CLINTON H. STAGG (1890-1916)
Little is known about the short-lived Clinton H. Stagg, creator of Thornley Colton, Blind Detective. Readers must turn to the fiction itself for clues about the character of its author.
In inventing an early example of a sleuth who uses a physical handicap to advantage, Stagg repeatedly proved that apparent limitations can be overcome with intelligence. At a time when people with disabilities were commonly viewed as figures of pity, Stagg made his blind sleuth a figure of admiration.
Stagg worked in the Sherlock Holmes tradition, endowing his sleuth with superb mental powers enhanced by extraordinary abilities in interpreting clues. Whereas Holmes may have known how to identify numerous varieties of cigar ash, Colton uses supersensitive powers of hearing and touch to provide a unique outlook on clues that the sighted police cannot see. Like Holmes, Colton is teamed with a Watson figure, Sydney Thames, whom Colton picked up on the banks of that London river; he accompanies Colton and receives his explanations with awe. When, for instance, in a crowded New York hotel dining room the blind sleuth remarks that a woman is too heavily rouged, Thames is predictably amazed. "Good heavens, Thorn!" he exclaims in Watsonesque wonder. "Sometimes I wonder if you are blind!" His mentor explains that his fingers tell him much. "In the lights of a Broadway restaurant the keyboard of silence gives me the secrets of living hearts," Colton intones. Such heightened sensitivity as compensation for blindness was used earlier by the British author Ernest Bramah, who created the blind detective Max Carrados, and later by the American writer Baynard Kendrick, whose sightless sleuth was Captain Duncan Maclain.
Colton 's leg man, Shrimp, is another sad case whom the hero has rescued. This freckle-faced lad with a penchant for imitating his dime-novel hero, Nick Carter, is also known as 'The Fee,' because he was the only payment Colton received for a case in which the murder of Shrimp's mother by his father left him orphaned.
«The Keyboard of Silence» is collected in a volume of eight problems solved by the supersensitive sleuth. It demonstrates Stagg's extraordinary eye for detail and shows the characters-hero and criminal alike-as spokesmen for their creator, who has eluded literary historians. Like the major players in his story, Stagg was a 'detailist' who plotted his mysteries and planned their solutions with consummate care. Along the way, a profound insight into character guides the blind detective toward the truth. Readers may agree that they cannot see the solution to this problem "until a blind man has shown them."