Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Old Man in the Corner  -  1909
Baroness Emmuska Orczy
186 pages
genre  -  Mystery
my rating  -  3 out of 5 stars

Miss Polly Burton is at her favorite café, reading a newspaper when a man sits at her table and declares, "There is no such thing as a mystery in connection with any crime, providing intelligence is brought to bear upon its investigation."

Polly "had never seen any one so pale, so thin, with such funny light-coloured hair...he looked so timid and nervous...he fidgeted incessantly with a piece of string..."

The man proceeds to relate the facts of a recent crime, and how he was able to solve the mystery just by gathering information at the courtroom and from the newspapers.  Polly is curious enough about the man and his ability to solve these cold cases that she continues to meet him at the café eleven more times. 

The 'old man in the corner' first appeared in The Royal Magazine in 1901 in a series of six "Mysteries of London". The following year he returned in seven "Mysteries of Great Cities" set in large provincial centers of the British Isles. The stories are told by an unnamed lady journalist who reports the conversation of the 'man in the corner' who sits at the same table in a teashop. For the book, twelve were rewritten in the third person, with the lady journalist now named Polly Burton.

The Fenchurch Street Mystery
The Robbery in Phillimore Terrace
The York Mystery
The Mysterious Death on the Underground Railroad
The Liverpool Mystery
The Edinburgh Mystery
The Theft at the English Provident Bank
The Dublin Mystery
An Unparalleled Outrage
The Regent's Park Murder
The De Genneville Peerage
The Mysterious Death in Percy Street

About the author  - 

Emma Magdolna Rozália Mária Jozefa Borbála "Emmuska" Orczy de Orczi  was born in Tarnaörs, Hungary, and was the daughter of  Baron Felix Orczy de Orczi and Countess Emma Wass von Szentegyed und Czege. Her parents left Hungary in 1868.

In 1880, the family moved to London. Orczy attended West London School of Art and then Heatherley's School of Fine Art.  It was at art school that she met a young illustrator named Montague MacLean Barstow, the son of an English clergyman; they married in 1894.

They had very little money, and Orczy started to work as a translator and an illustrator to supplement her husband's low earnings. John Montague Orczy-Barstow, their only child, was born on 25 February 1899. She started writing soon after his birth.

In 1903, Orczy and her husband wrote a play based on one of her short stories about an English aristocrat, Sir Percy Blakeney, who rescued French aristocrats from the French Revolution: The Scarlet Pimpernel. She submitted her novelization of the story under the same title to 12 publishers. While waiting for the decisions of these publishers, the play was performed in the West End. Initially, it drew small audiences, but the play ran four years in London. This theatrical success generated huge sales for the novel.

Orczy died in Henley-on-Thames on 12 November 1947.

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