The Observations and Obsessions of a Superego's Sidekick

Philo Vance

Both my Plinky and blog sites appeared to be littered with book reviews, maybe they’re both morphing into that sort of site, not surprising though, books are a huge part of my life. The book I’m reading at the moment on my Kindle is the last of the Philo Vance detective stories, The Winter Murder Case by S. S. Van Dine. There are 12 Philo Vance novels in total, all written and set in 1920’s & 30’s New York.

S.S. Van Dine was a pseudonym for the writer Willard Huntington Wright, his last book being published posthumously. I can’t even remember how I came across these books, perhaps I saw a reference to Philo Vance in another book I was reading. All the same though I’ve loved these books and have read them one after the other, over the last few weeks.

I would recommend these books but not to everyone, the writing is a little old fashioned, but the writers use of the English language is exquisite. Fortunately the kindle allows you to highlight words and find the definition and I’ve discovered some incredibly beautiful words. However these are clever detective stories, particularly the early ones and they’re solvable. I abhor detective novels where it’s impossible for the reader to work out ‘whodunit’, to me that’s not playing fair.

But the main reason I love these books is because of Philo Vance. I downloaded the first book and enjoyed it and so downloaded the rest. Very early on in the second book, I fell in love with Philo Vance and can pinpoint the exact moment.

It was in the book, The Canary Murder Case, canary being the well known soubriquet of the murder victim Margaret Odell, a famous singer and dancer (no stampeding to the comment section, I haven’t given anything away) and follows:

‘Currie sensed an emergency and departed. A minute or two later Vance, in an elaborately embroidered silk kimono and sandals, appeared at the living room door.

“My word!” he greeted us, in mild astonishment, glancing at the clock. “Haven’t you chaps gone to bed yet?”

He strolled to the mantel and selected a gold-tipped Régie cigarette from a small Florentine humidor. Markham’s eyes narrowed; he was in no mood for levity.

“The Canary has been murdered,” I blurted out.

Vance held his wax vesta poised and gave me a look of indolent inquisitiveness. “Whose canary?”‘


The Canary Murder Case with William Powell as Philo Vance and Louise Brooks as Margaret Odell (The Canary)

That was the moment, that I fell in love and would have adored to be his friend. He would have infuriated me, and I dare say at times I would have wanted to kill him, but then at times I feel that way about some of my dearest friends. Why, because despite that, or perhaps because of that, they’re the most inspiring, comforting, enjoyable, exciting and lovable people I’m blessed to know.  And I get a sense of that about Philo Vance.  He came alive to me.

No doubt Philo Vance is irritating, a regular polymath, a know it all, not a ‘Cliff Clavin’ know it all, but one you however can’t help admiring. He’s a gentleman, a connoisseur and gentle soul.

As the poet Ogden Nash wrote ‘Philo Vance needs a kick in the pance’.

I’m quite sure if you decide to give these books a try, you’ll feel the same way on a regular basis, but you will laugh and you may even work out a couple of the culprits. These books are great, give them a try, and enjoy.

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