The Evolution of the Detective

Today on NPR’s “Morning Edition,” Linda Wertheimer interviewed editor Michael Sims about his new book The Dead Witness: A Connoisseur’s Collection of Victorian Detective Stories in which he offers fans of the genre an opportunity to read some of the obscure writers of that period, many of them women. Readers will meet wonderfully named female detectives such as Violet Strange and Loveday Brooke, and enjoy lesser known works by established authors such as Conan Doyle, Poe, and Wilkie Collins.

Wertheimer and Sims discussed the evolution of the detective and the detective story. Did you know that though Wilkie Collins is credited with authoring the first true detective novel, The Moonstone, Edgar Allan Poe created the first “locked room” crime story with The Murders in the Rue Morgue featuring a sleuth that used deductive reasoning to solve the mystery? Poe’s Auguste Dupin was not a professional, and that established the character of the brilliant amateur so beloved by crime writers. Sims added that the women authors of the Victorian age have been systematically left out of many anthologies by editors who believed crime writing was a man’s game. If you’ve ever wondered why so many mystery novels are by authors with names like P.D. James, M. C. Beaton, and J. D. Robb, the custom may harken to a time when anything written by a women had slim chance of getting published so the clever ladies chose genderless pen names. Listen to the interview.

Barbara L.

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