Saturday, January 12, 2008

The inspiration for Philip Woodley-Foxe

Prominent in The Case of the Diamond Shadow is the celebrity detective, Philip Woodley-Foxe, George's employer. Woodley-Foxe has had a long and colourful career, catching criminals all over the world. He's also a celebrity author of true-crime books, recounting all his many successes and adventures to a worldwide audience, and he writes for true crime magazines too. He's George's hero--but perhaps not as clever as he imagines himself to be!

Woodley-Foxe was inspired by a real-life celebrity Anglo-American detective, Harry Ashton-Wolfe, who wrote many exciting ''true-crime'' books in the 1920's and early 30's, in which he boasted about his (supposed) many successes. He claims to be a master of disguise(there are all kinds of lovely photos of him dressed up in various criminal costumes in his books), to speak many languages, to be as agile as a cat burglar, clever, brave and resourceful and to have escaped death more time than his readers have had hot dinners! He's a great believer in what he calls scientific detection and throughout his books keeps repeating that the days of the criminal are surely numbered, because science will soon understand everything there is about crime and criminals..

He claimed to have known all kinds of amazing people on the law enforcement side, from Dr Bertillon, the French Surete expert and inventor of the system of fingerprinting, to Arthur Conan Doyle, to whom he dedicated one of his many books, 'The Underworld.' He also of course claimed to have been instrumental in the capture of many infamous criminals, from violent anarchists to the fiendish underworld leader known as Hanoi Shan, the inspiration for the fictional criminal Fu Manchu; from psychopathic murderers to brilliant jewel thieves, Corsican bandits to Russian gangsters. His books, with titles like 'The Thrill of Evil,' 'The Forgotten Clue'; 'Outlaws of Modern Days' ; 'Crimes of Love and Hate' and more, are over the top, vastly entertaining, and often quite unbelievable. There's just no way one man could have done all the things he claims! Vain, boastful and name-dropping, Ashton-Wolfe could become very annoying, if he wasn't also a terrific storyteller. And he's an absolutely rich and exciting resource for a writer!
The photos above show Harry Ashton-Wolfe writing one of his books, and dressed up as a Corsican bandit, in which disguise he claims to have infiltrated a ferocious Corsican gang and brought them to justice singlehanded!

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