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Cover of the fourth Nelson edition, 1917
|Author||Edmund Clerihew Bentley|
|Genre||Mystery, detective fiction|
|Pages||375 (hardcover 1st edition)|
|Followed by||Trent's Own Case (1936)|
Trent's Last Case is a detective novel written by E. C. Bentley and first published in the United Kingdom in 1913, and as The Woman in Black in the United States also in 1913. Its central character, the artist and amateur detective Philip Trent, reappeared subsequently in the novel Trent's Own Case (1936) and the short-story collection Trent Intervenes (1938).
Sigsbee Manderson, a wealthy American plutocrat, is found shot dead in the grounds of his English country house "White Gables", in the village of Marlstone, on the south-west coast of England. Philip Trent, an artist, freelance journalist, and amateur detective, is commissioned to investigate and report on the case by Sir James Molloy, a Fleet Street press magnate. In Marlstone, Trent receives the cooperation of the police (the investigating officer proves to be Inspector Murch of Scotland Yard, an old acquaintance), and is able to view the body, examine the house and grounds, and interview those involved. Other members of the household include Manderson's wife, Mabel, his two secretaries (Calvin Bunner, an American, and John Marlowe, an Englishman), Martin, a manservant, and Célestine, a lady's maid. Nathaniel Cupples, Mabel Manderson's uncle-by-marriage and another old friend of Trent, is staying in a hotel in the village.
Trent pursues his enquiries, and learns, among other things, that the Mandersons' marriage was in difficulties, and that the couple had grown distant from one another. In the process, he falls in love with Mabel Manderson. The coroner's inquest finds that Manderson was killed by a person or persons unknown: there is a strong suggestion that he died as a result of a business vendetta. Trent, however, concludes that Manderson was shot by Marlowe, who then returned to the house wearing some of Manderson's outer clothes in order to give the impression that Manderson was at that point still alive, before driving to Southampton to provide himself with an alibi. He believes that Marlowe's motive was his own love for Mabel, but is unclear as to how far she may have colluded in the affair. He writes down his ideas in the form of a dispatch for Molloy, but before sending it presents it to Mabel and asks whether there had been anything between her and Marlowe. Her reaction persuades him that there had been, and he leaves the dispatch unsent.
Six months later (having spent the intervening period in Latvia as a roving correspondent for Molloy) Trent re-establishes contact with Mabel in London, and finally extracts her version of events. She tells him that there had never been anything between her and Marlowe, but that her husband's suspicions had been the cause of their marital rift, and that in his jealousy he may have plotted an act of revenge. Trent now sends Marlowe his original dispatch, and arranges a meeting, at which Cupples is also present, to allow Marlowe to give his side of the story. Marlowe explains that Manderson had fabricated a web of incriminating evidence to implicate Marlowe in his apparent "murder", and send him to the gallows; and had then shot himself. Having realised what was happening, and having discovered Manderson's body, Marlowe had attempted to cover his tracks and give himself an alibi – this much of Trent's analysis had been correct.
Following this meeting, Trent and Cupples have dinner together, at which Cupples reveals – in the final pages of the book – that, while the majority of Marlowe's story had been true, it was in fact he who had fired the fatal shot. He had chanced upon Manderson pointing a pistol at himself, probably meaning only to cause a self-inflicted wound. Suspecting an attempt at suicide, Cupples had intervened, and in the ensuing violent struggle had shot Manderson in the face.
Despite the title, Trent's Last Case is the first novel in which Trent appears. The novel is a whodunit with a place in detective fiction history because it is the first major sendup of that genre: not only does Trent fall in love with one of the primary suspects – usually considered a no-no – he also, after painstakingly collecting all the evidence, draws all the wrong conclusions. On the final page, Trent vows that he will never again attempt to dabble in crime detection.
In his critique of the mystery genre, The Simple Art of Murder, Raymond Chandler ridiculed some plot points that he considered preposterous: "I have known relatively few international financiers, but I rather think the author of this novel has (if possible) known fewer."
According to Aaron Marc Stein in his introduction to the 1977 edition, published by University Extension of UCSD: "At the risk of bringing down on his memory the wrath of the Baker Street Irregulars it must be recorded that Bentley had reservations about even the Conan Doyle originals. He deplored the great detective's lack of humor and he was irritated by the Sherlockian eccentricities.... Bentley had the idea of doing a detective who would be a human being and who would know how to laugh."
An excerpt of the book is recited in the movie Places in the Heart (1984). The only part we ever hear is the opening line: "Chapter 1. Bad News. Between what matters and what seems to matter, how shall the world we know judge wisely?"
The book was adapted into a stage production by John Arden McClure, which premiered in January 2013 at the Broadway Onstage Live Theatre in Eastpointe, Michigan. It starred McClure as Trent, Daniel Woitulewicz as Cupples, Elizabeth Rager as Bunner, Stella Rothe as Mabel Manderson, Patrick John Sharpe as Marlowe, and Jack Abella as Sigsbee Manderson.
Trent's Last Case was adapted for The National Programme in January 1934. It was later serialised in 1950, and a further dramatisation was broadcast with Richard Hurndall for the Home Service in 1963.
- 1913, UK, Nelson (ISBN NA), Pub date 1913, Hardback (1st edition)
- 1917, UK, Nelson (ISBN NA), Pub date 1917, Hardcover (4th edition)
- 2005, US, Kessinger Publishing, ISBN 1-84637-709-9, Pub date October 31, 2005, Paperback
- 2005, US, Echo Library, ISBN 978-1-84637-709-9, October 2005, Paperback
- Binyon, T. J.. Murder Will Out: The Detective in Fiction. Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press, 1989. pp. 56–58, 63-66, 122.
- Campbell, Carol. "Mystery features detective who gets it wrong". Sunday-Gazette Mail. Charleston, WV: The Monday Book Club. Archived from the original on July 13, 2007. Retrieved 28 April 2015.CS1 maint: unfit url (link)
- "Trent's Last Case (1920) - BFI". BFI.
- "Trent's Last Case (1929) - BFI". BFI.
- "Trent's Last Case (1952) - BFI". BFI.
- Trent's Last Case, Broadway Onstage. Retrieved 28 April 2015.
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