Trent's Last Case is a detective novel written by E. C. Bentley and first published in 1913. Its central character, the artist and amateur detective Philip Trent, reappeared subsequently in the novel Trent's Own Case (1936), and the short-story collection Trent Intervenes (1938).[1]

Trent's Last Case
1st edition
AuthorEdmund Clerihew Bentley
CountryUnited Kingdom
GenreMystery, detective fiction
Publication date
Pages375 (hardcover 1st edition)
Followed byTrent's Own Case (1936) 

Trent's Last Case is actually the first novel Philip Trent appears in, and is a whodunit with a place in detective fiction history because it is the first major send-up of that genre. Not only does Trent fall in love with one of the primary suspects – usually considered off-limits – he also, after painstakingly collecting all the evidence, draws all the wrong conclusions.

The novel was published as The Woman in Black in the United States, later in 1913.

Plot summary edit

Sigsbee Manderson, a wealthy American plutocrat, is found shot dead in the grounds of his English country house. Philip Trent, an artist, freelance journalist, and amateur detective, is commissioned by Sir James Molloy, a Fleet Street press magnate, to investigate and report on the case. Trent receives the co-operation of the police – the investigating officer, Inspector Murch of Scotland Yard, is an old acquaintance – and is able to view the body, examine the house and grounds, and interview those involved. Other members of the household include Manderson's wife, Mabel; his two secretaries, Calvin Bunner, an American, and John Marlowe, an Englishman; Martin, a manservant; and Célestine, a lady's maid. Nathaniel Cupples, Mabel's uncle-by-marriage and another old friend of Trent, is staying at a hotel in the village.

Trent pursues his enquiries, and learns that the Mandersons' marriage was in difficulties and that the couple had grown distant from each other. In the course of his investigation, he falls in love with Mabel Manderson. The coroner's inquest finds that Manderson was killed by a person or persons unknown: the suggestion is that he was the victim of a business vendetta. Trent, however, concludes that Manderson was shot by Marlowe, who then returned to the house wearing some of Manderson's outer clothing in order to give the impression that Manderson was at that point still alive, before driving to Southampton to provide himself with an alibi. Trent believes that Marlowe's motive was his own love for Mabel, but is unclear as to how far she may have reciprocated in these feelings. He writes down his ideas in the form of a dispatch for Molloy, but before sending it presents it to Mabel and asks whether there had been anything between her and Marlowe. Her reaction persuades him that there had been, and he leaves the dispatch unsent.

Six months later Trent re-establishes contact with Mabel in London and finally extracts her version of events. She tells him that there had never been any sort of intimacy between her and Marlowe, but that her husband's suspicions had been the cause of their marital rift, and that in his jealousy he may have plotted an act of revenge. Trent sends Marlowe his original dispatch and arranges a meeting at which Cupples is also present. At the meeting, Marlowe explains that Manderson fabricated a web of incriminating evidence to implicate Marlowe in his apparent "murder" and then shot himself. Having realised what was happening, and having discovered Manderson's body, Marlowe had attempted to cover his tracks and give himself an alibi – this much of Trent's analysis had been correct.

Following this meeting, Trent and Cupples have dinner together, and Cupples reveals that while the majority of Marlowe's story had been accurate, it was in fact he who had fired the fatal shot. He had chanced upon Manderson pointing a pistol at himself, probably meaning only to cause a self-inflicted wound. Suspecting a suicide attempt, Cupples had intervened, and in the ensuing struggle had shot Manderson in the face.

The book ends with Trent vowing that he will never again attempt to dabble in crime detection.

Reception edit

G. K. Chesterton, author of the Father Brown mysteries, felt that this novel was "The finest detective story of modern times". (Bentley and Chesterton were close personal friends, and Bentley dedicated the book to Chesterton.) The book was influential in the postwar "Golden Age" of detective stories: Agatha Christie called Trent's Last Case "One of the three best detective stories ever written".[2] Dorothy L. Sayers wrote that "It shook the little world of the mystery novel like a revolution ... Every detective writer of today owes something, consciously or unconsciously, to its liberating and inspiring influence."[3] It was still admired in the second half of the century; literary critic Jacques Barzun, co-author of A Catalogue of Crime (1971), included it in his top ten mystery novels, as did mystery novelists Reginald Hill and Peter Straub.[4]

In his critique of the mystery genre, The Simple Art of Murder, Raymond Chandler ridiculed some plot points that he considered preposterous: "I have known relatively few international financiers, but I rather think the author of this novel has (if possible) known fewer."[5]

According to Aaron Marc Stein in his introduction to the 1977 edition, published by University Extension of UCSD: "At the risk of bringing down on his memory the wrath of the Baker Street Irregulars it must be recorded that Bentley had reservations about even the Conan Doyle originals. He deplored the great detective's lack of humor and he was irritated by the Sherlockian eccentricities.... Bentley had the idea of doing a detective who would be a human being and who would know how to laugh."

Adaptations edit

Film edit

The novel was adapted into a silent film directed by Richard Garrick in 1920.[6] A second adaptation (released in both a silent version and a sound version) was made by Howard Hawks in 1929.[7]

A third film adaptation was directed by Herbert Wilcox in 1952. It starred Michael Wilding as Trent, Orson Welles as Sigsbee Manderson, and Margaret Lockwood as Margaret Manderson.[8]

An excerpt of the book is recited in the film Places in the Heart (1984). The only part the audience hears is the opening line: "Chapter 1. Bad News. Between what matters and what seems to matter, how shall the world we know judge wisely?"

Television edit

The novel was adapted as an episode of the BBC anthology TV series Detective in April 1964, introduced by Rupert Davies as Maigret.[9] It starred Michael Gwynn as Trent, Carleton Hobbs as Cupples, Bill Nagy as Bunner, Penelope Horner as Mabel Manderson, Kenneth Fortescue as Marlowe, and Peter Williams as Sigsbee Manderson.[10]

Stage edit

The novel was adapted into a stage production by John Arden McClure, which premiered in January 2013 at the Broadway Onstage Live Theatre in Eastpointe, Michigan. It starred McClure as Trent, Daniel Woitulewicz as Cupples, Elizabeth Rager as Bunner, Stella Rothe as Mabel Manderson, Patrick John Sharpe as Marlowe, and Jack Abella as Sigsbee Manderson.[11]

Radio edit

The novel was adapted for the BBC National Programme in January 1934.[12] It was later serialised in 1950; and a further dramatisation was broadcast for the Home Service in 1963, starring Richard Hurndall.[13] Another radio adaptation was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in December 1986 with Martin Jarvis in the title role.[14]

A radio adaptation starring Ronald Colman was aired on 7 December 1953 on the American radio show Suspense.[citation needed]

Publication details edit

  • 1913, UK, Nelson (ISBN NA), Pub date 1913, Hardback (1st edition)
  • 1917, UK, Nelson (ISBN NA), Pub date 1917, Hardcover (4th edition)
  • 2005, US, Kessinger Publishing, ISBN 1-84637-709-9, Pub date 31 October 2005, Paperback
  • 2005, US, Echo Library, ISBN 978-1-84637-709-9, October 2005, Paperback

References edit

  1. ^ Campbell, Carol. "Mystery features detective who gets it wrong". Sunday-Gazette Mail. Charleston, WV: The Monday Book Club. Archived from the original on 13 July 2007. Retrieved 28 April 2015.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  2. ^ The quotations from Chesterton and Christie are blurbs from the back of the 1978 Harper and Row Perennial Library paperback edition.
  3. ^ Dorothy L. Sayers, "Introduction" to Bentley, Trent's Last Case (Harper and Row Perennial Library), introduction copyright 1978 by Anthony Fleming. Sayers' Introduction appears to have been written for a radio play, probably the 1934 BBC production, but was never used until this edition of the novel.
  4. ^ As per The Armchair Detective Book of Lists, ed. Kate Stine (New York: Otto Penzler Books, 1995).
  5. ^ Raymond Chandler, The Simple Art of Murder (1950) at The Faded Page, HTML version.
  6. ^ "Trent's Last Case (1920) - BFI". BFI. Archived from the original on 6 March 2016.
  7. ^ "Trent's Last Case (1929) - BFI". BFI. Archived from the original on 17 June 2016.
  8. ^ "Trent's Last Case (1952) - BFI". BFI. Archived from the original on 17 June 2016.
  9. ^ "Detective: Trent's Last Case". 13 April 1964. p. 25 – via BBC Genome.
  10. ^ "Trent's Last Case (1964)". BFI. Archived from the original on 17 February 2017.
  11. ^ Trent's Last Case, Broadway Onstage. Retrieved 28 April 2015.
  12. ^ "Trent's Last Case". 24 January 1934. p. 40 – via BBC Genome.
  13. ^ "The Sunday Play". 13 October 1968. p. 15 – via BBC Genome.
  14. ^ "Murder for Christmas". 31 December 1986. p. 123 – via BBC Genome.

Further reading edit

External links edit