Review - TUTT AND MR. TUTT, by Arthur Train

Early Bird Books puts out a daily email to promote various discounted ebooks, always including a link to a free ebook of an old work that's fallen into public domain. Sometimes these look interesting and I'll give them a shot.

TUTT AND MR. TUTT, originally published in 1919, was one such. Arthur C. Train was a lawyer who wrote on the side in the first half of the 20th century. His "Tutt and Mr. Tutt" stories, about two NYC lawyers, ran for years in the Saturday Evening Post, were collected into a number of volumes, and were apparently immensely popular in their time. Nearly a century later, I'd never heard of Train or his characters.


First, there's some racist language in the stories that might be off-putting, with references to "Chinks" and "niggers". I'll give that a pass for work written a century ago (historical mores, blah blah blah), but it was still jarring to encounter.

Second, the two Tutts don't just defend innocent people from being wrongly convicted, they work to see guilty people set free. Murderers both hot-blooded and cold-blooded end up walking the streets again. When one of the Tutts is maneuvered into a position where he's threatened with blackmail, he ends up paying off the blackmailer; the blackmailer strolls off with no consequences and I was left sitting there with my jaw dropped, thinking "No! That's not how you end a story!".

I worked in several law offices for about a year decades ago, so I recognize that "dubious morality" is an occupational hazard of the legal profession. But I don't want to see that in the fiction I read. I want protagonists, even if flawed, to be people I can respect or at least understand. ("Hey, Bruce, what about all those Parker crime novels by Westlake you enjoy so much? Whaddabout those, huh, huh?" "Shut up.")

I couldn't like or enjoy either Tutt. I found their behavior and standards off-putting and repellent. I read the first three of the seven stories in this collection; by that point I just didn't want to spend any more time in the characters' company.

Third and finally... wow, the writing style here is very heavily in a "Tell, Don't Show" manner, with long, long sentences and passages about the characters, about what's happening in the story, rather than showing by dialogue and action.

So, for me at least, this once-popular book wasn't able to inspire any appeal or a desire to read past the first few stories. In the near-century since its publication, society has changed, writing styles have changed, and I'm clearly not the same as the people who read and enjoyed these stories when they first appeared. C'est la litterature.

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