bentley, (born July 10, 1875, London, England—died March 30, 1956, London), British journalist and man of letters who is remembered as the inventor of the clerihew and for his other light verse and as the author of Trent’s Last Case (1913), a classic detective story that remains a best seller.

After attending St. Paul’s School in London (where he met G.K. Chesterton, who became his closest friend) and the University of Oxford, Bentley lived in London and studied law. He soon abandoned the law, however, for journalism, which he practiced for most of his life. His detective novel Trent’s Last Case (1913) was much praised, numbering Dorothy L. Sayers among its admirers, and with its labyrinthine and mystifying plotting can be seen as the first truly modern mystery. It was adapted as a film in 1920, 1929, and 1952. The success of the work inspired him, after 23 years, to write a sequel, Trent’s Own Case (1936). There was also a book of Trent short stories,Trent Intervenes (1938).

From 1936 until 1949 Bentley was president of the Detection Club. He contributed to two crime stories for the club’s radio serials broadcast in 1930 and 1931, which were published in 1983 as The Scoop and Behind The Screen. In 1950 he contributed the introduction to a Constable & Co omnibus edition of Damon Runyon’s “stories of the bandits of Broadway”, which was republished by Penguin Books in 1990 as On Broadway. Nonetheless, as Martin Edwards properly states ‘Edmund Clerihew Bentley enduring contribution to the genre remains his debut novel’. He died in 1956 in London at the age of 80. His son Nicolas Bentley was a famous illustrator. G. K. Chesterton dedicated his popular detective novel on anarchist terrorism, The Man Who Was Thursday, to Edmund Clerihew Bentley, a school friend. (several sources).

Trent’s Last Case is often cited as the first work of The Golden Age of mystery fiction. It has an impressively clever plot, one that contains not one but three solutions to the crime. It was written in 1910-1911, and published in 1913. Such multiple solutioned construction will be a major influence on both Anthony Berkeley and Ellery Queen.
The specific plot developments in Trent’s Last Case seem to be the model for the plot of Dorothy L. Sayers’ first novel, Whose Body? (1923): her book is full of creative variations on Bentley’s ideas.  (Mike Grost)

Further reading:

Re-Investigating Trent’s Last Case by E.C. Bentley, by Scott Adlerberg

Mike Grost on EC Bentley 

The Boost of the Blurb 2: The Case of the Trent’s Last Case Reprint (1929)

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(Facsimile Dust Jacket, Alfred A. Knopf (UK), 1913) reprint c1929)

Trent’s Last Case is a detective novel written by E. C. Bentley and first published in the United Kingdom in 1913, and as The Woman in Black in the United States also in 1913. Its central character is the artist and amateur detective Philip Trent. Despite the title, Trent’s Last Case is the first novel in which he appears. He subsequently reappeared in the novel Trent’s Own Case (1936) and the short-story collection Trent Intervenes (1938). The novel is a whodunit with a place in detective fiction history because it is the first major sendup of that genre. Not only does Trent fall in love with one of the primary suspects – usually considered a no-no – he also, after painstakingly collecting all the evidence, draws all the wrong conclusions. (Source: Wikipedia)

Trent’s Last Case is available through Project Gutenberg.

Trent’s Last Case has been reviewed, among others, at the crime segments, Mystery*File, crossexaminingcrime, A Penguin a Week, and Past Offences.

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