The Crimson Bookshelf
THE JULIUS CAESAR MURDER CASE by Wallace Irwin, D. Appleton Century Company, New York, 306 pages, $2.
WALLACE IRWIN, who gave the world of letters "Love Sonnets of a Hoodlum" and many other equally serious volumes, has come forward with a successfully sustained satire on the modern detective story, the dictatorial form of government, and tabloid journalism. Feeling that "in distance there is safety," Mr. Irwin affectionately dedicates his book to "Benito Mussolini and Adolph Hitler."
Shakespeare, as well as Gibbon, Mommsen and other amateur detectives pinned the crime on Brutus; but Mr. Irwin's hero, Manlius Scribo, star reporter on "The Evening Tiber," the first experiment in tabloidia, had his own ideas about the murder. And Manny Scribo was on the spot.
Spreading the argot of the modern newspaper against a Roman background, Mr. Irwin produces a world which, if you choose to have it so, is very real. Certain it is that an appreciative reader can become so engrossed in the intricate though ancient plot that the spontaneously exclaimed "Dixisti" will not bring forth a chuckle until the ridiculousness of the situation slowly sinks in.
It is quite possible that classical scholars will be able to pick gaping holes in Mr. Irwin's knowledge of antique conditions. The work is not a scholarly one. Anachronism is a word which means very little in the author's vocabulary. On the other hand a sense of the ridiculous, a knowledge of the comparative value of the wholesome chuckle and the belly laugh is evident on every page.
It is possible to imagine Anthony Abbott, S.S. Van Dine, Carolyn Wells et al enjoying acute cases of indigestion when they see what Mr. Irwin has done with their favorite little tricks. The astute reporter, amateur detective par excellence, successfully makes a dummy out of Sergeant Kellius of the Rome police. The villain becomes the hero, the hero becomes the villain, the love affair is consummated prettily, in fact the ardent detective story reader, if he choose to take this seriously, can find no faults with the orthodoxy of the technique. But the reader who thumbs the pages from a previously experienced appreciation of Mr. Irwin as a humorist will find the greatest value in the book.
The sincere critic cannot but place this book in the second line of modern fiction. Mr. Irwin is not moved by the literary trends of the day. He will not Quixote-like, laugh the detective story out of existence. In fact, it is not quite fair to state that as the purpose of his satire, though such a purpose would not be without its enhancing qualities. As entertainment, however, either for the educated Senior who has completed his Divisional or the distracted Freshman madly seeking diversion between Finals, Mr. Irwin's bag of tricks holds forth a satisfying invitation.