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Trent's Last Case (Philip Trent, #1)
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Group reads > June 2017 - Trent's Last Case

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Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 8436 comments Mod
Welcome to our June group read, Trent's Last Case by E.C. Bentley.

Trent's Last Case (Philip Trent, #1) by E.C. Bentley

This book also has the alternative title The Woman in Black - some editions have both titles.

This thread is for people who may not have finished the book yet, so please don't post any spoilers here, but save them for the spoiler thread.


Jill (dogbotsmum) | 1874 comments I liked the writing of this book , but I did not warm to any of the characters.


Sandy | 2563 comments Mod
I'm half through and started liking the writing style a lot, but am beginning to think it too wordy. It certainly an example of the non-police in GA mysteries traipsing all over the crime scenes.


Susan | 9436 comments Mod
As I said in the other thread, it is, quite obviously a very early example of detective fiction. I think, if I am remember correctly, it was published in 1913? It liked it better than another early mystery I remember reading, The Cask; although that was published in 1920. I recall in The Cask, the police detective had to work out how to telephone information somewhere and book calls. So, I suppose things like that - which made sense at the time - slow down the pace from the fast moving world we are used to.


Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 8436 comments Mod
Yes, this was a very early GA mystery, published in 1913 as you say, Susan. I believe it was very influential - it is referenced in so many of the mysteries we have been reading here that I was curious to read it. I haven't read The Cask yet but keep meaning to.

I rather liked the wordy writing style, but found it less witty than I expected from this author, as he is famous for writing his comic 'Clerihew' poems! I didn't really warm to any of the characters either - I enjoyed Trent at the start, where he is a bit over the top and there are shades of the silly ass persona of other detectives I've liked, but he becomes much more restrained as the book goes on.


Lady Clementina ffinch-ffarowmore | 1135 comments I quite enjoyed it as well- particularly because of the various little surprises one gets along the way.


Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 8436 comments Mod
What did anyone think of the prologue about Manderson's career? I found this very heavy going and if the book hadn't been a group read I might have been put off... but once I'd got through that part I enjoyed the main novel a lot more.

I'm going back to it now to reread it and see if I get more out of it after finishing the book.


Lady Clementina ffinch-ffarowmore | 1135 comments Judy wrote: "What did anyone think of the prologue about Manderson's career? I found this very heavy going and if the book hadn't been a group read I might have been put off... but once I'd got through that par..."

It did drag a little for me too - but I thought it was meant to acquaint us with his character - perhaps give us a clue or two - but then didn'r remember enough of it when the murder investigation actually began.


Susan | 9436 comments Mod
As with so many of these GA mysteries, the victim seems to be disliked by just about everyone, poor guy. Even from the beginning, Trent feels more for his widow (despite her being a potential suspect) and doesn't really give the victim a thought, other than as a problem to be solved. I felt I needed to feel sorry for him, even if he was fictional!


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Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 8436 comments Mod
The victim certainly isn't too popular! I was wondering if rereading that prologue might give me more of a clue to his character, but I stalled on it last night - will give it another try.

There seem to be a lot of victims that everyone hates in some more modern mysteries too, such as the Midsomer Murders on TV which I've been catching up with recently...


Lady Clementina ffinch-ffarowmore | 1135 comments Susan wrote: "As with so many of these GA mysteries, the victim seems to be disliked by just about everyone, poor guy. Even from the beginning, Trent feels more for his widow (despite her being a potential suspe..."

Its very rarely that they are...


Lady Clementina ffinch-ffarowmore | 1135 comments Judy wrote: " Midsomer Murders on TV ..." I used to watch those a lot but not lately- I haven't watched too many since the other Inspector Barnaby took over (not his fault- just the timings and such)


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Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 8436 comments Mod
Lady Clementina wrote: "Judy wrote: " Midsomer Murders on TV ..." I used to watch those a lot but not lately- I haven't watched too many since the other Inspector Barnaby took over (not his fault- just the timings and such)"

For some reason I had never watched it - my family just got into it recently, and we now have endless episodes to catch up on! I do prefer the first Inspector Barnaby, John Nettles (who I also liked as Bergerac many years ago...) but the other one is good too.


message 14: by Judy (last edited Jun 03, 2017 12:33AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 8436 comments Mod
I was a bit surprised by the whole set-up in this book of the newspaper sending Trent along to solve the crime as opposed to reporting on it! Can't quite see that happening in real life, but I suppose it is no more unlikely than most of the other amateur sleuths in GA mysteries.

However, as someone who worked in local newspapers for many years, I slightly choked on my cup of tea at this line:

"You could do it,” the editor had urged. “You can write good stuff, and you know how to talk to people, and I can teach you all of the technicalities of a reporter’s job in half an hour.

Many years ago when I started out as a reporter it took 5 months pre-entry training (they wouldn't have had this in 1913 of course) and 2 years on the job... learning shorthand alone in half an hour would be quite a stretch! I suppose Trent is a genius though, lol.


Lady Clementina ffinch-ffarowmore | 1135 comments Judy wrote: "I was a bit surprised by the whole set-up in this book of the newspaper sending Trent along to solve the crime as opposed to reporting on it! Can't quite see that happening in real life, but I supp..."

Probably and the paper wants him associated with them because of his detecting skills- who wouldn't want the scoop?


Sandy | 2563 comments Mod
I reread the first chapter after finishing the book and found it an amusing melodramatic set up for the rest of the book. I am more appreciative of the book after this thread pointed out it was published in 1913 and perhaps written as a spoof.


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Abigail Bok (regency_reader) | 715 comments I agree about the many improbabilities in this story so far (I’m about chapter 4 or 5.) The whole journalist thing as pointed out by Judy, plus the ridiculous serendipity of Trent’s having a close friend who happens to be there, happens to be related to the family, is eager to serve Trent’s ends, the wife of the victim exempting Trent from her ban on all other press, etc.


message 18: by Judy (last edited Jun 04, 2017 12:21AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 8436 comments Mod
This sort of amazing coincidence seems to happen a lot in Victorian novels - characters in Hardy who visit London are always running into their friends from Wessex - and 1913 wasn't so long afterwards. I think coincidences might die down a bit in slightly later GA novels? Must admit I hadn't quite taken in how unlikely all this aspect is until you pointed it out, Abigail...


Lady Clementina ffinch-ffarowmore | 1135 comments Judy wrote: "This sort of amazing coincidence seems to happen a lot in Victorian novels - characters in Hardy who visit London are always running into their friends from Wessex - and 1913 wasn't so long afterwa..."

There were perhaps a few too many but they needn't necessarily have been all unlikely- I mean Mr (I'm terrible with names)- Mabel's uncle being Trent's friend and on the spot was one but the rest of him getting access and Mabel exempting him from other restrictions followed from that.


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Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 8436 comments Mod
I can see your point, Clementina - one thing does follow on from another, but it just seems so easy fpr Trent to gain full access and wander all over the crime scene - though to be fair this is very much in the tradition of Sherlock Holmes.


Lady Clementina ffinch-ffarowmore | 1135 comments Judy wrote: "I can see your point, Clementina - one thing does follow on from another, but it just seems so easy fpr Trent to gain full access and wander all over the crime scene - though to be fair this is ver..."

Yes- if there is a "famous" detective who gets it right every time (or has the reputation for doing so), one would be inclined to give him access if it meant clearing things up.


Susan | 9436 comments Mod
I suppose with forensics being less important (I doubt even fingerprints figured in most early investigations), there was no real issue with showing outsiders a crime scene. It is only fairly recently that rooms are sealed and contamination considered. To an early police detective, the issues were - was a window left open, were there letters burnt in the grate, etc etc.


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Abigail Bok (regency_reader) | 715 comments I think there may be some residual class prejudice involved in Trent’s getting access. Newspaper reporters and policemen were (supposedly) drawn from the working classes, while Trent, with his literary allusions, seems to be thoroughly “U.” The family of the victim (even though the victim himself would have been non-U—at least until he became fabulously rich) would feel better about having the “proper sort” poking into their lives instead of the vulgar.


message 24: by Jill (last edited Jun 07, 2017 06:47PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jill Hutchinson (bucs1960) Good point, Abigail. Notice how many of the famous GA amateur detectives either have a title, are independently wealthy, are lawyers/ scientists/doctors/professors, and all are thoroughly "U". They are immediately welcomed to the scene of the crime and can trample all over what we now consider evidence since it was before the science of forensics as Susan pointed out.


Lady Clementina ffinch-ffarowmore | 1135 comments Abigail wrote: "I think there may be some residual class prejudice involved in Trent’s getting access. Newspaper reporters and policemen were (supposedly) drawn from the working classes, while Trent, with his lite..."
That makes a lot of sense.


Susan | 9436 comments Mod
Trent obviously knew these people (literally in one case), but, as Abigail points out, he knew their world. Often, the actual police detective is either aristocratic himself or else relies on an amateur detective who can move in the world he finds himself in.


Marcus Vinicius | 169 comments Advancing in the book. I'm not disliking it, but the story's development appears low to me.


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Abigail Bok (regency_reader) | 715 comments Last night I read chapter 8, and I was struck by the deftness and surprising concision of the writing—on occasion. (At other times it seems diffuse.) Check out how Bentley describes the coroner: “The coroner, who fully realized that for that one day of his life as a provincial solicitor he was living in the gaze of the world, had resolved to be worthy of the fleeting eminence. He was a large man of jovial temper, with a strong interest in the dramatic aspects of his work, and the news of Manderson’s mysterious death within his jurisdiction had made him the happiest coroner in England. A respectable capacity for marshalling facts was fortified in him by a copiousness of impressive language that made juries as clay in his hands, and sometimes disguised a doubtful interpretation of the rules of evidence.” Based on this description I felt I really knew this person. Jane Austen couldn’t have done it better.

Sadly, the subsequent inquest scene gave no indication in the coroner’s dialogue of any of these traits. Some people have gifts of dialogue and others, gifts of narrative; Bentley seems to fall in the latter category.


Sandy | 2563 comments Mod
I was quite amused by the "happiest coroner in England" phrase when I read it.


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Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 8436 comments Mod
That description of the coroner is great! Good point though, Abigail, about Bentley not following through with dialogue to express this character.

He's a witty writer and that's one of the pleasures of this book - that reminds me that Bentley is also famed for his comic poems, known as 'Clerihews' after his middle name, such as:

Sir Christopher Wren
Said, 'I am going to dine with some men.
If anyone calls
Say I am designing St. Paul's.

There are some more on this page:
http://www.theotherpages.org/poems/be...


message 31: by Jill (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jill Hutchinson (bucs1960) I discovered his Clerihews several years ago and was enchanted by them......so witty.


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Abigail Bok (regency_reader) | 715 comments Reading the chapter last night when Trent confronts Mrs. Manderson, and Bentley’s style is now straying into the gothic horror genre! Finding this book occasionally delightful but very inconsistent.


Marcus Vinicius | 169 comments I am reading the book and, by now, the challenge is the many descriptions provided by Trent, our journalist/detective or detective/journalist. Who knows?


Sandy | 2563 comments Mod
Marcus wrote: "I am reading the book and, by now, the challenge is the many descriptions provided by Trent, our journalist/detective or detective/journalist. Who knows?"

He considers himself an artist.


Susan | 9436 comments Mod
Does anyone find the combination of artist, journalist and amateur detective odd? It seemed quite acceptable to have far ranging interests then - such as being a businessman and amateur scientist, for example. Although the Victorian age was probably more the age of hobbies.


message 36: by Judy (new) - rated it 3 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 8436 comments Mod
It seems quite an odd combination, I agree - I suppose GA amateur detectives are usually quite wealthy, so they don't have to work long hours and have plenty of time left over for their hobbies, including detecting...


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Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 8436 comments Mod
I've just been looking up some info about Bentley and have belatedly realised he was a journalist himself for most of his life - not sure if this has already been mentioned?

He worked for the Daily News and the Daily Telegraph. So the whole thing about Trent being able to learn the job in half an hour is looking like an in-joke!

Here is a link to a short publisher bio: https://www.curtisbrown.co.uk/client/...#!


Lady Clementina ffinch-ffarowmore | 1135 comments Susan wrote: "Does anyone find the combination of artist, journalist and amateur detective odd? It seemed quite acceptable to have far ranging interests then - such as being a businessman and amateur scientist, ..."

Not entirely- there were as you said in the past (even now) people who are interested in a range of subjects and contribute to them all


message 39: by Abigail (new) - added it

Abigail Bok (regency_reader) | 715 comments The artist/journalist/detective thing didn’t really bother me, especially given that detecting was to a much greater degree an amateur thing in those days (and still is within the pages of cozies). I think the whole polymath thing is in part a reflection of the smaller pool of educated people in those days and a much smaller pool of information available to know—so it was easier to be expert in multiple fields. We didn’t really lose that till after WWII.

But it happens even today in the heterogeneous lives of people in the arts. I know a sculptor/social worker/political operative, a journalist/photographer/zumba instructor, and a poet/painter/sculptor/world-class expert on international water issues in developing countries—all living within five blocks of my house. So few people have the luxury of pursuing arts as a primary profession, no matter how accomplished they might be, so they do both what they can and what they must.


Lady Clementina ffinch-ffarowmore | 1135 comments Abigail wrote: " I think the whole polymath thing is in part a reflection of the smaller pool of educated people in those days and a much smaller pool of information available to know...."

I never thought of it that way- in terms of a more limited amount of information I mean. But it makes a great deal of sense. That also reminded me of something i read in Kipling's Puck of Pook Hill books- somebody from the past, though I famous adventurer did not know as many things as the little children of the day did.

But on a separate point, I feel people who had a broader range of interests also had a more holistic perspective of things- I mean in the specialists of today, we often find they are focused on that one thing they work on so much that sometimes they don't bother to look at the complete picture. Totally unrelated but in specialty hospitals for instance, you find the doctor at times concentrating on only his task without often considering the overall picture- he treats x and sends you on to the next person for y etc and sometimes the patient is the one to have to figure out where he needs to start in the first place.


Susan | 9436 comments Mod
I think it is a wonderful thing to have a range of interests. I suppose many upper class people of that period had a private income (like Wimsey) which allowed him to indulge his loves over the mundane need to make money.


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Abigail Bok (regency_reader) | 715 comments Your example of a specialist doctor is an excellent one, Lady Clementina! Sometimes I want to sing "Dem Bones" in their faces when they get too narrowly focused. I had one recently who X-rayed my lower back but refused to include an image of my hip, even though my problem involved both areas and the set of the hip might have been causing the back problem. I was supposed to go back to my primary, get a referral to a different orthopedist, get a new set of X-rays and a new opinion, then go back to the back doctor.


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Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 8436 comments Mod
This wasn't in fact Trent's last case, as Bentley wrote another novel about him and a collection of short stories! Is anyone tempted to read on?


Lady Clementina ffinch-ffarowmore | 1135 comments Judy wrote: "This wasn't in fact Trent's last case, as Bentley wrote another novel about him and a collection of short stories! Is anyone tempted to read on?"

I do plan on giving it a try- when though I can't exactly say owing to current TBR :)


Susan | 9436 comments Mod
If another book were chosen as a group read I would read it happily, but with the huge number of series/books on my TBR shelf, I don't think it would be a top priority.


message 46: by Jill (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jill (dogbotsmum) | 1874 comments I feel the same as Susan. Maybe one day I will get around to more of his books.


Sandy | 2563 comments Mod
I, like Susan and Jill, will try the second if it is a group read. I'm mildly interested in whether his marriage worked.


Marcus Vinicius | 169 comments Reading Trent's Last Case. The book sound interesting. Never anticipated that our so called detective was so foolish. I'm expecting that he will redeem himself... I'm in chapter XIV now.


message 49: by Jill (last edited Jun 14, 2017 10:34AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jill Hutchinson (bucs1960) Looks like there are two more Trent books. One a full length novel and one a collection of short stories featuring Trent.

Trent's Own Case by E.C. Bentley and Trent Intervenes by E.C. Bentley by E.C. Bentley


Lady Clementina ffinch-ffarowmore | 1135 comments Marcus wrote: "Reading Trent's Last Case. The book sound interesting. Never anticipated that our so called detective was so foolish. I'm expecting that he will redeem himself... I'm in chapter XIV now."

I don't think he was foolish as much as didn't have all the relevant factors before him.


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