The Benson Murder Case  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

The Benson Murder Case is the first novel in the Philo Vance series of mystery novels by S.S. Van Dine, which became a best-seller.

Plot outline

New York dilettante Philo Vance decides to assist the police in investigating the death of another man-about-town because he finds the psychological aspects of the crime of interest and feels that they would be beyond the capacities of the police, even those of his friend District Attorney Markham. Vance investigates the circumstances under which the body was found and reconstructs the crime sufficiently to determine that the murderer is five feet, ten and a half inches in height. Together, Vance and Markham investigate Benson's business associates and romantic interests until Vance manages to pierce the murderer's alibi for the time of the murder and force a confession.

Literary significance and criticism

The novel was very loosely based upon a real-life case that had made headlines, the unsolved murder of bridge expert Joseph Elwell. It was considered a roman à clef because the circumstances under which Elwell's body was found -- he was shot to death in a room in his home which was found to be locked from the inside, and he was not wearing his toupee -- are duplicated in the novel. Modern knowledge of ballistics reveals that one of the central premises of the novel is fanciful, because the reconstruction of the height of the murderer is impossible.

Film adaptation

The Benson Murder Case (1930) featured William Powell as Philo Vance and was moderately faithful to the plot of the novel.




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "The Benson Murder Case" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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