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Georgette Heyer is best known for her Regency romances, but early in her career:

Georgette decided to try her hand at detective fiction. In March 1923 ‘Linckes’ Great Case’ appeared in The Detective Magazine. […] This first effort in the detective-thriller genre is not a good example of Georgette’s writing. Transparent plotting, stilted dialogue and an obvious ending make it probably the worst story she ever wrote.

Jennifer Kloester (2011). Georgette Heyer: Biography of a Bestseller, p. 62. London : William Heinemann.

In addition to the problems identified by Kloester, two aspects of the plot of ‘Linckes’ Great Case’ are baffling. First, the detective must identify a spy who is stealing military secrets (in the manner of Agatha Christie’s ‘The Submarine Plans’, published the same year). It turns out that

the spy is exchanging places from time to time with an identical twin or doppelganger.

What did Heyer imagine the character was hoping to achieve by this? No explanation is given in the story, and the rigmarole seems counter-productive as it exposes the character to risk while not assisting with the theft of the secrets.

Second, the detective sets out to confirm his suspicions by pretending to send some military secrets to the suspect, but actually sending blank pieces of paper, so that it will look as if someone has stolen the secrets in transit. How did Heyer imagine the detective intended this gambit to confirm his theory? Again, no explanation is given in the story, and I do not see that the gambit yielded any clues.

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  • Are you looking for documentary evidence of what Heyer thought, which seems unlikely given her quietly dropping mention of this work from her catalogue, or people's theories as to how these things might have had potential to help the story? is the text available online anywhere? I see it is available in a collected edition, but curious though I am I'm slightly loth to lash out eight quid just to satisfy our curiosity.
    – Spagirl
    Sep 7 at 16:50
  • I'm really looking for any plausible explanation! Possibly the whole thing is a parody or deliberate absurdity, though if that was the intention it would have been nice to have some signposts. (Compare, e.g., "The Adventurous Exploit of the Cave of Ali Baba" where the absurdity is well-signposted and the story hangs together according to its own dreamlike logic.) Sep 7 at 17:15
  • @Spagirl Sorry about the lack of online text, I looked but could not find any either. Sep 7 at 17:18
  • I can't promise great insights, but i have spend very nearly a fiver on a book of collected short stories which I believe contains the elusive tale. I'll read it tonight over my sgadan le buntàta is pònairean (after I've done my Duolingo Gaelic)
    – Spagirl
    Sep 8 at 10:49
  • I hope you don't regret it! (I think the collection is worth it for the stories by Upfield and Brand.) Sep 8 at 11:30
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I've now read the story and it is quite interesting to note Heyer's restraint in regard to not spelling out the resolution Poirot-style.

My own take is that the doppelganger, Alec, is clearly Winthrop's brother, the 'other child' who was taken abroad by their mother when their parents separated. I think we are to assume that that child grew up, possibly in Germany, with perhaps an antipathy to the English side of his family and their homeland. But Winthrop himself also has to be assumed to be part of the aristocracy that was sympathetic to the idea of Fascism.

The world in the early 1920s was changing in ways the British upper class neither liked nor understood. The old traditions seemed to be lost. New dangers threatened, and the preservation of the old order and the maintenance of British power abroad appeared to be at stake. Some believed the time for a new idea, a new political system to preserve the place of the aristocracy, had arrived, and some placed their faith for the future in fascism.

So at some point, Winthrop and his brother hatched the plot of using Winthrop's position to act in support of that ideal.

It isn't, as you observe, clear what the advantage of interchangeable Winthrops is. Perhaps the brother merely acts as a placeholder while the real Winthrop waltzes out in disguise to meet his 'handlers' and pass over the secrets. If he's always in view, he can never be under suspicion.

The blank sheets ruse is likewise slightly difficult to work out. I think there are two possibilities:

  • the bogus package is prepared, and Winthrop casually alerted. Winthrop then decides to 'stage' an interception of the documents, substituting a bag of documents which he knows are blank for ones he assumes have secrets, as a way of generally muddying the waters. He doesn't need to intercept them, they were coming to him anyway. He only does it for the theatre of it, and so that he can tell Linckes that some other scoundrel has 'got away with it'. Winthrop takes the role of the discoverer of the theft/substitutions, assuming it will disguise the fact that he was instead its instigator.

or, and possibly more likely

  • There was no interception, the blank documents are the ones Caryu supplied. Fortescue relates the fact of an innocent collision (or possibly one staged by Linckes as bait to see if Winthrop casts that incident as a point of theft), and Winthrop seizes on it as a means of explaining why Fortescue, inexplicably to him, had a bag full of blanks. In this scenario Winthrop regards the blank documents and apparent interception as a fortuitous occurrence by which previous security breaches will be assumed to be the work of this same anonymous interceptor.

Now that I've thought about Linckes possibly staging a faux interception, I'm much happier with the second option, though I think it still has holes in it.

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  • A valiant attempt, thank you for your ideas! But the difficulty I have with the blank documents gambit is not how Winthrop reacts, but rather what Linkes was hoping to achieve. Sep 22 at 16:17
  • Ah, I think he was just hoping to provoke Winthrop into a reaction of any sort. But as I said, still holey.
    – Spagirl
    Sep 22 at 17:11

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