In the Fog by Richard Harding Davis
In the Fog
Richard Harding Davis
  • Category:Crime Fiction
  • Date Read:18 March 2024
  • Year Published:1901
  • Pages:144
  • 3.5 stars
Toriaz

In the Fog is an unusual mystery set in an exclusive London Club on the night following the great fog of 1897. Four strangers are dining at the Club, while a fifth, Sir Andrew, finishes reading a pulp mystery novel before he returns to Parliament to speak in favour of an important Bill.

One of the group of four tells the others that he wishes Sir Andrew was only just beginning the novel rather than finishing it. It is well known that Sir Andrew is completely addicted to mysteries and will neglect his duties to read. If he was just starting a new mystery, there was no way he would leave it for his parliamentary duties.

“Since I have been a member of Parliament I have never seen him in the library without a shilling shocker in his hands. He brings them even into the sacred precincts of the House, and from the Government benches reads them concealed inside his hat. Once started on a tale of murder, robbery, and sudden death, nothing can tear him from it, not even the call of the division bell, nor of hunger, nor the prayers of the party Whip. He gave up his country house because when he journeyed to it in the train he would become so absorbed in his detective stories that he was invariably carried past his station.”

But unfortunately for the man addressing the others, Sir Andrew is on the final pages of his book and will soon leave the Club. This man, never named in the story, is against the Bill as its purpose is to fund five new British battleships. This will cost the British taxpayer many millions of pounds, and the unnamed man, another member of Parliament, opposes the expense. He briefly fantasises about taking violent action against Sir Andrew and even offers 5,000 pounds to anyone who could put a new Sherlock Holmes story into Sir Andrew’s hands right at that moment.

The reference to Holmes amused me. Harding Davis was a contemporary of Arthur Conan Doyle and this story was published a few years before Doyle revived Holmes with The Return of Sherlock Holmes, published 1903-1904. The contemporary reference shows both the enormous popularity of the Holmes stories, and the influence the character had, to be included as reference in another writer’s story.

None of the four diners have a new mystery novel on them, but one, an American, suddenly starts to reveal details of a baffling murder mystery he is personally involved in. He tells a dramatic story, of being lost in the fog the previous night, of stumbling through an open door he sees to ask for directions, and of finding the bodies of a young man and of a beautiful Russian princess. He tells a great tale, spinning out the drama with plenty of details to draw in the attention of Sir Andrew. When he finally ends his tale on a cliff hanger, Sir Andrew, though hooked on the story, gets up to leave. But by this stage the other men have caught on to the ploy and each in turn tells his own story to expand the plot. Each chapter has a new twist which adds to the drama and keeps up the interest. One has a backstory about a previous encounter with the Russian princess where she attempted to steal a diamond necklace from him, another is a lawyer who knows more about the police investigation and can reveal the killer’s name. Sir Andrew is incapable of leaving until he knows the full story.

Finally the story comes to an end with a startling revelation. Our protagonist then reveals to Sir Andrew that he has been hoodwinked, and that he has just received word that the light has gone out at the House, meaning Sir Andrew has missed the debate and his chance to speak. But the story doesn’t end there, because we get yet another twist to story to end on.

This was a quick read, but a highly entertaining one, from an author I’d never previously heard of but who appears to have been extremely famous in his time. I loved his use of stories to draw in a man and keep him from his intended action, like Scheherazade spinning out her tales to her new husband to keep him from executing her. And I loved the charming picture of an influential Member of Parliament being so easily distracted from weighty matters of state just by a new mystery. Worth a read if you enjoy mysteries and are looking for a quick book to keep you entertained for a few hours.

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Richard Harding Davis
Richard Harding Davis
Harding Davis was an American journalist and writer, known mostly now as the first American war correspondent to cover the Spanish-American War, the Second Boer War and World War I. And according to Wikipedia, he is credited with making the clean-shaven look popular among men at the turn of the 20th century, a fact that gets him full approval from me!
Illustrations from the story
The Project Gutenberg version of this story came with some lovely illustrations

“The men around the table turned and glanced toward the gentleman in front of the fireplace. He was an elderly and somewhat portly person, with a kindly, wrinkled countenance, which wore continually a smile of almost childish confidence and good-nature. It was a face which the illustrated prints had made intimately familiar. He held a book from him at arm’s-length, as if to adjust his eyesight, and his brows were knit with interest.”

In the Fog, Chapter 1

Gutenburg Project
Available on Gutenburg
In the Fog by Richard Harding Harris is out of copyright and is available free from Gutenberg. The story is just over 22,000 words long (about a quarter the length of an average novel).
Click here or on the Gutenberg Project icon to view the file online.