All About Trent's Last Case
Published in 1913, Trent’s Last Case is considered one of the first “whodunits” – stories in which new clues appear throughout, making it possible for readers to feel as if they’re solving the crime along with the detective.
Trent’s Last Case also includes a “less than perfect” sleuth – in contrast to Sherlock Holmes. Agatha Christie called it one of the three best mystery stories ever written.
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Trent's Last Case - Podcast Transcript
Sarah Harrison 0:22
Welcome to Tea, Tonic, and Toxin, a book club and podcast for anyone who wants to explore the best mysteries and thrillers ever written. I’m your host, Sarah Harrison.
Carolyn Daughters 0:34
And I’m your host Carolyn Daughters. Pour yourself a cup of tea, a gin and tonic,
Sarah Harrison 0:39
… but not a toxin …
Carolyn Daughters 0:41
and join us on a journey through 19th and 20th century mysteries and thrillers, every one of them a game changer.
Sarah Harrison 0:50
Carolyn, what mystery are we discussing today?
Carolyn Daughters 0:53
Today we are discussing Trent’s Last Case by E. C. Bentley.
Sarah Harrison 0:58
I’m excited to discuss this with you.
Carolyn Daughters 1:00
You and I have a few things to say.
Sarah Harrison 1:02
Yeah, that was really interesting. But before we get to that,
Carolyn Daughters 1:08
we have a listener of the episode. It’s Kathleen Moses, who lives in Surprise, Arizona.
Sarah Harrison 1:19
Is that the real name of the city?
Carolyn Daughters 1:21
The name of the city is Surprise. It’s right outside of Sun City West.
Sarah Harrison 1:26
I thought you were saying, “Surprise! Arizona.”
Carolyn Daughters 1:33
Thanks for being a member of the Tea, Tonic & Toxin bookclub, Kathleen Moses. We appreciate you.
Sarah Harrison 1:38
Thank you. You’re amazing.
Carolyn Daughters 1:41
And what are we going to do for her, Sarah?
Sarah Harrison 1:43
She’s gonna get a gorgeous sticker.
Carolyn Daughters 1:48
They are very pretty stickers. If you want to get your own on-air shout out and one of these awesome stickers, all you have to do is weigh in on the books we’re reading on our website, teatonicandtoxin.com. Or you can post a comment on our Facebook page and Instagram page @teatonicandtoxin.
Sarah Harrison 2:19
We are genuinely excited when people say things on the website. If you post it pre-episode, we’d love to incorporate it into what we’re talking about.
Carolyn Daughters 2:34
If you have a question about the book or you have some insights you want to share, we will share those insights on our podcast.
Sarah Harrison 2:41
Say your opinions. Tell us your thoughts.
Carolyn Daughters 2:48
Today’s sponsor is Grace Sigma, a boutique process engineering consultancy, run by our own Sarah Harrison. Grace Sigma works nationally in such industries as finance, telecom, and government. They use lean methods to assist in documentation development, data dashboarding, storytelling, process visualization, training, and project management. Whether you’re a small business looking to scale or a large company whose processes have become tangled, Grace Sigma can help. You can learn more at gracesigma.com.
Sarah Harrison 3:43
You sure can. Learn it there, folks. All right, Trent’s Last Case. We’re gonna start with a summary. So, if you don’t want any spoilers … well, you should have already read it.
Carolyn Daughters 4:04
Sarah Harrison 4:07
This whole episode is spoilers, basically. Trent’s Last Case is a murder mystery by E. C Bentley. The story begins when wealthy, ruthless American business magnate Sigsbee Manderson is found shot dead. outside his English country house. Philip Trent is sent to the west country to report on the case. Trent is a journalist, famed artist, and socialite with a reputation as a detective who can outthink Scotland Yard. When Trent arrives on the scene, he views the body and examines the house and grounds. He talks to Manderson’s wife, Mabel, and his two secretaries, American Calvin Bunner. and Englishman John Marlowe. Trent also runs into his friend Nathaniel Cupples, who is Mabel’s uncle by marriage.
During his three-day investigation, Trent is puzzled by many strange events that occur in the night of Manderson’s murder, including the fact that he wasn’t wearing his false teeth and the fact that no one heard anything. Trent believes that Marlowe and Mabel are in love and that Marlowe shot Manderson and came up with a clever plan to give himself an alibi. Trent confronts Mabel, and her reaction tells him he’s right. Because Trent is in love with Mabel, he gives her his report instead of giving it to the newspaper. Six months later, Trent sees Mabel in London — on purpose. She says she and Marlowe were never intimate, though her husband had been suspicious. In no time at all, they become engaged. Next, Trent and Nathaniel Cupples meet with Marlowe. Marlowe says Manderson fabricated incriminating evidence to implicate Marlowe and then shot himself as an act of revenge. Just in time Marlowe had realized what was happening and covered his tracks. Afterward, Cupples reveals what really happened on the night of the murder. Cupples had found Manderson pointing a pistol at himself. Cupples tried to take the gun away and ended up firing the fatal shot. It turns out Trent got it wrong. Trent’s Last Case ends with Trent vowing that he’ll never touch a crime mystery again.
In the book, E. C. Bentley was supposedly trying to create an anti,Sherlock Holmes. When it was published in 1913, it was considered one of the most influential detective novels ever written. Today, we’re excited to talk about Trent’s Last Case, our second book selection of 2023. You can find the entire list of books from 2023 on our website at teatonicandtoxin.com. And you should go there and find it and get the books.
Carolyn Daughters 6:53
It’s a fun book club. We have great books for the whole year, one for each month.
Sarah Harrison 7:02
It’s super fun. What else are you doing? Nothing.
Carolyn Daughters 7:06
You’re looking for a hobby. This is it. I have to say for Sarah and me, this is it.
Sarah Harrison 7:12
Who has time for more than this?
Carolyn Daughters 7:16
It’s worth it though. Sarah and I have a few thoughts on this book. Just a few passing thoughts. Nothing complex. Nothing deep. First of all, Sarah, had you ever heard of Trent’s Last Case before it showed up on our list?
Sarah Harrison 7:38
No. But that can be said of many of the books on our list. Definitely not. Had you heard of Trent’s Last Case?
Carolyn Daughters 7:49
Never. Not one time.
Sarah Harrison 7:50
Interesting. Well, I saw the introduction was written by Dorothy Sayers.
Carolyn Daughters 7:56
Not too shabby.
Sarah Harrison 7:58
Well, I had only heard of her in the last book club but I guess I’m not on top of who famous mystery authors are. But yes, it’s pretty high praise. She thought it was fabulous. And I saw E. C. Bentley dedicated it to G. K. Chesterton. We just read and discussed G. K. Chesterton’s short stories in The Innocence of Father Brown.
Carolyn Daughters 8:33
Apparently G. K. Chesterton challenged or encouraged E. C. Bentley to write this book — or to write a book. E. C. Bentley came up with Trent’s Last Case, which is, interestingly, the first book in the Trent series. Trent’s Last Case is the first one he writes.
Sarah Harrison 8:55
It’s a lengthy dedication, actually. It was quite nice, and a little bit confusing. Clearly an inside conversation they had together.
Carolyn Daughters 9:06
As all forwards should be in a book, an inside conversation with one person.
Sarah Harrison 9:15
You listed some of the praise here, and I thought that was cool. G. K. Chesterson …
Carolyn Daughters 9:22
Chesterton. It’s G. K. Chesterton.
Sarah Harrison 9:25
Don’t say it fast. Say it slow and enunciate the irrelevant “t.” The finest detective story of modern times. Agatha Christie said, “One of the three best detective stories ever written.” Dorothy Sayers said it is the one detective story of the present century which I’m certain will go down to posterity as a classic. It is a masterpiece.” That’s what’s funny because neither of us had heard of it at all, thought we had heard of Dorothy Sayers and, of course Agatha, Christie. The Atlantic’s said, “A treat to be read and reread, an unqualified masterwork of mystery fiction.” The New York Times said, “One of the few genuine classics of detective fiction.” Was all of this praise from the time that Trent’s Last Case came out?
Carolyn Daughters 10:27
This wasn’t a review from The New York Times last Thursday. It was back in 1913 whenTrent’s Last Case was published.
Sarah Harrison 10:36
It’s interesting to me to call something a classic the minute it comes out. Do we still do that?
Carolyn Daughters 10:43
I think sometimes.
Sarah Harrison 10:47
Have any classics come out in the last couple of years?
Carolyn Daughters 10:50
That’s a great question. I see it more often with movies. A movie will come out and the reviewer says “It’s a game changer. This movie will change the way movies are made forever! It’s certain to be an Oscar Award nominee.” And maybe the month is February, and the nominees don’t come out for another 10 months.
Sarah Harrison 11:13
Like an awards contender of a movie. But I have a different connotation of classic in my mind. But Dorothy Sayers said some interesting things that align with what Bentley thought himself, which was the mystery was kind of crappy at the time. That was interesting to me. I don’t remember exactly what she said, but basically mysteries had fallen into a sad state. All of the greats weren’t doing any more. Conan Doyle already wrote his best work, and mystery wasn’t getting any respect. I thought that was interesting since we’ve heard those modern comments about mystery that it’s not literary enough.
Carolyn Daughters 12:09
These comments are really interesting. In particular, the one that stands out to me, is that The Atlantic, says “It’s a treat to be read and reread, and an unqualified masterwork of mystery fiction.” On top of that, Dorothy Sayers says, “I’m certain it will go down to posterity as a classic.” I had never heard of it. Sarah, you had never heard of it. Even finding copies of Trent’s Last Case was challenging. Though we have made it easy for you, listeners.
Sarah Harrison 12:56
Cause we love you.
Carolyn Daughters 12:59
If you go to our website, we have a whole page on Trent’s Last Case, where we’ll show you how to get your copy. I think it’s well worth reading. I think it moved the genre forward. I think it serves a definite purpose in our list. But I don’t know that it’s the classic that all of these writers and publications are making it out to be.
Sarah Harrison 13:22
I just think that’s so funny, though. We’re gonna go back and forth probably a lot today with Wilkie Collins and The Woman in White and E. C. Bentley in Trent’s Last Case. But, yeah, Dorothy Sayers also wrote the introduction. And she says “In the years just before the war, the literature of crime was in rather a bad way. The grand old native school of Wilkie Collins, Dickens, and Latham had sunk into vulgarity and absurdity in the pages of cheap magazines. Conan Doyle had done his best work, and his imitators for growing steadily more stereotyped both in manner and style.” In this infallible sleuth kind of road, I thought, well, that’s interesting to me, because I have no idea what the story is in context. We’re here picking out the very best novels, and we’re definitely not reading the worst novels.
Carolyn Daughters 14:19
That’s a completely different podcast. The worst novels in this genre ever written. One book a month.
Sarah Harrison 14:27
Buckle up, cause it’s gonna be terrible. Well, we’re not reading those. So when you listing the best of the best of the best, and something pops out of a bad time period, we don’t see it in that light. I think that’s the light that all of these folks were reviewing it in and that Trent’s Last Case burst out from what was at the time maybe not not a very great state for the mystery novel.
Carolyn Daughters 15:00
In the previous decades, one book that stands out in my mind that Dorothy Sayers and others don’t seem to mention very often if at all is The Big Bow Mystery. The Big Bow Mystery shares something with Trent’s Last Case, which is they each have a twist surprise ending. Most of the time with Sherlock Holmes, for example, you can follow the story, and you know in The Hound of the Baskervilles who the villain is.
Sarah Harrison 15:32
The Big Bow Mystery actually has a great twist. I loved it.
Carolyn Daughters 15:35
I really was surprised by The Big Bow Mystery and how interesting it is and how I had never heard of it before. Israel Zangwill is the writer. I feel like Trent’s Last Case has some parallels with its surprise ending. You see E. C. Bentley giving a jumpstart to the genre, and Dorothy Sayers, Agatha Christie, and others are picking up on how different Trent’s Last Case feels. It doesn’t feel formulaic. In fact, it feels the opposite of formulaic to them as they’re reading it. The detective doesn’t feel like yet another carbon copy of Sherlock Holmes.
Sarah Harrison 16:17
I liked that aspect of it. And at the end, you’re like, wow, he did all of the detective work. He even got everything right. But getting all the facts right didn’t mean you solve the mystery. And I was like, oh, good point. Were you surprised by The Big Bow Mystery ending? I was. Did you see it coming?
Carolyn Daughters 16:37
I didn’t see it coming so much as I had trouble understanding what else could have happened? At the very beginning of The Big Bow Mystery, there is a letter to the editor of a publication. And we hear that somebody has written into the publication saying obviously the murderer is the detective or the landlady. And everybody, including the reader, laughs that off. Of course it’s not the landlady. Of course it’s not the detective. But the moment I read that, I thought to myself that it’s a locked room mystery. Who else could it have been? So I was surprised. Not surprised that the detective was the murderer. I was instead surprised that the author went there that the author accomplished this feat in writing. At the time that he did it. I was really impressed with Israel Zangwill.
Sarah Harrison 17:41
How about how about this one. Did you see the twist coming? Did you know it was going to be Nathaniel Cupples? Are you surprised by that?
Carolyn Daughters 17:51
I wondered why Nathaniel Cupples figured so prominently in those early scenes with Trent. I wondered if it was because Trent needs somebody to bounce ideas off. Trent needs a sidekick periodically. We need somebody on Mabel’s side. But it felt a little strange to me to have this guy sitting at tea while Trent has his breakfast. What’s this guy doing here? What is his function? With a book that’s written with great intention, I always wonder what the author’s goal is with the scene and with the characters who populate the scene. And I put in question several times why Cupples was in Trent’s Last Case until we learn at the very end that he is the guilty party, inadvertently …
Sarah Harrison 19:00
Non-criminal. I actually thought about three times that maybe Cupples did it. Then I would go on and again wonder if Cupples did it. Until the very end, when he has Marlowe give the whole interview about the suicide. I was like, oh, well, I guess it wasn’t Cupples. And then it was Cupples.
Carolyn Daughters 19:20
Cupples serves very little purpose in the book unless he is the murderer. At the end, Cupples is off traveling, and Trent says, Cupples is coming back in town, and we’re going to have a major confrontation with Marlowe and figure out what actually happened on the day of the murder. And even then, I was thinking, why is Cupples being made to seem integral to this confrontation?
Sarah Harrison 19:50
Cupples did it folks. You heard it here.
Carolyn Daughters 19:53
But if it’s a book that’s not written with intention, if it’s just a slapdash Sherlock Holmes knockoff, as Dorothy Sayers and others had been seeing published year after year … if it’s just one of these slapdash knockoffs, then maybe Cupples is there just because the author felt like putting him there. I just feel like having this character and he’s just going to be in multiple scenes.
Sarah Harrison 20:19
Which I felt like we got a little of in The Mystery of a Hansom Cab. There were some oddballs characters having long conversations about I don’t know what.
Carolyn Daughters 20:33
The Mystery of a Hansom Cab was published in 1886. That book is troubling to me because the the man who inadvertently commits the murder — inadvertently in this case, because he meant to chloroform somebody and ended up killing him — is this guy Roger Moreland. And Roger Moreland is not integral to the plot. We don’t see him most of the time. So he appears in a scene where he’s interviewed, maybe in the first third of Trent’s Last Case, and then he reappears at the end. And meanwhile, we have all these red herring characters floating about. And we think maybe the father committed the murder. We don’t know who killed Oliver Whyte, but Roger Moreland isn’t even a contender because he has pretty much been hidden away. That’s my biggest problem with The Mystery of a Hansom Cab — it wasn’t set up to tease us. It was set up to shock us with a guy we barely got to know.
Sarah Harrison 21:41
I think it just shocked us with the fact that it wasn’t the dad. The book was really setting him up to be. But in Trent’s Last Case, what did you think about the novelty of the detective that gets it wrong?
Carolyn Daughters 21:59
I liked that. I thought that was bold. Because everything that Philip Trent does seem spot on.
Sarah Harrison 22:12
Yeah, he got everything right. That was very interesting.
Carolyn Daughters 22:15
He’s really fast on his feet. He’s a good interviewer. He makes friends easily. He is the anti-Sherlock Holmes. He really comes into a room, and people gravitate to him. They want to be around him. They want to tell him their secrets. He He’s a social butterfly. He also has a lot of the skills that Sherlock Holmes has. He can test fingerprints and things like this. He hears information and puts it to the test. Could this possibly have happened at this time in this place? Was this person possibly in this other place entirely? Why when this person tells me their version of events, it’s not clear why they did this, or why this other character did that. He’s a good judge of character in addition to having all of the skills of observation and detection, including the scientific study that Sherlock Holmes has,
Sarah Harrison 23:22
What do you think? I like to always take things to a personal level, but I felt like E. C. Bentley was making a point about having all your facts right, but still having the story wrong.
Carolyn Daughters 23:38
I like that idea.
Sarah Harrison 23:40
I mean, do you feel like you ever do that as a person?
Carolyn Daughters 23:44
Definitely. I think we have our own biases, and we do everything we can to confirm them. I think that’s called a confirmation bias. So we think we understand what is happening, and then we fit various, lingering or floating around pieces of the puzzle into that bigger picture. Sometimes we’ve got to wedge them in and sometimes the pieces break or they don’t make sense. But we are so set on what we think to be true that we brush off or ignore the things that don’t seem true.
Sarah Harrison 24:27
I think that’s probably almost a daily occurrence, you know. One of the techniques I learned in counseling about having arguments, uses this language. Your partner or whoever you’re mad at has done some things. These things happened. Here are the facts. It requires you to state “here are the facts as facts.” And then on top of that, you have to say, “here’s what I’m making up about that. Here’s what I made up about these facts.” And both internally and externally you acknowledge the story you’re overriding onto the facts. And then usually whoever you’re mad at is like, “no, that’s not it at all.” That happens all the time. We have all the facts, but what we made up isn’t, isn’t the reality. I really liked that aspect of the novel.
Carolyn Daughters 25:30
For me, mainly, it comes into play with the idea that everybody has something going on in their lives. And it’s easy to forget that when somebody’s behaving poorly, or they’re rude, or whatever their particular behavior trait is. It’s easy to write a person off. And in some cases, we should, we just don’t want to be around toxic or negative energy. In some cases, though, people have stuff going on in their lives and just trying to remember that there’s often a bigger picture, and I’m only seeing this one little slice of the story. And even though, I may have 10 slices, there may be 12 total. I’m like, I know what’s happening here, but sometimes those two missing slices are really integral to understanding the bigger picture. And the confirmation bias, I think, reinforces whatever we want it to reinforce. So we tend to block out pieces of information that don’t fit in with our worldview.
Sarah Harrison 26:48
Like the last two chapters of Lady Molly of Scotland Yard, those are the two slices that changed the whole story. Oh my goodness.
Carolyn Daughters 26:55
Lady Molly of Scotland Yard — you think you know what she’s doing and why she’s doing it. She’s a detective for Scotland Yard, and she is a single woman, and she is living her best life, traveling around having high tea at beautiful restaurants.
Sarah Harrison 27:15
But, no. She’s married to a convict.
Carolyn Daughters 27:19
And you don’t find this out until the end.
Sarah Harrison 27:23
Go back and read Lady Molly of Scotland Yard if you haven’t read it. But in Trent’s Last Case, I like that you noted the rival detectives. But they were so unrival-like compared to many of the detectives that we’ve seen in other books. They were so much less than these narcissistic sociopaths. What were our feelings on the rivalry here with Trent?
Carolyn Daughters 27:51
I didn’t even feel it was a rivalry. That’s how delicately it was done. These two guys were mutually respectful, Trent toward the police officer, the police officer toward Trent. And I really liked that. I liked the idea that not every single person who comes within your vision or your purview is your competitor, your rival. I like that they both got that they were trying to reach a solution. And it was okay for them to each go in their separate directions. It didn’t mean the police officer was going to tell him every single thing.
Sarah Harrison 28:31
But he also didn’t try to hamper Trent’s investigation either. They told each other stuff. I think if they had asked the direct question, they would have given the direct answer.
Carolyn Daughters 28:43
Which happens actually, there were a couple of times where Philip Trent says to the police officer, “hey, I thought that this person was in this room at this time.” And the police officer says, “Oh, yes, we do have evidence.” Oh, okay, well, thanks. The police officer wasn’t going to simply put all his cards on the table. But if you asked about one of the cards, he’d lay it down for you.
Sarah Harrison 29:09
It seemed to me more like a friendly competition. Unlike, again, The Big Bow Mystery, where these two officers were really awful. Well, one of them ended up being the actual criminal, but they both just seemed kind of criminal with their self-centered handling of the case.
Carolyn Daughters 29:31
We saw that, too, in The Mystery of a Hansom Cab. There are two professional detectives, and they’re each really jealous of the other or trying to make their way or their name over the other. It’s this idea that you can’t have two people investigating a case. There’s one top dog. It was nice to see in Trent’s Last Case that the police officer didn’t seem threatened by by Philip Trent.
Sarah Harrison 30:06
I liked it. That made me think about just like the nature of friendly competition. How common is that? Do you have anyone that you consider a rival on good terms?
Carolyn Daughters 30:20
I don’t think I have a rival.
Sarah Harrison 30:25
You do not rival Carolyn.
Carolyn Daughters 30:29
I don’t have a negative rival or or a positive one. There’s nobody against which I’m actively or consciously measuring my success, progress, achievement.
Sarah Harrison 30:45
I have some inanimate ones. Every house that starts after our build and gets done before ours, I call my enemy house. I’m not even sure it’s friendly, but since it’s not an actual person, I think it’s okay. I don’t hate the people in the house. Just the house itself.
Carolyn Daughters 31:07
Do you have any animate rivals, positive or negative?
Sarah Harrison 31:11
I don’t. Well, once when I was in high school … so those of you that don’t know, my maiden name was Sarah McMurray. And in my high school, there was a Sarah McHenry, who was super pretty and popular. And I don’t think she had any idea that in my mind, she was kind of the evil Sarah, or something. But, no, I don’t think since Sarah McHenry I’ve had a super hard rival. But it’s interesting that rivalry shows up in every book, and this one was just kind of a different. I am a competitive game player. So if we do get into a game, whoever is in the game is my friendly rival. I don’t think I’m a poor loser, but I’m really happy winner.
Carolyn Daughters 32:05
Yeah, we see the rivalry also in Sherlock Holmes, for example. In A Study in Scarlet in particular, he for a time weighs whether he should even take a case on because he may not get the credit for it after he solves it. And lo and behold, Gregson and Lestrade are the two detectives. They, of course, swoop in at the end, and they get all of the credit, just as predicted. What that does, though, in this very first Sherlock Holmes story is it prompts Dr. Watson to say, “I think I’m gonna document this case. I would like people to know what your actual role was.” It’s an interesting origin story for why Dr. Watson is writing up the cases.
Sarah Harrison 32:56
For credit documentation. Trent doesn’t need that. He works for a newspaper. His job is to write the case. Now you found Trent pretty pretentious in Trent’s Last Case. Talk to me about that, because I disagree a little bit. I don’t strongly disagree. But I was just surprised at the strength of your feelings.
Carolyn Daughters 33:27
He goes around quoting poets.
Sarah Harrison 33:35
Okay, but …
Carolyn Daughters 33:36
Not in addition to other conversation that he’s having, but in lieu of it. He communicates what should be a straightforward idea with a couple lines from Idylls of the King or from the Lady of the Lake. It got annoying to me, it felt pretentious. And Sarah, you thought something that I was really interested in. You thought, well, maybe have people of the day — this is 1913 — would have recognized all these quotations.
Sarah Harrison 33:38
Yeah, that’s what I had to assume.
Carolyn Daughters 33:43
I would argue when you’re quoting from Tennyson, and Thomas Moore and Sir Walter Scott and Shelley and myriad other writers and poets that, no, your listening audience does not have the same familiarity you have with what you’re quoting.
Sarah Harrison 34:46
No, I disagree with that. Of course, neither of us were there. So I could be totally wrong.
Carolyn Daughters 34:54
I’m sorry. I was there.
Sarah Harrison 34:57
Corrected. And I’m going to laugh. In Dorothy Sayers’ introduction, she seemed to enjoy his literary-ness, and I thought, okay. It’s like a lot of the Victorian books we read, where they’re quoting French. And if anyone was to walk around today quoting French, we would be like, what a nincompoop. Why are you walking around saying half of your phrases in French. You sound ridiculous. But at the time, they actually did that. And so instead of thinking they were a nincompoop, I took French in high school to try to be able to keep up with the novels I was reading. Same thing when we were reading The Mystery of a Hansom Cab. They were making all these weird quippy remarks, and I thought they must get their references better than me.
Carolyn Daughters 35:49
In The Mystery of a Hansom Cab, these were people who played an hour of tennis, came in, had somebody make them a cocktail, lounged on the sofa. This class of people was born to pretension. What do I learn to do during the day? I learn how to play the piano. I learn French I read all of the classics and the poets.
Sarah Harrison 36:18
It’s like every upper class and every novel we’ve read. That’s what they do. I don’t think being upper class necessarily makes you pretentious.
Carolyn Daughters 36:29
Trent seems sort of cynical and sarcastic.
Sarah Harrison 36:33
He does seem sarcastic. He seems to have a really dry humor.
Carolyn Daughters 36:40
He’s super flexible in the way he can fit in with the upper class and fit in with basically anybody he’s talking to, it seems. Although for the most part, we see him with people who are of maybe a landed class, maybe not necessarily aristocratic class. But he’s with people who have some money for the most part throughout Trent’s Last Case. But he flows easily wherever he is, whatever conversation he’s having, he integrates into it pretty seamlessly. But he doesn’t seem aristocratic, per se. He’s an artist. He’s an amateur detective. He’s got enough money that he can travel around and basically see the world and eat at nice restaurants.
Sarah Harrison 37:35
He’s playing the position that artists are often, I think, designated in society, of being a part of it and also commenting on it — and not usually in a flattering light. I can see his cynicism at society while being a popular member of society. I think artists are still really similar. I wonder, too. I mean, it’s not like, oh, I’ve never heard of Tennyson. I mean, we’ve heard of him now. So he was probably even more well known at the time. But I wondered if it would be the modern equivalent to like movie quotes, which people constantly do now. People are always quoting movie and TV quotes. Nate showed me this ridiculous and hilarious Saturday Night Live sketch called “Quotes.” It’s so stupid, like, in the realm of absurdism. They’re playing this game where you guess the movie quotes, and they’re so obscure as to be nothing. And it’s one of those things where it’s hard to watch and really funny. I wondered maybe it’s like that, like he’s a movie quoter person. All I can think is that Sayers got it, and she thought it was charming. And so probably it wasn’t out of step for the day.
Carolyn Daughters 39:03
It’s his personality. Not everybody’s doing it. Other characters are not doing it to him, for example.
Sarah Harrison 39:12
No, they’re not. No, he’s the artist.
Carolyn Daughters 39:22
When we get to the end of each year of the Tea, Tonic & Toxin book club, we say, “Who would we invite to a dinner party of all of the characters we read in this last year?” Trent is not coming to my dinner party. He’s not invited. I don’t want him.
Sarah Harrison 39:34
I might invite him, and I think I’m taking it a little bit at face value here, which is funny to me, because I usually think you’re the one doing that. I’m usually like, they’re so sexist, I can hardly read it. You’re usually like, well, it’s a product of the times. But they’re presenting him as someone that’s charming in every society. And nobody else is annoyed at his quotes. They think he’s funny. So I’m thinking he must be being funny. He probably is charming, but it’s a bit removed from me. So I’m not getting it all the time.
Carolyn Daughters 40:10
They think he’s funny. I’m gonna read a couple of these. So you you are my listener. I’m Trent and I’m talking. And he says, somebody asks him a question like, hey, free at five. And he says, “Ah, I am blown along a wondering wind and hollow, hollow, hollow all delight.” It seems so pretentious to me. I just wanted to smack him.
Sarah Harrison 40:31
Sure, it seems pretentious now, but they didn’t smack him for it. They’re like, great. See you at dinner.
Carolyn Daughters 40:39
I would have smacked him.
Sarah Harrison 40:41
I don’t even know that poem. I’m glad you looked up the authors because I am making my book map.
Carolyn Daughters 40:46
There were a dozen more.
Sarah Harrison 40:48
Oh that’s awesome.
Carolyn Daughters 40:50
I came up with a few examples. Anytime he starts saying something that makes no logical sense to anyone in Trent’s Last Case. When when you’re reading this — and you should read it — when you’re reading it, and you get to a line that Philip Trent says that sounds way out in left field, it’s him quoting some writer.
Sarah Harrison 41:15
I do think maybe not everybody did it, but maybe it was not like grossly uncommon for the time. I know, my grandma was made to memorize poetry. So she liked poetry a lot, and she would quote it a lot. And she would sing all the songs she learned in her childhood and quote all her poems to me my whole life. I think, prior to movies, people were a little more engaged, and doing that sort of thing. I won’t say it doesn’t sound pretentious now, but I do think I’m trying to take it as a book in it’s time.
Carolyn Daughters 41:57
Certainly of a particular class. There is maybe a larger middle class now. And people go to college, and they take their intro English literature courses, and so forth. But of a certain class in 1913, definitely people would be familiar with Tennyson and Shelley and Sir Walter Scott and other writers. He just rubbed me wrong.
Sarah Harrison 42:29
I was thinking today, like, we’re very non-poetical society. And I myself do not care for poetry as much as I would like to. I have never been able to enjoy it. I think the only quotes I would recognize., and maybe most people would recognize, would be like Robert Frost. E. E. Cummings, Edgar Allan Poe. My mind just went blank. Alice in Wonderland. Who wrote that?
Carolyn Daughters 43:02
Sarah Harrison 43:03
Lewis Carroll. Like those guys. If it’s not from them, I’m probably not recognizing it.
Carolyn Daughters 43:12
Trent’s personality is light and free and fun, and he’s a super social butterfly, the whole first part of Trent’s Last Case. And then you can tell from hints in the book that he is about to wrap this case up. And then he decides to present his version of the case and you’re holding the book and you realize half the book remains. For me, that was super confusing. Here he is. He’s obviously the smartest guy in the room. In three days flat, he shows up, quipping and socializing with every single person, making friends everywhere he goes, nailing down what happened. How in the world is there still half of the book left? Did that throw you when you got to that place? Did you wonder what else E. C. Bentley was going to talk about in Trent’s Last Case after he clarifies the solution to the murder.
Sarah Harrison 44:18
I was interested in it. It started getting a little bit slower for me at that point. And it was his running from love. He wasn’t sure what to do with feeling like he was in love with a potential conspirator to the murder.
Carolyn Daughters 44:42
His moral code was interesting to me. I liked it because it told me something about the man. When somebody just starts quoting poetry when I’ve asked him a simple question, I might get annoyed. But, really, we see who the man is when he thinks Mabel Manderson was partly responsible for killing her husband.
Sarah Harrison 45:09
Possibly. He definitely thinks she was in love with Marlowe. But he waffles a lot on whether she had a hand in the murder.
Carolyn Daughters 45:16
He thinks she and Marlowe probably had an affair. He thinks maybe she was involved or aware of what Marlowe was doing. Because Marlowe is obviously guilty to Trent. And to me. When I saw the evidence, I thought he was obviously guilty. And his moral code says he needs to tell Mabel Manderson what he knows, get a sense from her of what she did or did not know. It was critical to him to know whether she had been aware of Marlowe’s plans and if she was involved in some way. And then he ends up partially violating his own code and leaving this envelope with this typed manuscript behind, which details all the evidence he’s found against Marlowe. And he does it basically to protect Mabel Manderson. The fact that he had this moral code and felt he needed to test her knowledge and that he then pushed aside his moral code to save this woman — that told me a lot about the man. And I thought all of that was really interesting.
Sarah Harrison 46:38
It is interesting, and in this instance the victim is also the villain, right? He gets killed, and nobody likes him. And they’re all happy he’s dead.
Carolyn Daughters 46:51
Sarah Harrison 46:57
Yeah. It’s a little bit different to me from Father Brown. He was never really interested in bringing anyone to justice. He wanted to bring their soul to repentance. Injustice was just kind of the irrelevant curtain of this world. Whereas, here, I feel like Trent is evaluating what’s just and what isn’t. Like, Mabel’s free of this husband. They had a bad relationship, which, to me, seemed a little less believable, I found Mabel pretty annoying in that respect. She never would talk to her husband about what was bothering her. She had too much pride, and that was seen as a good thing. And I thought that was a stupid thing.
Carolyn Daughters 47:45
I didn’t really know her or understand her. I felt she wasn’t very well developed. And then the whole second part of Trent’s Last Case becomes this strange Harlequin romance sort of melodrama.
Sarah Harrison 48:02
Now that was funny to me, too. Like I don’t I’m not going to make any argument that this was a well-developed romance. But I felt like The Woman in White was worse. So, that’s what’s getting me, readers. Hartright [in The Woman in White] was such a ding-dong. I almost texted Carolyn, like, I’m really struggling in through this book. And then I find out it’s like her favorite one. And I’m like, I’m glad I shut it up about that. Not that Trent would be my favorite book, but I keep getting really surprised. Hartright’s terrible romance where, the more helpless the woman is, the more he loves her. The more babyish she is, the more irresistible. But this one bothers you more. Tell me how that works. Tell me what’s going on, and why is it different for you?
Carolyn Daughters 49:03
The relationship doesn’t bother me more? Hartright and Laura …
Sarah Harrison 49:11
I call her “not Marian” because I can never remember her name is Laura.
Carolyn Daughters 49:18
That’s amazing. Not Marian. Hartright and Laura — it’s not a relationship I’m invested in. Laura does one thing in the whole book that I love, which is refusing to sign a paper saying she’s going to hand over her 20,000 pounds. Hartright is Dudley Do-Right.
Sarah Harrison 49:41
Carolyn Daughters 49:43
He’s meant to be the hero, and we’re meant to love him and he annoyed both of us. Laura annoyed both of us. So I don’t think that that relationship was better than Trent and Mabel Manderson. I think the Trent and Mabel Manderson storyline is given less space on the page, less development on the page.
Sarah Harrison 50:06
Carolyn Daughters 50:06
And I felt like this interesting mystery in the first part became diluted in the second part, where I had to look for it. I was like, I’m sure it’s here somewhere, let me keep looking. I couldn’t always find the mystery in the second part. And so it got in the way of the story that engaged me in the first part. In particular, because I was not emotionally invested in Mabel Manderson in any way. So I didn’t care whether she and Trent were together. Maybe if she was with Marlowe that might have interested me, because that would have shown that Trent was spot on in his suspicions earlier. But whether she’s engaged to Trent or not or what their future plans are, I have to say I couldn’t have been less interested.
Sarah Harrison 51:01
I think the author hinges a lot on the love at first sight concept. I think we should pick up there in our next episode.
Carolyn Daughters 51:12
We still have a lot to say because what Sarah and I do is we put together this body of notes, and it’s pages and pages long.
Sarah Harrison 51:24
You can contribute if you have some ideas.
Carolyn Daughters 51:27
We would love to add your two cents to all of the things that we have to share. We have a lot more to say about Trent’s Last Case. We hope you’ll read the book. You can get information on our website, teatonicandtoxin.com. You can weigh in on our website, and on Instagram and Facebook @teatonicandtoxin. We have another Trent’s Last Case podcast episode coming up.
Sarah Harrison 51:53
In the meantime, stay mysterious.
November 19, 2023
Playwright, artistic director, and Renaissance woman Emily Schwartz joins Sarah and Carolyn to dish all things Agatha Christie. On a completely (un)related note, Emily, Sarah, and Carolyn have boarded the Simplon-Orient Express train in search of adventure. Listen in. And stay tuned …Listen →
November 6, 2023
Sarah Harrison and Carolyn Daughters interview Recipes for Murder author Karen Pierce about all things Agatha Christie -- her books, her life, the adaptations of her work. Let’s just say this amazing Christie superfan knows her stuff.Listen →
October 28, 2023
Sarah Harrison and Carolyn Daughters interview detective-fiction devotee, food lover, and Agatha Christie superfan Karen Pierce about her amazing new cookbook, Recipes for Murder. With 66 dishes from Christie's novels, what's not to love?Listen →