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The Pocket Book of Great Detectives (book)

front cover

The Pocket Book of Great Detectives


  1. Introduction by Alfred Hitchcock
  2. The Man in the Passage by G.K. Chesterton
  3. The Disappearance of Marie Severe by Ernest Bramah
  4. The History of Bel - from the Apocryphal scriptures
  5. The Purloined Letter by Edgar Allan Poe
  6. The Little House by H.C. Bailey
  7. East Wind by Freeman Wills Crofts
  8. The Cyprian Bees by Anthony Wynne
  9. The Lenton Croft Robberies by Arthur Morrison
  10. The Red-Headed League by Arthur Conan Doyle
  11. The Disappearance of Mr. Davenheim by Agatha Christie
  12. Man Bites Dog by Ellery Queen
  13. The Treasure Hunt by Edgar Wallace
  14. The Avenging Chance by Anthony Berkeley
  15. The Aluminium Dagger by R. Austin Freeman
  16. The Unknown Peer by E.C. Bentley
  17. The Problem of Cell 13 by Jacques Futrelle
  18. The Haunted Policeman by Dorothy L. Sayers


Lights! Action! — but Mostly Camera!

Detective fiction is distinguished from all other types of crime fiction by its insistence upon the normal. The abnormal event — theft , arson, murder — is explained in terms of the material, the natural, the logical. Crime is the stone thrown into a quiet pool. It is the oddly colored thread woven into a colorless pattern.

The detective is the diagnostician. It is his business to study the ripples on the surface of the pool and to find the disturbing stone, his job to pick the elusive thread from the tapestry.

This insistence on the normal adds the illusion of reality. It is a piquant and subtle accompaniment to extraordinary behavior. Murder in a madhouse is a probability; therefore not so mysterious nor exciting, when it happens, as murder at the greengrocer’s. One expects horrors from a monster created by Frankenstein. It is a more subtle titillation of the nerves to get them from an insignificant and respectable householder who is whimsically devoted to canaries.

And it is this surrounding lack of color that makes the test of a detective’s greatness. The measure of his genius is to be found in his sensitivity to the abnormal, his ability to observe the minute details that are out of focus.

This sensitivity is the common denominator of the great detectives of fiction who have been assembled in this volume. Each had heightened perception — whether visual, tactile, or aural — that delivers to his brain an insistent warning. “This thumbprint is impossibly placed,” says the camera eye of Sherlock Holmes. “This chair has been moved,” says the camera touch of Max Carrados. “This sentence is a lie,” says the camera spirit of Father Brown. And the imperishable record has been made and stored away until it can be fitted into the picture.

Each time the abnormal occurs, this camera sense registers and eventually the series of plates) developed and stored in the brain — forms a picture that gives the truth.

For the camera tells the truth. It is an implacable record of what really happened. Those who see the picture — and observe all its details — must inevitably know the whole story.

Such is the game here offered to the reader. He knows, as the detective knows, everything that can be seen, everything that can be heard. The challenge to his camera eye is in the recording of the extraordinary. The challenge to his wits is in the making of one moving picture of the disjointed negatives.

It is essentially a director’s problem. The component parts of the story are there; the job is to make a picture of them.

Certainly it is a problem familiar to me. And this intimacy has given me a genuine admiration, a fellow craftsman’s appreciation, of the sure directions assembled here.

These great detectives are unique, they are intensely individual. They range from the deceptively stolid tenacity of Inspector French to the Gallic and mercurial intuitiveness of Hercule Poirot. Some are eccentric, some ordinary; some naive, some sophisticated. Here are professionals and amateurs, rich dilettantes and hard-working police officials.

But one quality they have in common — the one essential quality — camera perception.


  • This is believed to be the first book to use Hitchcock's name as a promotional device. According to The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion, it is unknown if Hitchcock actually wrote the introduction or if it was ghost-written. However, if he did write it, it was likely the only time he ever did so.[1]


Notes & References

  1. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion (2001) by Martin Grams Jnr & Patrik Wikstrom, page 576