Today’s classic crime story comes from journalist, Golden Age mystery author, and historical novelist Henry Christopher Bailey. Bailey is probably best remembered today for his long-running series of Reggie Fortune stories, featuring a surgeon with a talent for solving crime. In this post, I’m sharing Reggie Fortune’s debut case!
“The Archduke’s Tea” opens with Reggie’s parents going on holiday, leaving Reggie to mind his father’s thriving medical practice. Almost immediately, Reggie is summoned to attend the Archduke Maurice, heir to the throne of Bohemia, who currently lives in the wealthy suburb where Dr. Fortune practices. The Archduke was stuck by a hit-and-run driver while on one of his habitual countryside rambles. While hurrying to his patient, Reggie comes across another hit-and-run victim lying by the side of the road–very dead. And this victim bears a striking bodily resemblance to the Archduke.
Suspicious. Also suspicious: Maurice’s brother Leopold–next in line for the throne–is visiting his brother. And it seems the Archduchess, who hates life in the royal Court, is a speed-demon who loves to race up and down the roads in her own “ferocious vehicle”…
Who struck the Archduke? Can Reggie catch the attacker before they strike again?
Fortune’s upper-middle-class, Oxford-educated mannerisms, rather like Lord Peter Wimsey’s, seem more than a bit dated today, and perhaps that’s why the Mr. Fortune stories have fallen into obscurity. The tales are also occasionally marred by unfortunate slurs and stereotypes. Nonetheless, for the most part, I really enjoy them (I like the Lord Peter stories, too). The mysteries are fun and quite well plotted, and Bailey’s authorial voice is understated and dryly humorous.
Bailey portrays Fortune as a placid, plump, unambitious person who is a knowlegeable dilettante in a lot of subjects, and is fond of food and personal comforts. He’s also extremely observant, and has a strong sense of righteousness. He can be ruthless about seeing justice done — as this story illustrates.
This debut tale also introduces us to Fortune’s two police foils: The Honorable Stanley Lomas, head of the CID, and the stolid (and also quite observant) Superintendent Bell. Fortune’s relationship with the police is friendly, rather than adversarial — Lomas is usually more eager to have Fortune on a case than Fortune is himself.
I devoured the first two Reggie Fortune collections fairly quickly. If you’re a fan of Golden Age mystery, I think you’ll like “The Archduke’s Tea.” And if you want more, you can find the first two Reggie Fortune collections at Project Gutenberg:
Part of the Classic Crime series.
Featured image: 1913 25 hp Vauxhall touring car. Source: Wikimedia