Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Call Mr Fortune

A look back at the writing career of H C Bailey

Henry Christopher Bailey was a Daily Telegraph journalist from 1901-46
Henry Christopher Bailey was a Daily
Telegraph journalist from 1901-46
The crime writer H C Bailey died 60 years ago today in Llanfairfechan in North Wales. He was 82 years old.

Bailey was a prolific writer of detective short stories and his series character, Reggie Fortune, appeared in more than 100 stories and some novels between 1920 and 1950.

A journalist on the Daily Telegraph between 1901 and 1946, Bailey worked as a drama critic, war correspondent and writer of editorials.

His sleuth, Reggie Fortune, is medically qualified as a surgeon, therefore he is known as Mr Fortune in the stories. Bailey was writing about him during the Golden Age of detective fiction but his stories are much darker than those of many of his contemporaries and involve subjects such as murderous obsession, police corruption and miscarriages of justice.

Henry Christopher Bailey was born in London in 1878 and studied classics at Oxford University, graduating with a BA in 1901.

He began his writing career by writing romance and historical fiction. His first novel, My Lady of Orange, was serialised in Longman’s Magazine between December 1900 and May 1901 and he went on to write another 29 novels in the same genre.

Bailey’s first collection of Reggie Fortune stories, Call Mr Fortune, was published in 1920.

The copy of Call Mr Fortune I read is a reprint by Leopold Classic Library
The copy of Call Mr Fortune I read
is a reprint by Leopold Classic Library
I read the first story in the book, The Archduke’s Tea, and agreed with other readers who had commented that the style seems very dated. Mr Fortune, who is upper class and good humoured, is standing in for his father, who is a doctor in general practice in an affluent suburb of London.

Hardly has his father left to go on holiday than Reggie receives a call to attend the house of an Archduke, the heir apparent to the Emperor of Bohemia, who has been knocked down by a motor car and brought home unconscious.

On the way, as Reggie is driven to the house by his chauffeur, he finds a body in the road, a man of the same build as the Archduke, who has also been knocked down and is dead.

At the house Reggie speaks to the Archduke’s wife, his brother and the servants. He examines his patient, who is unconscious but stable.

He finds a clue to what has happened to the Archduke and decides to seek a second medical opinion.

When he has worked out what has been going on, and the significance of the body in the road, he sets a little trap for a member of the household.

At this point in the story he establishes himself with the reader as not just a medical practitioner but as an amateur sleuth with a sharp mind.

By the end of the story he had risen still further in my estimation by achieving his own version of justice. Could Reggie Fortune be an early version of the maverick detective character so popular with writers who came afterwards?

Bailey was to write 12 collections of Reggie Fortune stories as well as some Reggie Fortune novels.

A member of the Detection Club, along with Agatha Christie and Dorothy L Sayers, Bailey also created another series character, Joshua Clunk, a lawyer who exposes corruption and blackmail and appears in 11 novels published between 1930 and 1950. 

Although Bailey’s stories and novels were out of print for a long while, many of the titles are now available in republished versions.

You can buy an edition of Call Mr Fortune from


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