Mobsters, Molls, Moguls, and Chorus Girls: Americans in British Detective Classics

Mobsters, Molls, Moguls, and Chorus Girls: Americans in British Detective Classics

Ah, Americans. We love to flash cash, attempt world domination, overeat, and barge into parties loudly—at least, that’s the depiction of Yanks in the classic age of British detective fiction in the 1910s through the ’40s. And this was pre-reality TV!

Mobsters, Molls, Moguls, and Chorus Girls: Americans in British Detective Classics

Look for comedic misfortune or a gruesome fate to befall visiting Americans when they wander into English country house parties or invade the South of France in the hands of clever Brits such as Agatha Christie and G.K. Chesterton. Herewith, some of classic mystery’s most entertaining Americans abroad.

  • Irene Adler: Sherlock Holmes predates the Golden Age of British mysteries, but interestingly, the woman who beguiled him in Conan Doyle’s series was a beautiful adventuress born in …New Jersey.
  • Rufus Van Aldin, a controlling American millionaire living in London in Agatha Christie’s The Mystery of the Blue Train (1928), is given to buying enormous jewels for his daughter Ruth, who is married to roguish man-about-town Derek Kettering. When Ruth makes the unfortunate decision to bring a famous ruby on the train from Paris to Nice, fatal consequences ensue.
  • Jane Wilkinson is a gorgeous American actress who has enamored audiences in London’s West End and married the eponymous and angry peer in Christie’s Lord Edgware Dies (1933). Don’t want to offer any spoilers, but Jane hasn’t been the most loyal wife. She probably should have stayed in Hollywood.
  • Ivor Llewellyn and Lottie Blossom, in P.G. Wodehouse’s The Luck of the Bodkins (1935), are scheming movie types from California, too. Wodehouse offers humor with a touch of “mystery lite” in this farce, which begins with the portly Hollywood mogul Llewellyn perched on the terrace of a pricey hotel in Cannes, and soon finds him embroiled in a scheme to smuggle pearls through U.S. Customs.
  • Julius K. Brayne (file under “best name ever”) is an overfed and gullible dinner guest alongside Father Brown in G.K. Chesterton’s The Secret Garden (1911). Things don’t go too well for Mr. Brayne (or for his brain).
  • Americans as a free-spending group are the target customers in Dame Christie’s later work At Bertram’s Hotel (1965), in which Miss Marple is up from St. Mary Mead and spending time shopping and sightseeing at a classic London hotel where sinister mob activity lurks alongside the tea, scones, and chintz.
  • Americans are on board, of course, in Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express (1934)Can’t wait to see the new cinematic version this month. Johnny Depp as gangster/murderer Mr. Ratchett? Why not!

Amy Korman is a former senior editor and staff writer for Philadelphia Magazine and has written for Town & CountryHouse Beautiful, and Men’s Health. She is the author of Killer Wasps, Killer Getaway, and Killer Punch, and her new book, Killer Holiday, is just out from Witness Impulse.

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