Monday, February 04, 2013

Mystery reading by Justice Holmes and friends.

He had just discovered [E. Phillips] Oppenheim and had been revelling in the world of international intrigue into which Oppenheim had transplanted him.

—1932 research material on Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. by Mark DeWolfe Howe
Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.,
ca. 1924. Library of Congress,
Prints and Photographs Div.
Justice Sonia Sotomayer and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's fondness for Nancy Drew has precedence on the Supreme Court. Harvard Law School Library's impressive digital project on Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. sheds further light on his mystery reading (Holmes once confessed his "ignoble liking" for detective stories to British jurist Sir Frederick Pollock). In one letter, he states, "I like what I have read of John Dickson Carr—(author of The Lost Gallows)" [1931]. An inventory of Holmes's library after his death in 1935 lists John Buchan's Greenmantle (1916) and The Three Hostages (1924), Dashiell Hammett's Red Harvest (1929), Oppenheim's A Prince of Sinners (1903) and Prodigals of Monte Carlo (1926), Dorothy L. Sayers's Have His Carcase (1932), and Edgar Wallace's The Man at the Carlton (1931). He also had a copy of Anna Katharine Green's The Leavenworth Case (1878, part of the Haycraft-Queen list of essential mysteries) with the following inscription by the author: "To Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes with birthday congratulations from Anna Katharine Green Rohlfs. Buffalo, March, 1926."

Some of Holmes's friends were equally enthusiastic about mysteries. In one letter, his British Marxist-socialist friend Harold Laski notes Freeman Wills Crofts's Inspector French's Greatest Case (1925), "which I commend warmly to you if it comes your way" and later urges Holmes to read Crofts's The Cask (1920; both books are on the Haycraft-Queen list). In another letter, Laski expresses appreciation for Mary Davies and the Manor of Ebury by Charles T. Gatty; in yet another letter, he recommends Philip MacDonald's The White Crow (1928) and The Rasp (1924; the latter is on the Haycraft-Queen list).

Pollock sent Holmes a list of his recommended detective stories, with a note by the names of Sayers and Agatha Christie that stated, "anything by either of these writers may be presumed to be good." Pollock's list included Margery Allingham, G. D. H. Cole, R. Austin Freeman, Ronald A. Knox, Anthony Rolls, Henry Wade, and Victor L. Whitechurch. It appears that Holmes did not need Pollock's prompting regarding Christie, as evidenced by the following passage from Some Table Talk of Mr. Justice Holmes and the Mrs. (1935): "Mrs. Agatha Christie may be pleased some day to know that at this moment [May 1933] she was sharing his attention and his praise with Aristotle."

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