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

Reeve's Scientific Detective Fiction

One case study for these chimerical mystifications is the scientific detective fiction of Arthur B. Reeve, who first published in Cosmopolitan in December 1910, just ten years after Poulsen’s team publicly demonstrated the telegraphone in Paris and roughly three years after the device received mass attention in various magazines and journals. In a preface to The Silent Bullet (1910), Reeve would briefly explain what a scientific detective story entailed: “‘I am going to apply science to the detection of crime; the same sort of methods by which you trace out the presence of a chemical, or run an unknown germ to earth’” (3). Here, his famous protagonist and professor of criminal science, Craig Kennedy, is speaking to Walter Jameson, who is Kennedy’s sidekick, a newspaper reporter, and the story’s first-person narrator. If this scenario resonates with Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, then there is certainly no coincidence. Reeve advertised his scientific detectives—such as Kennedy, Guy Garrick, and Constance Dunlap—as the American versions of Holmes, with one key difference: they rely far less on intuition. In a piece from 1919, “When the Criminal Takes to Science,” Reeve argues: “The ‘science’ in Conan Doyle is of the most elemental sort. Here is a grass blade—somebody has stepped on it. Here are some tobacco ashes, let’s work them up” (36). Meanwhile, Reeve is invested in a nascent form of forensic science, premised on tracing out the presence (the fingerprint) of bodies at the scene of the crime. Grounded empirically in the physical world, such evidence is—at least according to Reeve—irrefutable and objective.

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