Editor Bremseth, whose detective work spans generations, exhumes two 19th-century dime novels and argues that the two African-American chroniclers of their lily-white casts were identical.
The case that Warne and Macy were the same person depends on circumstantial and stylistic evidence, for the two short novels are vastly different. In Macy’s The Mystery of Sea-Eagle Tavern (1872–73), an English noblewoman’s quest to avenge her son, killed in a duel on the Isle of Man, leads her first to a lover she spurned long ago and then to a violent denouement at a birthday party in Scotland. The tale features laughing criminals, disguises that mask class and gender, and the return of characters long believed dead. Warne’s Who Was Guilty? (1881), equally rife with jaw-dropping coincidences and revelations and equally softhearted in its conclusion, is altogether more interesting. Its 12 chapters present a dozen different first-person perspectives on the murder of young Arthur Bristow, the narrators accusing each other and offering wildly contradictory supporting evidence before the final confession. The inventive use of multiple perspectives and solutions establishes a link between Wilkie Collins’s The Moonstone (1868) and Anthony Berkeley’s The Poisoned Chocolates Case (1929), though Warne is less ingenious and plausible than either.
Even readers unconvinced that Warne is Macy will find the title story more than a historical curio.