Everyone loves a good mystery

Everyone loves a good mystery


Detective stories are a favourite with authors, filmmakers, readers and viewers, the world over.  Good ‘whodunit’ mysteries have us perched at the edge of our seats in a theatre, popcorn and coke forgotten! Detectives are called ‘private eyes’ or ‘private investigators’, but the first detectives in America were called ‘public eyes’. These ‘public eyes’ became part of the police force in 1840 with an average record for solving crimes. A decade later a clever Scotsman named Allan Pinkerton opened his own national detective agency with the illustration of an open eye above the words, ‘We Never Sleep’. The tagline and the illustration later led to the coining of the term ‘Private Eye’.

Long before he opened his detective agency, Alan was a crime fighter. His father was warden of the local jail in Glasgow. Young Allan had to flee to America because of his political beliefs. He settled near Chicago and set up his own barrel-making business.
Working all by himself, Alan unearthed a counterfeiting ring in the area and after serving a term as a deputy sheriff  became the first detective of Chicago. He  believed that most public law enforcers weren’t trustworthy, so he set up the Pinkerton Agency, which gained a reputation for solving train robberies. During the Civil War, he set up a Union spy network behind the enemy lines and his team foiled an assassination plot on President Abraham Lincoln in 1861.

Pinkerton’s most celebrated case was the George Gordon murder of 1885. Gordon was a 25-year-old bank teller who was found murdered in the Mississippi bank where he worked. One hundred and twenty eight thousand dollars had gone missing from the bank. Pinkerton had a strong suspicion that the murderer was Alexander Drysdale, the local county clerk, but he was unable to prove his suspicions. One of his  detectives bore a strong resemblance to the dead man. Pinkerton hit upon a plan. Smearing the detective with red dye, he had him stationed inside Drysdale’s house. Then, when Pinkerton accused Drysdale of the robbery and murder, the detective smeared with ‘blood’ slowly stepped forward. Spooked and shocked, Drysdale lost his nerve and confessed to his crime.

The name’s Bond...James Bond!

The most glamorous Private Eye on screen is, of course, James Bond. Ian Fleming achieved fame and fortune as the creator of a series of spy novels built around the exploits of Bond. The movies, based on the novels, have made millions.

Moving  onto other fictitious ‘private eye’ characters in literature, the famous Sherlock Holmes, created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, comes to mind. A genius, he has enthralled readers for years working quietly from his house on Baker Street with Dr Watson.
The adventures of Sherlock Holmes  were serialised in Strand magazine between 1891 and 1893. The author reportedly got tired of his popular creation and tried to finish off his hero, but was compelled to revive him in 1903.

Young readers, the world over, are certain to have enjoyed the exploits of amateur sleuths like Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, Five Findouters, Secret Seven and Feluda. Filmmaker and author Satyajit Ray wrote the ‘Feluda’ series in Bengali, which has been translated into English to the delight of millions.

Once you delve deep into these stories, you will understand that solving a mystery is not just about putting clues together. All detectives — young and old — are gifted with a razor-sharp mind.

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