Arthur Conan Doyle owed much to Edgar Allen Poe, and always acknowledged the debt. For example, Conan Doyle didn't invent the eccentric non-police detective or the admiring and less-astute narrator, Poe did. Doyle just brought the concepts to life in two immortal characters.
It is sometimes overlooked, however, that Conan Doyle developed some major conventions of the detective fiction genre that are still in use today. This post is devoted to just one of those, "The Birlstone Gambit."
The Birlstone Gambit was the name given by Ellery Queen biographer Francis M. Nevins to the central plot device of Conan Doyle’s final Sherlock Holmes novel, The Valley of Fear. (It might just as well have been called “The Norwood Gambit,” for it was used earlier in the Holmes short story of “The Norwood Builder.”)
Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee, two cousins who wrote mysteries under the Ellery Queen pseudonym, used variations of this gambit in four novels during the early 1930s, and discussed it as a possibility in another. They weren’t alone. Agatha Christie used the same device in my favorite of her novels, and so have hundreds of other mystery writers.
I am among them. In one of the works collected in Baker Street Beat I employed the Birlstone Gambit. I won't tell you which one, and I hope you will read the book and find out for yourself.
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