Yesterday, DH informed me that Villiers Street was named after George Villiers, the 1st Duke of Buckingham. He has been reading The Three Musketeers — quite surprisingly enough, for the first time — and every now and then would make some remark about the stupidity and ineptitude of various characters. It would seem the only person having any fun at all in the book is Cardinal Richelieu — and maybe Milady. Anyway, I had been reading J. S. Fletcher’s The Charing Cross Mystery (1923), and while the mystery was reasonably interesting, I was inordinately pleased that I knew some of the streets and landmarks mentioned in passing. So … a young barrister of independent means is going home late one night when two other men enter his train compartment. He can’t help but overhear bits and pieces of conversation, and is intrigued. Then, as the train pulls into Charing Cross, one of his fellow passengers drops dead. The other man runs out of the station saying he would get a doctor, and is last seen heading for Villiers Street … And that is how we tied a mystery novel written in the 1920s to The Three Musketeers.
J. S. Fletcher was a lawyer, and also a prolific writer. The Charing Cross Mystery was actually quite entertaining and generally well-written, both reasons enough for light reading. But it’s like vintage fur: if a coat has a fur collar, can I justify buying it, despite the fur collar, because the coat is 70 years old? Thus far, I have not been able to talk myself into ignoring the fur — and my qualms about J. S. Fletcher (and many other writers) has to do with his anti-Semitic sentiments. In this particular work, the racial epithets are not just in passing — I can usually dismiss the occasional comments as “product of the era,” and after all, even my beloved Henry James indulged in those — but when one of the central characters is referred to repeatedly as “the creature” with all the imagined stereotypical attributes of “that race” . . . . well, I get squeamish. Or is it just the all-pervasive culture of political correctness?