A. E. W. Mason (1865 – 1948)

Picture_of_A._E._W._MasonAlfred Edward Woodley Mason (1865-1948) was an English author and politician. He is best remembered for his 1902 novel of courage and cowardice in wartime, The Four Feathers and is also known as the creator of Inspector Hanaud, a French detective who was an early template for Agatha Christie’s famous Hercule Poirot. His prolific output in short stories and novels were frequently made and remade into films during his lifetime; though many of the silent versions have been lost or forgotten, the Korda productions of Fire Over England (1937) and The Four Feathers (1939) remain enduring classics of British cinema. Mason was born in Camberwell. He studied at Dulwich College and graduated from Trinity College, Oxford, in 1888. He was a contemporary of fellow Liberal Anthony Hope, who went on to write the adventure novel The Prisoner of Zenda. He became an actor before starting his writing career, also serving for four years in the House of Commons (1906-1910). He was also a keen traveller and cricket player. His best-known book is The Four Feathers, which has been made into several films. Mason served with the Manchester Regiment in the First World War, being promoted Captain in December 1914. He transferred to the General List (reservists) in 1915 and the Royal Marine Light Infantry in 1917 with the rank of Major. His military career included work in naval intelligence, serving in Spain and Mexico, where he set up counter-espionage networks on behalf of the British government. Mason turned to non-fiction as well; he wrote a biography of Sir Francis Drake (1941), whose piratical exploits for the Queen figure in Fire Over England. He was working on a non-fiction book about Admiral Robert Blake when he died in 1948.

In 1910, Mason undertook to create a fictional detective as different as possible from Sherlock Holmes, who had recently been resuscitated after his supposed death by Arthur Conan Doyle in 1903. Inspector Gabriel Hanaud was stout, not gaunt like Holmes; a professional policeman, not a gentleman amateur; from the French surete, not Victorian England; and relying on psychological insights rather than physical evidence. His “Watson” is a retired London banker named Mr. Julius Ricardo. Hanaud’s appearance in the 1910 novel At The Villa Rose marks “the first major fiction detective of the Twentieth Century,” according to a historian of the genre. Set in the south of France, its plot also ridicules spiritualism and mediums, well-known enthusiasms of A. Conan Doyle. Four more Hanaud novels and several short stories followed, the last, The House in Lordship Lane, in 1946 and the only one set in England.

A mystery fiction bibliography is at the Golden Age of Detection Wiki.

Inspector Hanaud series: At the Villa Rose (1910), The Affair at the Semiramis Hotel (1917) Novella, The House of the Arrow (1924), The Prisoner in the Opal (1928), They Wouldn’t Be Chessmen (1934), and The House in Lordship Lane (1946).

Martin Edwards at ‘Do You Write Under Your Own Name?’ explicitly says: ‘I can’t recall now much of what Gilbert [Michael] had to say about Mason, but I do remember that he admired The House of the Arrow very much, and although that is, I think, a better book than At the Villa Rose, both are of a high calibre. It’s worth noting that At the Villa Rose was published in 1910, before the “Golden Age” got under way, but it boasts a great version of the Holmes-Watson pairing in Hanaud and Julius Ricardo, and a clever plot, with numerous neat touches, plus a classy, cosmopolitan setting. Mason based the story on a real life murder case, but he injected imagination into the true crime scenario. Where he erred, I think, was in revealing the solution too soon. Too much of the latter part of the book is devoted to explanation. This was a structural weakness absent from The House of the Arrow. All the same, At the Villa Rose is great fun, and Hanaud a truly appealing example of “the Great Detective”.


(Facsimile Dust Jacket, Hodder & Stoughton (UK), 1924)

The House of the Arrow is a 1924 detective novel by British writer A.E.W. Mason that has inspired several films of the same title. It features the fictional French detective Inspector Hanaud.

Description: Messrs Forbisher and Haslitt are respected solicitors responsible for the estate of Marie Harlowe, who bequeaths her possessions to her young niece, Betty Harlowe. But when Marie dies, her will becomes hotly contested thanks to the shadowy figure that is Boris Waberski. He writes a series of desperate letters to Forbisher and Haslitt, laying claim to Marie Harlowe’s assets and it’s not long before Marie’s niece stands accused of murder. In this famous mystery, the young woman faces poisonous blackmail and potential ruin. Only Inspector Hanaud is capable of exposing the villainous plot to discredit and destroy Betty Harlowe. But is she innocent? (Source: House of Stratus)

The House of the Arrow has been reviewed, among others, at The Grandest Game in the World, Vintage Pop Fictions, and at CrossExaminingCrime.

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