Making the Perfect Record: From Inscription to Impression in Early Magnetic Recording

Scientific Realism

Writing style aside, Reeve’s scientific realism received both scrutiny and praise. In a July 1913 issue of the Independent, he published “In Defense of the Detective Story,” wherein he responds to allegations that criminals are inspired by and learn from the “cheap” genre. Halfway through the piece, he recalls the following: “The very first scientific detective story which I wrote was returned to me by one editor of a popular magazine with what I considered the most complimentary letter he ever wrote me, that he ‘couldn’t publish a story like that—some darn fool would go out and try to do it’” (Reeve 1913, 93). Such accusations were apparently familiar to Reeve, who counters by resituating the argument, stressing the connections between his realism, social progress, innovation, and the moral good.45

Through a series of examples, all of which use letters from his readers as evidence, he explains the various ways in which scientific detective stories lay bare the methods of a growing criminal underclass, making those methods common knowledge to otherwise hapless victims. He also suggests that, by reading the genre, people may discover a theretofore unrealized means for revealing the truth. Among these examples are references to the “scientific eavesdroppers” appearing in his fiction (1913, 93). Reeve writes:

Every mention of the dictagraph, the detectaphone, and similar scientific eavesdroppers has brought eager inquiries. In one case a letter from a South Carolina man said: “I have a case in which I can use such a device in procuring the real truth. It will be the means of restoring the character of a young man who is now a victim of a foul conspiracy.” In another case a man who was under indictment in Iowa wanted the author to come to his rescue with such of the scientific paraphernalia as Kennedy uses. “I think,” he appealed, “that if you will bring the instruments named, I can get enough evidence to clear myself.” (93)

To this list of readers, Reeve adds actual detectives, scientists, and researchers such as Thomas Edison, who also enjoy and learn from detective fiction.46

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