The Green Murder (?) Case (Page Two)


Anybody who doesn’t is regarded as eccentric and therefore a potential suspect. All men wore hats and most had mustaches (never beards). All women, except floozies, had bobbed haircuts. I think, also, that Van Dine invented the stereotypical jaunty, sarcastic medical examiner (Doc Doremus in this series) who always complains about missing his lunch, golf, whatever, like Max in the Inspector Morse books, and will never commit to a definite time of death. The dumb cop (Sgt. Heath), who just wants to arrest everybody and work them over with a rubber hose, however, dates back to Inspector Lestrade, but in an American way–English cops were more polite, but just as stupid, in these Golden Age days.


And about The Greene Murder Case itself he says:


A good author does not . . . kill off every possible suspect except for one or two so that the murderer is revealed by elimination. . . . Philo Vance stays up all night trying to rationalize this case, when there are only two possible suspects left, one of them out of the picture by being in Atlantic City! This might have been a good story if the author had included a larger range of suspects in the household and not made it impossible for any outsiders to be involved. The only other possible suspect would be the butler, and Van Dine knew he couldn’t get away with that. (Logically, however, even by Vance’s screwy reasoning, the butler COULD have done it, and by the parameters is most ABLE to have done it, and should have been written up as more of a suspect motivewise–also the other servants–except Van Dine’s murderers were never of the lower class.)


            More Internet research turned up the information that William Powell played Philo Vance in four movies between 1929 and 1933: The Greene Murder Case, The Canary Murder Case, The Benson Murder Case, and The Kennel Murder Case. In 1930, the same year that The Benson Murder Case came out, Basil Rathbone played Vance in The Bishop Murder Case—nine years before he played Sherlock Holmes in The Hound of the Baskervilles. Vance has also been played in the movies and on TV by James Stephenson, William Wright, Alan Curtis, Warren William, Grant Richards, Paul Lukas, Wilfrid Hyde-White, Edmund Lowe, Giorgio Albertazzi, and the ever-popular Jirí Dvorák.


          Now, down to business.


The Times of London called Richard Lancelyn Green “the world’s foremost authority” on Sherlock Holmes. Now, I think that title rightfully belongs to me, but Green did have some pretty good credentials. His father, Roger Lancelyn Green, edited the Sherlock Holmes Journal from 1957 to 1979 and published several of his own articles in it. Richard Lancelyn Green was born in 1953 and grew up near Liverpool in an old house called Poulton Hall. When he was eleven, he discovered the Sherlock Holmes books in his father’s library and immediately got hooked. He read all the stories, then read them all again, and began to pattern himself after Holmes. He trained his powers of observation and memorized Holmes’s rules, such as “It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data,” “never trust to general impressions, but concentrate yourself upon details,” and “there is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact.” When he was twelve, he became the youngest person ever inducted into the Sherlock Holmes Society of London. When he was thirteen, he created a replica of Holmes’s sitting room in the attic of Poulton Hall using items he had bought at local junk sales: it had a rack of pipes, a Persian slipper filled with tobacco, a stack of unpaid bills pinned to the mantle with a jackknife, a box of pills labeled “Poison,” a preserved snake, a brass microscope, an invitation to the Gasfitters’ Ball, and empty ammunition cartridges. One wall had bullet holes in the shape of a patriotic “V.R.”; but they were painted on, because he didn’t think the attic would stand up to real bullets. On the door of the room, which was reached by climbing seventeen stairs—I don’t know how he arranged that; it must have been a lucky coincidence—he hung a sign that said “Baker Street.” A tape recording played the sounds of carriage wheels and hoof beats on cobblestones. Holmes fans came from all over England to see the room. After he graduated from Oxford in 1975, Green settled in the Kensington borough of London—where Dr. Watson once lived—and widened his interests to include not just Sherlock Holmes but Arthur Conan Doyle

in general. He became an obsessive collector of everything that he could get his hands on having to do with Holmes and Doyle. His collection filled up his basement and ultimately included 40,000 books, among which was one of the few surviving copies of the 1887 issue of Beeton’s Christmas Annual, in which the first Sherlock Holmes story, A Study in Scarlet, appeared; it’s been estimated to be worth $130,000, although Green wouldn’t have sold it for any price.