Monday, 18 July 2011

Pioneer sleuths

From contemporary women detectives in books and on TV, I've stepped back into the world of their fictional forebears. The first female sleuths didn't exist in real life but on the page, conjured by men and women writers as a means to allow them into a world males may not have gained entry, or simply because the characters remained unnoticed and beyond suspicion.

The heroines featured in Michael Sims' excellent anthology The Penguin Book of Victorian in Crime - out now - are feminist antecedents and many of their concerns resonate today: the case of The Mysterious Countess (by WS Hayward, 1864?) is suddenly accelerated when a policeman sells information to a newspaper, while the narrator of The Unknown Weapon (Andrew Forrester, 1864), Mrs G, notes, 'the detective force, many of whom, though very clever, are equally simple, and accept a plain and straightforward statement with extreme willingness'.

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