Call Mr Fortune by H C Bailey

Call Mr FortuneReggie Fortune, doctor and private investigator, and star of a bucket load of short stories by H C Bailey. This is the first collection of the stories, published in 1919, consisting of The Archduke’s Tea, The Sleeping Companion, The Nice Girl, The Efficient Assassin, The Hottentot Venus and The Business Minister. The cover refers to them as six long detective tales, but in fact, they run to about forty pages of fairly large print.

You may recall that last month, I had a bit of a disaster with Slippery Ann, a novel by the author. But after the somewhat uninspiring talk about Reggie Fortune at the Bodies From The Library conference this year, I was determined to see what the attraction of this series of tales was. After all, Bailey wrote enough of them.

More importantly, you may be wondering about the style of this post. Usually old PD writes a little synopsis and then goes into the whys and wherefores of the book. But there’s a good reason for that…

I can’t remember anything about it – and I read most of the stories yesterday. No, I haven’t received any serious head wounds or have succumbed to my relative old age, it’s just that these stories are indescribably boring.

The plots are prosaic with little mystery to them and even less wit. In fact, I’m going to let you into a secret…

… I didn’t read the last story in the collection. I simply couldn’t bear forcing myself through another turgid mess of a story.

So, unless someone want’s to convince me that Bailey improved with age – this is the first collection and he was still writing short stories twenty years later – that’s it for me with Bailey. Time to move on to something that is at least barely readable without losing the will to live and slipping into a coma.

Oh, it’s Not Recommended. Could you tell?

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14 comments

  1. I do own a collection of Bailey’s titled “The Hottentot Venus”, so it might be this same one you have read. I read it a long time ago, back when I was still young and easy to impress and when I read every book from cover to cover and I remember thinking it was just deadly dull. One has to wonder why anyone would call Mr. Fortune, since there are so many better and more interesting detectives available.

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  2. Oh Dear! I feel I must speak up in defence of poor Mr Bailey. True, these are not deep mysteries and the perpetrator is usually perfectly obvious. But if you are in the mood for some gentle, early 20th century short story fiction (and I am, quite often) then Mr Bailey’s work will fit the bill. He wrote mostly in the short story format for the many magazines in print at the time and Reggie Fortune certainly works best in that format. I have only been able to find Call Mr Fortune freely available (he died in 1961 so is only in the public domain in Australia and Canada). It may well be that his later stories were much better – anyone who has read the British Library anthology Capital Crimes will have read ‘The Little House’, a story which, while not containing anything much of a mystery, nevertheless is quite a harrowing read. I can see that he wouldn’t appeal much to modern tastes but for lovers of Victorian and Edwardian mystery fiction he is definitely worth a look.

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  3. I enjoyed most of what is contained in A CLUE FOR MR FORTUNE and I do recommend it for traditional detective fiction fans. If you can put up with Reggie’s eccentric speech patterns and childish exclamations, that is. That’s the only thing that irritates me about Bailey’s detective stories.

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  4. Either one likes Reggie Fortune or one doesn’t. I do, and have most of the short story volumes. Call Mr Fortune seems to be available everywhere and it’s the least interesting of his collections of short stories. ABEbooks has plenty of affordable copies of two anthologies, Meet Mr Fortune and Best of Mr Fortune Stories, though neither of them includes The Little House that is my particular favourite too.(It’s also in a Reader’s Digest collection of crime short stories.) The first includes my other favourite, The Yellow Slugs, which is another story of children in peril.

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  5. Sorry you’re not enjoying Bailey! He’s one of the masters.

    Here’s a piece I wrote on him a decade ago: http://www.mystericale.com/pre-2015/index.php?issue=074&body=file&file=fuller_column.htm

    (A version was also published in CADS.)

    Bailey really hit his stride in the mid-30s; almost all the stories in Mr Fortune Objects, for instance, are first-rate.

    I’d suggest you try:
    The Yellow Slugs
    The Broken Toad
    The Holy Well
    The Long Dinner
    The Little House

    You’ve got Mr Fortune’s Practice, so read “The Young Doctor”, “The Magic Stone” and “The Unknown Murderer”.

    Stay away from Bailey’s late novels, though, as they’re almost unreadable.

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