ARTHUR B. REEVE (1880-1936)
It is sometimes said that Thomas Edison invented the twentieth century. It could be said with equal justification that the public's fascination with science and inventions produced before World War I made possible the widespread success of Arthur B. Reeve's scientific sleuth, Craig Kennedy.
Reeve graduated from Princeton University with a Phi Beta Kappa key. He then studied law, but opted to practice journalism instead. He worked as an editor of Public Opinion, began writing science articles for magazines, and created detective stories in which scientific gadgets are the focus of the plot and the means of its solution.
Chemistry professor Craig Kennedy is Reeve's sleuth. A newspaper reporter named Walter Jameson is the tag-along narrator who, in the Watson tradition, asks the questions that provoke the scientific-sounding explanations that made Reeve's books best-sellers in the United States and Europe. Read today, some of the professor's science seems doubtful at best; but in Reeve's day, the pseudo-science sounded authentic enough to wow readers.
Without the science, Reeve's plots would be mundane. Certainly, his characters are cut out of cardboard. Kennedy is a Sherlock Holmes imitation, an omniscient sleuth whose ratiocinative powers are enhanced by his specialised knowledge. Whereas Holmes is an expert on gentlemanly clues like varieties of cigar ash, Kennedy is a wiz regarding whatever is new in the world of science. Years before the Federal Bureau of Investigation and its famous crime laboratory were created, Professor Kennedy was bringing criminals to justice by identifying typewriter keys, analyzing blood stains, detecting drugs through chemistry, using X-rays, and applying modern psychological principles. The War Department was so impressed by Professor Kennedy that it asked Reeve to establish a scientific crime laboratory to help in the detection of the Kaiser's spies during World War I.
«The Beauty Mask» is typical of Reeve's work. While readers today may chuckle delightedly at the no longer impressive 'scientific' explanations that Kennedy offers, his earnestness only adds to the period charm of the piece. And it is easy to imagine that the application of futuristic nuclear science to the unraveling of a crime was very exciting stuff in more innocent times.