Showing posts with label Anna Katharine Green. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Anna Katharine Green. Show all posts

02 March 2014

Women in Mystery History

women of mystery
by Leigh Lundin

As part of Women’s History Month, this is also Women in Literature Month, and of particular interest to our genre, Women in Mystery Month as well. Today, you’ll find a bit of history and mystery.

Who’s Counting?

I was surprised when I initially joined Sisters-in-Crime to hear women were largely underrepresented in the mystery genre. I say surprised because I read more women authors than men with a strong liking for British women writers. I grew up with Agatha Christie and loved Dorothy Sayers. In my Criminal Brief and SleuthSayers articles, I often refer to Lindsey Davis, who writes the Falco series. I read all of Ellis Peters’ Brother Cadfael books and although Elizabeth Peters isn’t English, I very much enjoy her Ramses series.

Here at home, I’ve read something by each of our Criminal Brief and SleuthSayers women authors and enjoyed them all. I’m so pleased we have such talent in house! We could not have done better! Moreover, it may not be obvious to the outside world, but to my knowledge, all of us male SleuthSayers are fans of Liz, Jan, Fran, Eve, and Janice.

My teacher friend Deborah is a major consumer of romance thrillers and she argued S-in-C was wrong. According to the RWA, if one includes crossover romances or romance novels ‘with mystery elements’, then female crime writers considerably outnumber male authors!

Mystery Elements

The definition of the difference is that in ‘pure’ mysteries, the central focus of the novel is a crime and its solution. In romance with mystery elements, a crime is a plot device to move the central relationship.

I sampled a few of the top authors in this latter genre and one thing drove me crazy. You’ll often hear arguments about ‘women in peril’. Such gnashing of teeth is futile because guys like being heroic and women like heroic guys. (It’s a case of being simultaneously correct and politically incorrect.) But in romance thrillers, the heroine more often than not places herself in deadly peril. Yaaargh.

In one such case, a hired killer stalks a female photographer. A guy ('the romantic interest') is hired to keep her safe, but she finds inventive ways to throw herself into the path of danger. In an effort to flee her protector, she magically ‘hot wires’ their only transportation and abruptly drives the vehicle into a ditch. At that moment, I was hoping the killer would succeed.

In another series, the hybristophiliac heroine starts out in pursuit of another hit man but, convinced he’s a sensitive, misunderstood soul who just happens to kill people, she falls in love and cultivates a 'relationship'. (In case of nausea, air-sickness bags are located in the seat pocket in front of you.) Some of you begin to understand why I prefer pure mystery and crime.

American Mystery History

Almost everyone is aware of that mistress of suspense, Mary Roberts Rinehart, who published her first mystery in 1908, more than a dozen years before Agatha Christie. You can’t be a fan of classic crime or classic movies without encountering that great lady. But I draw your attention to two far earlier mystery novelists.

Metta Victoria Fuller Victor
Metta Victoria Fuller Victor (1831-1885), along with her sister Frances, began writing at a tender age in the 1840s. She is credited with writing the first American crime novel in 1866, The Dead Letter, which blazed the way for paranormal mysteries. Writing under her nom de plume of Seeley Regester, she followed with another occult mystery in 1869, The Figure Eight.

Although she wrote poetry and edited a cultural periodical, The Cosmopolitan Art Journal, she became best known for 'dime novels' in the sense of modern day paperbacks, including moralistic dramas and westerns. Her 1862 abolitionist 'romance' novel, Maum Guinea and Her Plantation 'Children' or Holiday-Week on a Louisiana Plantation: a Slave Romance, became her best known, even drawing the attention of President Lincoln. Her supportive husband, author and publisher Orville James Victor, brought her works to the American public.

Anna Katharine Green
Anna Katharine Green (1846-1935) is slightly better known and I occasionally find myself reading one or another of her stories, thanks to Louis Willis. She also was blest with a supportive husband, Charles Rohlfs, who brought some of her stories to the stage, including her 1878 The Leavenworth Case, which is considered one of her best.

She’s known for a number of firsts, such as the first series detective, the first spinster detective, the first girl detective, and I suggest another first. She created the prototype for that terribly popular (and popularly terrible) television show, Charlie’s Angels.

The detective in this case is Miss Violet Strange, a society deb, who not only has intricate access to haut monde, but is brainy as well. Her agency ‘employer’ appreciates that about her and sends her on tasks where she’s usually over-appreciated and underestimated. Those oh-so-thin seventies 'jiggle' television plots could have learned much from her.

So guys, if one weekend you find yourself without a woman, then grab a woman author. Enjoy one of those bits of history, but especially consider Eve, Fran, Jan, Liz, and Janice. You’ll be glad you did.

29 December 2013

Three Firsts

by Louis Willis

My favorite fiction in the crime genre is detective stories. Before I retired I didn’t read the introductions to anthologies because I felt the summaries of the stories would interfere with my enjoyment. Once I retired and began close reading, I discovered the introductions can be very informative, especially in putting the stories in historical context. 
I bought the anthology The Dead Witness because of the description above the title: “A Connoisseur’s Collection of Victorian Detective Stories.” I wondered if the connoisseur had included any surprises, if, in fact, he met his aim “to represent the vigor and charm of the Victorian detective story at its best.” Based on the three stories I read for this post, he has done a good job. I chose the stories because the connoisseur claims they were firsts.

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"The Secret Cell" by William E. Burton (1804-1860) "has never been reprinted prior to its first appearance in 1837." It predates Poe's "Murders in the Rue Morgue," but doesn’t replace Poe as the father of the detective story because it “doesn't challenge Poe's preeminence." 
When her daughter Mary disappears, Mrs. Lobenstein, the unnamed narrator’s former laundress, asks him to find her. He hires a policeman friend, who later in life became “the head of the private police in London,” to find Mary. Their investigation reveals she has been kidnapped. Their search leads them to a “secret cell” on the grounds of a Franciscan Monastery. With the help of more policemen, they storm the fortress to rescue her. 
No way could this story be considered as the template for the detective story. It was published only once probably because it is so badly written. Reading the the first person narrator felt like listening to a garrulous old man. 
An example of the prose style: Mrs. Lobenstein’s husband “had scarcely embraced his family ere he was driven off, post-haste, to the other world....” He died.
The detective story would have been stillborn if Burton had been its father.

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"The Dead Witness; or, The Bush Waterhole" by W. W. (Mary Fortune 1833-1910), published in 1866 in the Australian Journal is "the first known detective story written by a woman." She published poems and stories using male pen names. When she began writing a series "The Detective's Album" an editor changed Waif Wander to the “genderless W. W.”
Australian police detective Brooke is sent to a small town to find a young artist named Edward Willis who has gone missing for several days. Two clues, a faulty photographic plate and a missing sheep dog, lead him to a waterhole where blood was found on the ground. While he and the shepherd Dick watch the sheep drink, a corpse rises to the surface--the dead witness. A good story, though the long, well done descriptions of the scenery seem, at times, to be padding. I downloaded three of Fortune’s novels that are in the public domain from University of Adelaide Library.

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“An Intangible Clue" by American Anna Katharine Green (1846-1935) features her female detective Violet Strange. Green was the first woman to write “a full-fledged detective novel”, (The Leavenworth Case published in 1878) and supposedly influenced Agatha Christie. 
The editor disagrees with some critics that The Dead Letter  by Seeley Regester (pen name of Metta Victoria Fuller Victor) was the first “book-length detective story by a woman.” He argues that it is not a true detective story because the detective uses the psychic visions of his daughter to solve cases, and Regester was "an inferior writer who depended upon coincidence, exhibited little wit, and had a poor sense of pacing." 
Violet Strange, a socialite good at solving crimes, works part time for a private detective firm but doesn't want to get her hands dirty solving "low-down crime." To persuade her to help the police with the case of an old woman who was brutally murdered in her home, her boss claims that a box with her name on it was found in the house. She realizes that he in fact wrote her name on the box. At the crime scene, pretending to be a curious, dainty woman as a policeman leads her about the house, she immediately identifies the clues that lead to the apprehension of the murderer. 
I downloaded some of the Violate Strange stories from the Gutenberg Project and included them in my to-read file.

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Women have come a long way. Today, no editor or publisher would dare suggest a woman use a male or genderless pen name to get published, would he?

I hope you all had a