The period between Sherlock Holmes and the coming of iconic characters such as Hercules Poirot, Nick Charles, Philip Marlowe, and Nero Wolfe is littered with a series of mostly forgotten detectives. One of these Professor Augustus S.F.X. Van Dusen created by Jacques Futrelle. Van Dusen appeared in one novel and fifty short stories between his creation in 1905 and the tragic death of Futrelle aboard the board the Titanic in 1912. Colonial Radio Theatre has brought Van Dusen back to life in its new series, The Thinking Machine.
In the early 20th Century were viewed primarily as puzzles and the two mysteries in the first volume of stories released by Colonial falls firmly into this category and they’re quite good puzzles: “The Problems of Dressing Room A” deals with an impossible disappearance from an actress from backstage during a performance in attire that could hardly be worn on the street. The second, “The Phantom Motor” deals with a motor car that impossibly disappears when passing between two police officers across a road known as, “The Trap.”
Professor Van Dusen (Lincoln Clark) is a genius (which he’ll gladly let you know) but he is not a detective. His process for solving mysteries is not so much deduction as thinking through the problem and finding a way to the solution. That’s one of the great highlights of the stories is how Van Dusen and newspaper reporter Hutchinson Hatch will hash out nearly all conceivable solutions with incisive and clever logic. Then Van Dusen thinks through a way to find the solution that most of the professionals have missed.
If there’s a downside to the production, it’s this: Van Dusen, like many amateur detectives during this period, knew they were smarter and better than you and had no qualms about letting others know it. In the early 20th century, readers were kind of tolerant of this as long as the detective got the job done. We live in an age where really don’t like people being better than us, and we certainly don’t like them making a point of it. Hercule Poirot has this problem to an extent but he makes up for it with a ton of charm. Van Dusen has no such endearing qualities. With Clark’s solid acting, the character could grow on listeners, but with only two mysteries in this first set, it’s kind of hard to gauge how successful he could be.
However, Clark ad the rest of the cast are solid, showcasing the high production values I’ve come to expect from Colonial Radio Theater. Overall, these are well- acted well-produced puzzle mysteries that’s worth a listen particularly if you’re curious about forgotten detectives of the early 20th cenury.
Rating: 3.75 out of 5.0
Disclosure note: The reviewer received a free review copy for an honest review of this production.
The Thinking Machine is available as an audible download here.
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