Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Dorrington, forgotten deconstructed detective

Arthur Morrison is one of those forgotten authors who was a fairly big deal in their day. While he’s most famous for writing poverty novels, it’s his mystery work that I’ve actually looked at.

His most successful detective was Martin Hewitt, who can be best described as a blue collar Sherlock Holmes. He was even published in the Strand and illustrated by Sidney Paget, just like Holmes. According to my notes, I’ve read all the Martin Hewitt stories but I don't remember them at all.
What I do remember is another of Morrison’s detectives, Horace Dorrington. While he is the subject of an anthology, the Dorrington Deed-box, I came across one of the stories in a general  anthology. Which was possibly the best was to find Dorrington.

Because I went in assuming he was just another bland Holmes clone. So it was a shock when Dorrington turned out to be a complete scoundrel, a cheerful sociopath and a worse piece of work than the criminals he goes after. Which would have been obvious if I’d read the anthology since the first linked story clearly lays that out. But it was quite the twist to see him solve a case and immediately start blackmailing the crook.

And to make it clear, Dorrington isn’t an anti-hero who is willing to break the law and do nasty things  to make things right. No, he steals and lies and murders to line his own pockets. He is flat out villain protagonist. I don’t see even the most deconstructed Holmes uncovering a murderer and putting them on the payroll to kill for him.

Dorrington was quite ahead of his time and probably a testament to Morrison’s outlook on humanity. He also wasn’t apparently very successful since it looks like the book was never reprinted. 

So I don’t think Dorrington actually influenced later works because I’m assuming none of the Black Mask authors read it. And, as I already mentioned, hard boiled detectives can be flawed, misogynistic sociopaths but we are supposed to view them as the heroes we are supposed to empathize with. Dorrington is clearly a complete rotter.

Of course, it’s now freely Project Gutenberg ( and a couple of the stories were adapted by ITV in the 70s. The stories aren’t lost masterpieces. Even calling them diamonds in the rough might be a stretch. But the Dorrington Deed-box is a fascinating read.

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