Sunday, June 19, 2011

More Pinkerton

To learn more about Kate Warne, I read "The Expressman and the Detective," the book that Pinkerton wrote earlier than the two tales I read already. Sadly, I found this book much less enjoyable to read. Not only was the Expressman case confusing, but the plot was slow-moving and tiresome.

The thing about Pinkerton is that he's perfectly content to let a case take weeks or months to resolve, while he sends multiple detectives around to shadow suspects and their loved ones. I can't help thinking that Sherlock Holmes, had he been on the case, would have tried to deduce more or engineered some trick to get the secret out of the criminal much more quickly.

Unlike in the "Somnambulist" and "Fortune Teller" stories, Pinkerton has no real proof here that the suspected criminal is guilty, at least not for several chapters. He just tells us that he feels it's true based on hearing the suspicions of his clients, the Adams Express Company. They were apparently some kind of courier service delivering both freight and money for businesses all through the South, and recently several of their cash shipments went missing in Montgomery, Alabama. They feel sure that their employee Maroney must have done it, and have sent other detectives to track his movements, but there has been no proof whatsoever against him.

Because of this glaring lack of evidence, I felt that Pinkerton was actually persecuting a guy who might turn out to be innocent. (Though obviously Pinkerton wouldn't publish a story in which he was wrong, I guess.) It irritated me, though, and made me wonder how many other cases he might have handled, botched, and never published. What innocent people might be in jail because of Pinkerton, huh?

Moreover, Pinkerton's methods here seem haphazard and expensive. At first he tells the Adams Express executives that Mr. and Mrs. Maroney are probably in on the robbery together, and they're going to want to confess their secret to somebody, so he's going to worm it out of them through supposed friendship. So Pinkerton assigns some detectives to go befriend the couple, and then he sends more people to tail them if either one of them leave the town. Maroney does go on a trip through several Southern cities by boat and train, but all he apparently does is buy racehorses, cheat on his wife at brothels, and then collect a trunk, which he takes back to Montgomery with him.

Maroney's trunk is obviously suspicious, and yet Pinkerton never gets one of his detectives to go search the trunk to see if the missing money is there. It's so stupid of him! I mean, it's not like there are laws forbidding him from acting without a warrant, because they're private detectives. So basically Pinkerton wastes the time of the reader, his clients at the Adams Express, and his own damn detectives because he doesn't think to go search a suspicious trunk.

Weeks and months pass with the detectives continuing to just observe and write reports. When Mrs. Maroney leaves town to go visit her relatives in the north (a little place called Jenkintown), Pinkerton enlists more detectives to follow or befriend her there. One of the people is Kate Warne, pretending to be the wife of a convicted criminal, so as to entice Mrs. Maroney to spill secrets to her. When Pinkerton discovers that Mrs. Maroney also has a man on the side, he decides to get another agent of his called De Forest to romance her too. Why not just try to blackmail her by threatening to tell her husband about the first guy? Or why not try to get the guy to turn on Mrs. Maroney? Plus, somehow Pinkerton realizes that Mr. and Mrs. Maroney are not actually married but only pretending to be. It's just all incredibly confused.

Oh, and get this, Pinkerton never tells De Forest that he's got other agents watching Mrs. Maroney, so De Forest mistakenly has one detective arrested for following them around. Pinkerton has a great laugh about this, but nobody thinks to tell him, "Hey, you just wasted your guys' time because you didn't fucking inform De Forest of the whole plan!" Plus, De Forest even falls in love with Mrs. Maroney after awhile, and Pinkerton's still amused but doesn't think it will interfere with the case. Even when Mrs. Maroney starts to confess her story and want to give the stolen money over to Kate Warne (in her cover identity), Kate Warne refuses to hear her out, saying she's got enough trouble already hiding money for her own imprisoned husband. Why the hell would she do that, and why would Pinkerton say that's what she would do? Wasn't the whole plan to get Mrs. Maroney to confess and give over the stolen money? I just don't understand half the plot.

Meanwhile, Pinkerton somehow convinces the New York police to arrest Maroney when he goes to New York to meet Mrs. Maroney and actually marry her this time. (It's something about how she's blackmailed him into it.) They don't want to extradite him back home to Montgomery; they just want to hold him in New York. Why? How is that even legal? What the hell were laws like back then, that you could get a man held indefinitely in a different state on no evidence at all? Pinkerton then plants yet another detective in the jail, to befriend Maroney and get him to ask for help in hiding the money. Wasn't that your plan before, Pinkerton? And how many months have passed with no progress? And yet somehow he talks the Adams Express execs into continuing to trust his plan, despite the incredible expense and manpower that's being wasted on this case. It's so repetitive and dull. I began to lose track of all the detectives watching these people night and day.

After much crap, the case is finally resolved when Maroney is on trial and confesses to the robbery because he recognizes one of the witnesses against him (who is really a Pinkerton detective); Maroney realizes that he is done for. Even this is unsatisfying because once again Pinkerton would rather end on the dramatic moment than tell us what happened to Mrs. Maroney who at the time of the trial was actually living with Kate Warne and thought they were good friends. So what happened after the trial? Was she charged with being an accessory? Did Kate Warne reveal her real identity and shock the poor woman? Did De Forest, or her other guy, try to get her a divorce and marry her? It's like Pinkerton doesn't give a damn about consequences beyond capturing the criminal himself.

Just about the only good parts of the book were the chapters explaining how Pinkerton first met Kate Warne, and how Pinkerton had strong abolitionist feelings, which made him at first hesitate to take a job with a Southern company. Oh, and I learned that "Dutchman" was a slang term for any kind of European immigrant, even a German, and that immigrants were considered the same class as slaves, and usually rode in the same train cars with them. (One of Pinkerton's detectives trailing Maroney was a German who shadowed him from the n*word cars while Maroney only paid attention to people riding in the same first-class cars with him.)

Boy am I glad I didn't read this book first, or I never would have continued.

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