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. Paramount Pictures released The Benson Murder Case (1930) a film version directed by Frank Tuttle and starring William Powell as Philo Vance.
Philo Vance is a fictional character featured in 12 crime novels written by S. S. Van Dine (the pen name of Willard Huntington Wright), published in the 1920s and 1930s. During that time, Vance was immensely popular in books, movies and on the radio. He was portrayed as a stylish, even foppish dandy, a New York bon vivant possessing a highly intellectual bent. The novels were chronicled by his friend Van Dine (who appears as a kind of Dr. Watson figure in the books as well as the author).
Van Dine's first three mystery novels were unusual for mystery fiction because he planned them as a trilogy, but plotted and wrote them in short form, more or less at the same time. After they were accepted as a group by famed editor Maxwell Perkins, Van Dine expanded them into full-length novels. All twelve book titles are in the form ”The X Murder Case,” where ”X” is always a six-letter word, except for The Gracie Allen Murder Case, which was originally just ”Gracie”.
Although Van Dine was one of the most educated and cosmopolitan detective writers of his time, in his essays, he dismissed the idea of the mystery story as serious literature. He insisted that a detective novel should be mainly an intellectual puzzle that follows strict rules and does not wander too far afield from its central theme. He followed his own prescriptions, and some critics feel that formulaic approach made the Vance novels stilted and caused them to become dated in a relatively few years.
All of the cases, except The Winter Murder Case, are mostly set in the Manhattan borough of New York City. On a few occasions, Vance and Van Dine (usually accompanied by Markham and Heath) briefly travel to the Bronx, Westchester County, and New Jersey in the course of their investigations. In The Greene Murder Case Vance tells, after his arrival back in New York, that he traveled by train to New Orleans to gather information relative to the case.
Vance's last case, The Winter Murder Case, is markedly different from the previous eleven cases in that the locale is away from New York (the Berkshire Mountains of western Massachusetts) and Vance and Van Dine are surrounded by an almost completely different cast of characters (only Markham makes a brief appearance at the very beginning). Wright had just finished writing this case when he died suddenly in New York on April 11, 1939.
S. S. Van Dine was the pseudonym of Willard Huntington Wright (1888-1939), an American art critic and detective novelist. He was an important figure in avant-garde cultural circles in pre-WW I New York, and he created the once immensely popular fictional detective Philo Vance, a sleuth and aesthete who first appeared in books in the 1920s, then in movies and on the radio.