Author: Anthony Berkeley
Original language: English
CONCERNING ROGER SHERINGHAM
ROGER SHERINGHAM was born in 1891, in a small English provincial town near London where his father practised as a doctor; Roger therefore grew up in a familiar atmosphere of drugs and medical talk. He was an only child, and was educated in the usual English way for the sons of professional men; that is to say, he went first to a local day school, then at the age of ten as a boarder to a preparatory school, in Surrey; then at fourteen he won a small scholarship at one of the ancient smaller public schools which despise Eton and Harrow just as thoroughly as Eton and Harrow ignore them; and finally, in 1910, he went up to Merton College, Oxford, where he failed to win a scholarship. At Oxford he read classics and history, and took a second class in each, but distinguished himself more conspicuously by winning his blue in his last year for golf; he played rugby football for his college, but did not shine at it, and he lazed most of his summer terms away in a punt on the Cherwell. He was just able to take his degree before the war shut Oxford down like an extinguisher.
Roger served from 1914 to 1918 in a sound line regiment, was wounded twice, not very seriously, and though recommended twice for the Military Cross and once for the D.S.O. was awarded nothing, which privately annoyed him a good deal.
After the war he spent a couple of years trying to find out what nature had intended him to do in life; and it was only after spasmodic interludes as a schoolmaster, in business, and even as a chicken farmer, that by the merest chance he bought some pens, some ink, and some paper, and at enormous speed dashed off a novel. To his extreme surprise the novel jumped straight into the best – selling ranks both in England and America, and Roger had found his vocation. He exchanged his pens for a typewriter, engaged a secretary, and got down to it. He was always careful to treat his writing as a business and nothing else. Privately he had quite a poor opinion of his own books, combined with a horror of ever becoming like some of the people with whom his new work brought him into contact: authors who take their own work with such deadly seriousness, talk about it all the time, and consider themselves geniuses beside whom Wells and Kipling and Sinclair Lewis are just amateurs. For this reason he was always careful to keep his hobbies well in the front of his mind; and his chief hobby was criminology, which appealed not only to his sense of the dramatic but to his feeling for character.
It had never occurred to him that he himself might have any gifts as a detective, though a love of puzzles of all kinds had been handed down to him by his father; so that when on a visit to a country house called Layton Court in 1924 his host was discovered one morning dead in his library, in circumstances pointing to suicide, it did not occur to Roger at once to make any investigations on his own account. It was only when certain points struck him as curious that his inquisitive nature asserted itself. The same thing happened at a town called Wychford, which was in a ferment over the arrest of the French wife of one of its leading citizens on a charge of poisoning her husband. The woman and her husband were both complete strangers to him, but Roger on the evidence in the newspapers decided that she was innocent, and really more for his own gratification than anything else set out to prove it. This case brought him the recognition of Scotland Yard and a certain amount of publicity; with the result that his hobby developed and he was soon in a position to take an active part in any case which interested him.
Just as Roger – the – novelist had determined to avoid becoming like the worse specimens of that profession, so Roger – the – detective was anxious not to resemble the usual pompous and irritating detective of fiction – or rather, one should say, of the fiction at the time when he began his career, for the fashion in detectives has since altered considerably. He knew that he could never pose as one of the hatchet – faced, tight – lipped, hawk – eyed lot, while his natural loquaciousness would prevent him from ever being inscrutable. As a result he went perhaps too far to the other extreme and erred on the side of breeziness.
In matters of detection Roger Sheringham knows his own limitations. He recognizes that although argument and logical deduction from fact are not beyond him, his faculty for deduction from character is a bigger asset to him; and he knows quite well that he is not infallible. He has, in point of fact, very often been quite wrong. But that never deters him from trying again. For the rest, he has unbounded confidence in himself and is never afraid of taking grave decisions, and often quite illegal ones, when he thinks that pure justice can be served better in this way than by twelve possibly stupid jurymen. Many people like him enormously, and many people are irritated by him beyond endurance; he is quite indifferent to both. Possibly he is a good deal too pleased with himself, but he does not mind that either. Give him his three chief interests in life, and he is perfectly happy – criminology, human nature, and good beer.