The Coin Of Dionysius by Ernest Bramah, 1914
The magic trick:
Generating suspense without ever letting the story leave one room
Today we meet everyone’s favorite visually impaired detective, Max Carrados. An English detective doing business in the early 20th century might find the Sherlock comparisons tough to avoid. I’ll say here that Carrados falls very far short. In the same way that the comedic stories of Saki and Maugham only serve to make me appreciate Wodehouse all the more, “The Coin Of Dionysisus” does little more than showcase the genius of Doyle’s Sherlock stories. Hey, the reader thinks, even a bad Sherlock story is still really good compared to this.
Imagine the Baker Street scenes of Sherlock in which he dazzles the caller with his ability to know all sorts of things about them before they’ve even said a word, and then totally leave out all the rest of the story’s action, suspense, and plot development. That is what we’re dealing with here in “The Coin Of Dionysius.” There is no way the reader can interact with the mystery at all. The whole solution is based on events that we couldn’t know about.
In its own way, though, “Coin” is impressive for just that reason. The entire story happens in Carrados’s living room. It is all talk and explanation. The suspense derives only from the question of how a blind man could be a detective. And that’s quite a trick on Bramah’s part.
“Envied, I can understand. But why are you pitied?”
“Because I am blind,” was the tranquil reply.
“Blind!” exclaimed Mr. Carlyle, using his own eyes superlatively. “Do you mean–literally blind?”
“Literally…. I was riding along a bridle-path through a wood about a dozen years ago with a friend. He was in front. At one point a twig sprang back–you know how easily a thing like that happens. It just flicked my eye–nothing to think twice about.”
“And that blinded you?”
“Yes, ultimately. It’s called amaurosis.”
“I can scarcely believe it. You seem so sure and self-reliant. Your eyes are full of expression–only a little quieter than they used to be. I believe you were typing when I came…. Aren’t you having me?”
“You miss the dog and the stick?” smiled Carrados. “No; it’s a fact.”
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