Wednesday, June 18, 2008
From the Shelves of the Paco Library
Arthur Train (brief bio here) was a New York lawyer and assistant district attorney whose legal career spanned the turn of the last century. He wrote several non-fiction works pertaining to crime and the law, but it is his fiction that caught my eye, perhaps ten years ago, when I picked up a book entitled By Advice of Counsel for fifty cents off the sales rack at the main branch of the Richmond Public Library. I was completely unfamiliar with the author and had picked up the volume on a purely speculative basis (I’ve encountered quite a number of interesting writers that way).
It was in this manner that I was introduced to Mr. Ephraim Tutt, Esq., the supreme achievement of Train’s inventive imagination. A yankee lawyer, from the great state of Maine, Mr. Tutt settles in New York where he employs his solid common sense, a passionate commitment to fair play, and his vast knowledge of the law (with a particular expertise in those areas of malleability known as “loopholes”) to successfully defend a long string of clients who have been sorely put upon by various bullies, misers, con artists, avaricious stepmothers, and overly-ambitious district attorneys. When we meet him, he is a man of advanced age who is easily identifiable by his lanky frame, his old-fashioned stove-pipe hat, his “congress shoes”, and a preference for toxic stogies. The stories are not only gems of humor, but mini-seminars in law and courtroom procedure.
The Tutt stories were originally published in magazines, and eventually collected into a series of books. Train wrote a “biography” of Mr. Tutt, also, and was greatly amused (and occasionally inconvenienced) when it turned out that many readers actually considered Mr. Tutt to be a real person: the fictional character was barraged with letters seeking legal advice, and was even asked to tea by elderly women hoping to retain him to handle their estates (or possibly to sound him out on the subject of matrimony).
Very few of these stories are now in print, although I saw a couple of reissues on Amazon. By dint of diligently plowing through the inventory of various used-book shops, I have acquired half a dozen or so of the short-story collections – an enterprise I heartily recommend to anyone who values well-plotted comic tales populated with highly original characters.
Correction: Mr. Tutt is from Vermont, not Maine.