01 August 2014

Victorian Psycho

The Devil's Die
Grant Allen
New York: F.M. Lupton, [1893]
271 pages

This review, revised and rewritten, now appears in my new book:
The Dusty Bookcase:
A Journey Through Canada's
Forgotten, Neglected, and Suppressed Writing
Available at the very best bookstores and through


  1. Harry Chichele is only one of many fictional egocentric scientists obsessed with bacteria and viruses who conduct murderous experiments on humans. Grant Allen's fellow Strand magazine writers L.T. Meade & Robert Eustace wrote several stories about criminal masterminds who resort to germs as a murder means. The title character in Dr. Krasinski's Secret by M. P. Shiel could be Harry's evil twin so alike are they in warped intellect and conceit. And there is the villain in A Master of the Microbe by Robert W. Service. Say, shouldn't you be writing about Service's thrillers one of these days? Didn't someone once call him the "Canadian Kipling"?

    1. You've got me wanting to read everything you've mentioned, John. And you are right that it is about time I read Service's fiction. Long overdue.

      Spoiler: In all fairness to Doctor Chichele, he resorts to germs as a murderous means only once. That his intended victim, Olwen, survives is due his own efforts. You see, he has a change of heart.

      As a result - BIG spoiler - Chichele himself dies after contracting the disease from his wife. Now, I would've seen this coming except that the doctor's death occurs roughly two-thirds of the way through the novel. It's a bit like Janet Leigh dying in the first reel of Psycho.

      Oh. So, um, Marion Crane/Harry Chichele isn't the main character?

  2. White supremacy is a common theme in the early frontier fiction I've read, though occasionally challenged there, as well.

    Anti-Chinese sentiment on the West Coast was rampant. Efforts were made to thwart and discourage immigration. Harte notes in his novella "The Blue-Grass Penelope" that they were not allowed to testify in court, so a white man could "trust" them with incriminating evidence of wrong-doing.

    1. Interesting, Ron. In The Devil's Die a "Chinaman" is accused of cheating at cards and hanged without trial. Englishman Ivan Royle - whom the townsfolk invariably refer to as a "tenderfoot" - very nearly meets the same fate for questioning the execution.

  3. Is The Devil's Die actually a misreading of Grant Allen's own title? The Devil's Due- as in "Give the Devil his due"- is a much more common phrase and fits in with your comment on the plot.

    1. I was wondering about the title myself, then encountered this passage: "Kismet, kismet; it was all fated. Always fate; that dreaded destiny. The devil's die had been cast long sinoe."

      Then we get this: "The devil's die had been cast to no purpose…"

      Finally, we have doomed Harry Chichele crying out in despair: "The devil has held the dice all through."

      Curiously, all these passages come from the second half of the novel.