All detective story readers know that C. Auguste Dupin, first appearing in the 1841 tale "The Murders in the Rue Morgue," was the orignal fictional crime solver. Poe created him even before the word "detective" existed. But Dupin was French. Wikie Collins created British detectives, Walter Hartright in The Woman in White (1860) and Sergeant Cuff in The Moonstone (1868). Sherlock Holmes was as British as British could be. He first appeared in "A Study in Scarlet," published in 1887.
The first American fictional detective arrived after Dupin and Hartright but more than twenty years before Holmes. His name ought to be well-known. He was, after all, a pioneer. But James Brampton hasn't gotten the attention he deserves. Leaves from the Note-Book of a New York Detective: The Private Record of J.B. was originally published in 1865. John Babbington Williams (1827-1879) was Brampton's creator, but not much more is known of him other than that he was a medical doctor who wrote various stories for some of the dime magazines that then existed. Happily, Westholme Publishing reprinted the book in 2008, making its 29 "leaves" available for the contemporary reader.
While it would be an exaggeration to claim that Brampton is in the same crime league as his better-known early colleagues, nevertheless the stories are intriguing precisely because Brampton relies on making close observations and drawing general conclusions from those observations. Poe had done this and Arthur Conan Doyle made such efforts famous. But Williams lack Poe's unmatchable linguistic precision or Doyle's sheer pleasure in telling the stories. Too many of the stories reach abrupt conclusions. Too many of the criminals are obvious, too many of the clues are discovered by chance, and too few of the plots are seasoned with surprises for current audiences.
The book opens with an introduction in which the author supposedly meets Brampton in a Georgia bar. Brampton immediately bets the doctor that a young man who enters the bar has stolen money from his employer. The explanation folows. The premise of the book is that Brampton has retired and sends his case notebooks to Dr. Williams who will edit and publish them. Unlike Watson, that is, Dr. Williams is not the narrator of the stories.
Not all of those stories can genuinely be considered true detective narratives. There are medical crime stories, which are not as good as the regular detective stories. There are also courtroom dramas and what might be termed thrillers. Williams, that is, deserves credit for exploring the then unchartered logical geography available to the fictional detective.
While most of the stories are set in New York, a couple are set in Baltimore. Clearly, that is, Williams was aware of Poe. And modern readers should be aware of Williams.