I’ve watched an entry in ‘The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes’ series, this time based on a short story by Arthur Morrison. Morrison was a significant figure in the early days of the detective story. He is probably best known as the creator of Martin Hewitt, a detective who contrasted with Sherlock Holmes mainly because of his relentless ordinariness. Hewitt may have lacked charisma, but Morrison was an interesting writer, and a more fascinating creation, to my mind, was the protagonist of this episode – Horace Dorrington.
What is interesting about Dorrington is that he is not a good guy. It’s quite clear from the outset that he is cunning and manipulative. He is a private eye who has retrieved embarrassing letters for a wealthy woman, but although he claims to have paid for them, and is amply recompensed, in fact he freely admits to his secretary that he stole them. He takes an interest in the forthcoming flotation of a bicycle company, only to find that a financial scam is afoot. Dorrington being Dorrington, he determines to turn matters to his advantage, and does so effectively and indeed murderously.
Dorrington strikes me as almost a Victorian precursor of Tom Ripley (I realise there are differences, but it’s not a completely misleading comparison, I think.) Certainly, the affable sociopath strikes me as a rather modern figure in some ways, and this is a tribute to Morrison’s concept. The story came from a collection called The Dorrington Deed Box.
In the tv show, Dorrington is played by Peter Vaughan. This is an excellent piece of casting, for few actors do gleeful menace as well as Vaughan. The supporting cast is good, too – and Dorrington’s secretary is played by Petronella Barker, who apparently was the first wife of Sir Anthony (‘Hannibal the Cannibal’) Hopkins. . An entertaining tale that I was glad to watch.