Twelve Women Detective Stories, by Laura Marcus (ed)

Shelf Indulgence review

My Shelf Indulgence reading has given me the impetus to read more short stories, and I’ve hugely enjoyed the experience. Twelve Women Detectives is an eclectic selection of stories, and although only about half are written by women, they all have female detectives as central characters. Many of these stories helped to shape the conventions of modern detective fiction. Some fall down on the question of fair play – that is, providing the reader with sufficient clues to make good guesses, which is half the fun of reading crime fiction. But the collection is interesting for the way in which is demonstrates the progression of the mystery story from the 1800s to the mid-1950s and for its focus on female ’tecs. It also provides a good introduction to the range of story types in this genre: the Locked Room mystery, Adventure-Puzzle and Fair-Play Puzzle are all represented here. I recommend The Adventure of the Cantankerous Old Lady, by Grant Allen; and The Man With Nine Lives, by Hugo C. Wier for their crisp asperity and wit – although Weir certainly does not play fair with the reader, and is guilty of foisting a rather dull female Watson on the heroine, to boot. My personal favourites are Fergus Hulme’s The First Customer and the Florentine Dante (1893), and Louise Perkis’s Drawn Daggers (1897). Both are relatively early examples of the genre and feature unconventional and uncompromisingly independent women. But more importantly, the authors reject the lazy application of ‘women’s intuition’ to solve their mysteries, instead using logic and investigative method. This entertaining selection would be terrific for reading groups.

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