Dr. Rosenbach’s book-dealing prowess not only earned him an extensive clientele, an amazing personal collection, and the chance to publish about his exploits, but his widespread fame also gave him a star turn as the victim in a 1930 murder mystery. The Yorkshire Moorland Mystery (a.k.a The Yorkshire Moorland Murder) by J.S. Fletcher revolves around the death of an American book dealer, Charles Essenheim, whose body is found in a crevice on the Yorkshire moor.
It is clear that foul play was involved–the dealer died from two blows to the head. As the novel progresses, it becomes clear that Dr. Essenheim was murdered shortly after having purchased a first edition of Pilgrim’s Progress and a medieval book of hours, both of which were missing when the body was found. But if you want to find out what happens next, you’ll have to read the book.
In one of his Saturday Evening Post articles, Dr. Rosenbach claimed that Essenheim was based on him, an homage which the mystery-loving Dr. R enjoyed. A quick read through the book leaves little doubt that the character was inspired by Dr. Rosenbach’s image as the man who bought the best books at the highest prices. Here are some of the descriptions of the American book dealer Essenheim:
One of the most famous book-collectors and authority on books living…Comes [to the U.K.] regularly and buys up all the rare stuff he can lay hands on—spends piles of money.
His knowledge of what I will call the old book world seemed to me to be nothing less than uncanny; second, that he was the quickest hand at a bargain that I had ever known; and third, that he appeared to be in command of an inexhaustible purse.
In addition to using him as the model for the murder victim, Fletcher also refers to Rosenbach by name late in the book, when one of the American characters refers to “our own great authority, Dr. Rosenbach.”
J.S. Fletcher, the author of The Yorkshire Moorland Mystery, was an extremely prolific Yorkshire author who published 237 books on a variety of topics; including 120 detective stories. Woodrow Wilson apparently read and enjoyed his earlier novel The Middle Temple Murder.
Fletcher claimed that his interest in crime fiction was inspired by:
the fact that a famous case of fraud was heard at the Quarter Sessions at a town where I was at school – its circumstances were unusual and mysterious and the truth hard to get at…”Then, when I left school, I meant to be a barrister and I read criminal law and attended a great many queer trials for some time. But turning to journalism instead, I knew of a great many queer cases on famous murder trials. Also, I learnt a good deal about criminology in conversations with the late HB Irving, the famous actor, who was an expert.
For those of you who were wondering, H.B. Irving was the son of famous actor Sir Henry Irving, whose theatre company Bram Stoker managed. (He also looks a lot like his dad) H.B. trained as a lawyer, but then went into theater before eventually returning to the law and publishing A Book of Remarkable Criminals.
Given his prodigious output, Fletcher is often criticized for having produced rather formulaic and repetitive work. Nonetheless, if you are interested in a light read and in finding out who killed Dr. R (I mean Dr. Essenheim) you should check out The Yorkshire Moorland Mystery.