The Strange Case of Mark Twain’s Mystery Novel

Revisiting the more obscure work of a beloved writer

Mark Twain
Mark Twain in statue form.
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Mark Twain is famous for writing countless books that changed the face of American literature — whether fiction or nonfiction. (See also: the number of acclaimed writers who have revisited his work decades after the fact.) But Twain’s work is largely viewed in light of its realism and humor. You probably wouldn’t pick up a work by Twain expecting forays into the speculative or supernatural. And yet if you dig deeply enough, that’s precisely what you’ll find.

That’s the biggest takeaway from a new article by Olivia Rutigliano at CrimeReads. In it, she looks at the two novel featuring Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn that followed Twain’s better-known novels featuring the duo. If the titles Tom Sawyer Abroad and Tom Sawyer, Detective don’t ring any bells for you, you’re not alone — but reading about these two books provides a fascinating window on Twain as a working writer.

As Rutigliano explains, Tom Sawyer Abroad was something of a riff on Jules Verne, albeit with Tom, Huck and Jim traversing the globe. Tom Sawyer, Detective looks to be even more intriguing, in that it drew from a centuries-old Dutch murder case. Rutigliano describes the novel as tracing the lives of Sawyer and Finn as they “investigate and correctly solve an outrageous mystery involving murder, stolen diamonds, mistaken identity, con men, and (possibly) ghosts.”

It’s worth mentioning that this novel was adapted for the screen in 1938. It also might help explain what Tom Sawyer was doing in the film adaptation of the Alan Moore/Kevin O’Neill comic The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen when he never appeared in the comics said film adapted.

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Even a writer like Twain has a few entries on the grand list of obscure (or semi-obscure) books by well-known writers. You might not have been aware of Tom Sawyer’s side career as a detective before this, but who knows — the story of that could be your next favorite books.

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