My name is Mark Bielecki aka Dr. Whodunit. I was born in Grand Rapids, MI in the late 1940’s. Yeah, I know – I’m old. Throughout the last 60+ years, I’ve enjoyed great mystery stories that tickled my imagination and left me in a state of wonder. Hundreds of times I’ve solved the mystery, only to find out that I was wrong, and that I’d missed the most important clues. I still marvel at the creativity of the authors and can’t wait to read the next great story.
The Golden Age of Detective Fiction
So, what’s this blog all about? A long time ago, (not in a galaxy far, far away) I was a school kid reading the Hardy Boys mysteries. It was 1961. My cousin, who is a few years older than I, suggested I read a book of mysteries entitled “101 Years Entertainment – The Great Detective Stories”, which featured detective stories from the years 1840 – 1941. It’s a superb collection of short mystery stories by authors like Edgar Allen Poe, G.K. Chesterton, Agatha Christie, Rudyard Kipling, Ellery Queen, Rex Stout and numerous others..
It’s all about the Golden Age of Detective Fiction, when mysteries were more cerebral and often referred to as “Whodunits”. I was hooked. Mystery stories were different then. Violence, blood spattered crime scenes, shoot outs, etc., which we now call “reality”, were nowhere to be found in the best detective fiction. It was pure escapism and great fun.
World War Two signaled the end of the Golden Age and detective fiction moved toward the mystery / thriller genre and the “hard boiled” detectives like Mike Hammer, Philip Marlowe, Lew Archer, Sam Spade; and more recently Jack Reacher. Many of the great stories & characters from the Golden Age have been forgotten in the passing of time. You can find them on the internet if you know where to look & what to look for.
Today’s mystery reader may never have heard of Arsene Lupin, Raffles, The Thinking Machine, Dr. Thorndyke, Father Brown, Martin Hewitt, Max Carrados, Nero Wolfe, Ellery Queen & a host of others. The books have been retired from libraries. They’re just gone – or are they?
My mission is to bring these stories to a new generation of mystery fans – to bring them back to life as audiobooks.
So, what’s with the “Dr. Whodunit” schtick? The stories were written up to 180 years ago and were written in a disjointed version of English that we don’t use in the 21st century. It’s up to “the Doctor” to “fix them up” as they used to say.
Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. It’s the first three sentences from the very first American detective story published in 1841 – The Murders in the Rue Morgue by Edgar Allan Poe:
‘The mental features discoursed of as the analytical, are, in themselves, but little susceptible of analysis. We appreciate them only in their effects. We know of them, among other things, that they are always to their possessor, when inordinately possessed, a source of the liveliest enjoyment”
Lovers of old literature may enjoy puzzling out what the author is trying to say. Armchair Detectives, who are just looking for an entertaining mystery, may just scratch their heads and move on because the next sentences aren’t any clearer. The problem is much worse in an audiobook. The passage takes 19 seconds to say and then continues in the same vein. Sentences can be very hard to understand and the listener may lose interest quickly, depriving them of the enjoyment the story can actually provide.
To record audio of these stories in modern English, I’ve needed a script to work from. So, I’ve written adaptations of the stories, translating them into plain, more modern language while preserving the characters, plotlines and other details of the story. The re-written sentences above are:
“The mental talents used in solving complicated mysteries, are, in fact, mysteries themselves. We know they exist because of the puzzles, conundrums and mysteries that they solve. To the people who have these talents, they are a source of pride & enjoyment.”
Over the next few weeks, months & hopefully years, I’ll be presenting modern adaptations of some of the Golden Age detective stories – Starting with “The Chase of the Golden Plates” adapted from a novel by Jacques Futrelle. It will introduce you to Professor A.S.F.X. Van Dusen – The Thinking Machine.
If you love good mysteries, stick around. We’re going to have some fun.
– Mark Bielecki aka Dr. Whodunit