Showing posts with label women. Show all posts
Showing posts with label women. Show all posts

11 December 2016

The Gift of the Maggid


Yesterday, Bonnie wrote about plot twists. She should know– B. K. Stevens practices the twist herself– the literary kind– as I’ve been learning in her short story collection, Her Infinite Variety.

She goes on to mention
“… those irritating people who say, ‘Really? You were actually surprised by the ending of The Sixth Sense? Not me. I figured it out halfway through the opening credits.’ I can't stand those people.”
Uh-oh. I’m one of those people. I even, er, violated at least one of her stories that way. Well, I don’t say it out loud, but you know– the mind leaps ahead – What would I do? – and sometimes hits upon the right result. Do other readers see it the same way? If we manage to figure out where the plot’s headed, then we might see a little self-satisfied glimmer reflected and mumble, “Genius!” And if we can’t, then we take pleasure the author fairly fooled us.

Stevens — Her Infinite Variety
The Girl from Iphigenia

Fact: Once upon a time in a small New England town, a middle-aged woman worked in the data entry department for a shoe company. The story surrounding Edna was that her domineering mother had never allowed her to date, but made her devote herself to caring for her parents and an unmarried aunt. Beyond bringing in an income, it’s possible Edna’s pedestrian workday had become an escape into normalcy. Why do I mention this? Let's talk about Her Infinite Variety.

Last week, I touched upon a trio of the author’s series characters included in two of the book’s eleven stories– Iphigenia Woodhouse, her irascible professor mother, and ‘Little Harriet’ Russo, the assistant who becomes their foot detective. I hinted at the complex relationship: “Little Harriet plays an Archie Goodwin to Iphigenia, and the formidable Iphigenia plays an Archie to her mother, the professor.”

But there’s a fourth character, the ever-patient Detective Barry Glass, inamorato of the divine Miss Iphigenia, known as That Man by her mother with considerable bile and venom. If she hasn’t already done so, I hope Bonnie publishes a collection of her Woodhouse stories so we might learn if Iphigenia and That Man Glass ever manage to slip into something more comfortable, i.e, the hay mow, the woods, or the bedsheets.

Bonnie’s article yesterday and Leah Abrams’ children’s religious studies gave me the idea for today’s offbeat title. A ‘maggid’ was an often wandering Slavic Jewish storyteller and teacher popular in the 17th and 18th centuries.
The Temp

The author gives us a sample of another series character, Leah Abrams. Family is important to Leah, her husband Sam and daughters Sarah and Rachel. You notice the Biblical names and may rightly assume quiet piety is important within their home.

Leah, with a PhD in communications, constantly researches material for scholarly volumes, which might or might not see the light of day. In these cosies, we see a parody of those books in self-help courses.

To study workplace psychology, Leah takes interesting office jobs such as temping for a psychic hotline company and counseling for a fancy rehab center. Wherever she works, she stumbles upon murders. Naturally, her friend, Lieutenant Brock, ably facilitates her in finding the perpetrators.

The Rest

B. K. Stevens provides seven additional stand-alone tales, including a Mary Higgins Clark winner, ‘The Listener’. All the clues are there for the astute reader.

I’ve still a couple of stories to go, but I admire the collection. For a smart Christmas or Chanukah gift, you’d be hard pressed to shop for better than Her Infinite Variety, or indeed any of the books from our SleuthSayers members.

Many of our friends and followers have books on the shelves and the on-line marketplace for the holidays. (Elizabeth, does that include you?) Rather than accidentally omit one of my SleuthSayers colleagues, I invite you to add your titles in the comments.

Happy reading!

01 September 2016

The Mass Murderer or the Holy Man?


The name of Harney Peak in the Black Hills National
Black Elk Peak
In case you hadn't heard, we had a name change here in South Dakota:  the former Harney Peak, the highest natural site in South Dakota, in the Black Hills, officially had its name changed on August 11, 2016 by the US Board on Geographic Names to Black Elk Peak.  You might ask why the name change?  Because, as Martin Luther King Jr. once said, "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.'

A Civil War-era portrait of Gen. William S. Harney,
Gen. William S. Harney,
a/k/a "Woman Killer"
William S. Harney (1800-1889) was a cavalry officer in the Mexican American War, the Indian Wars, and a general during the Civil War.  He was not a nice man.  His infamy began back in June of 1834 when, while serving as a Major in the Paymaster Corps, Jefferson Barracks, St. Louis, Mo., Harney whipped a female slave named Hannah to death over the misplacement of keys.  When word got out, the Cincinnati Journal reported Harney as "A MONSTER!" and he actually had to flee to Wheeling, Virginia to avoid a mob.  (He was eventually acquitted, but remember the times.  Whites were never actually convicted of killing blacks; in many ways it shows how horrific Hannah's death was that a mob came after him.)

"Here's what the Nebraska State Historical Society has to say about Harney's actions (known as the "Harney Massacre") at an Indian village in 1855 at Blue Water Creek, south of the Black Hills: "While engaged in a delaying parley with Chief Little Thunder" Harney's troops "circled undetected" toward the village, "where the infantry opened fire and forced the Indians toward mounted soldiers, who inflicted terrible casualties. 86 Indians were killed, 70 women and children were captured, and their tipis were looted and burned.""  (See Constant Commoner blog for 8/14/16.)

After that, Harney was known among the Sioux as "Woman Killer."  This is who the mountain was named after in 1855 by American Lieutenant Gouverneur K. Warren, who served under General Harney and apparently loved it.  

Black Elk and Elk of the Oglala Lakota -1887.jpg
Black Elk (l) 
Meanwhile, there's Black Elk (1863-1950).  Lakota Sioux, medicine man, visionary, and author of "Black Elk Speaks", who knew that his visions were given him to help heal his people:
"And while I stood there [on Black Elk Peak] I saw more than I can tell and understood more than I saw; for I was seeing in a sacred manner the shapes of all things in the spirit, and the shape of all shapes as they must live together like one being. And I saw that the sacred hoop of my people was one of many hoops that made one circle, wide as daylight and as starlight, and in the center grew one mighty flowering tree to shelter all the children of one mother and one father. And I saw that it was holy."
Black Elk is very important to the Lakota, as well as other Native Americans:  In fact, the suggestion of Black Elk Peak came from Basil Brave Heart, a Lakota elder born on Pine Ridge, which, like it or not, is part of South Dakota.  Here's part of an interview with him on the subject:

"About two years ago, I had a very deep, intuitive feeling that Harney Peak represented a very deep atrocity that was committed against the Little Thunder Tiyospaye at Blue Water Creek in 1855. There were women and children massacred. The way this whole thing was conducted by General Harney, to me, was despicable. As a military man, a combat veteran of Korea, I think he violated the deepest, most honorable military code of conduct, which relates to treating the enemy. First, there was a white flag that was lifted by Chief Little Thunder. Harney disregarded that, and he went in. His whole intention was to annihilate. This was to send a message. Soldiers don’t do that. They conduct themselves in a way that is ultimately humane.
Basil Brave Heart
"So, you took the first step?

"It weighed on my heart. You know, we Oglalas still live near this sacred peak. We see it all the time. Knowing as we do General Harney’s history with our people, it has always bothered me. Then a young man came to visit me (Myron Wayne Pourier); he is a direct descendant of Black Elk, and he said he wanted to see the name changed. I said: I don’t want to do it unless I have the Black Elk family’s full support. He said: You have it.

"That must have really raised the stakes?

"It really did. He said: In fact, I have Grandpa Black Elk’s pipe. I said: Well, let’s smoke it. Let’s say a prayer and ask Tunkasila, the Great Spirit, and all the Christology that I embrace, and then will come the effort that we’re going to put into it – but the outcome is up to Tunkasila, the Great Spirit.

"So prayer was there at the beginning?

"Definitely, at the beginning. We filled the pipe and we smoked it."
You'd think this would be a no-brainer, right?  Woman Killer v. the Holy Man? What's to argue with?  Ask our politicians:
Senator John Thune: I’m surprised and upset by the U.S. Board on Geographic Names’ unilateral decision to rename Harney Peak, one of South Dakota’s most well-known landmarks…. The national board’s choice to reject the state’s recommendation to leave the name as-is defies logic, since it was state officials who so carefully solicited public feedback and ultimately came to their decision. I’m also disappointed the board grossly misled my office with respect to the timeline of its decision, which wasn’t expected until next year” [Senator John Thune, press release, 2016.08.11].
NOTE: Lou Yost, the executive secretary for the board, said he was unaware of who in the four-person office told Thune's office that the issue would wait until next year.  "Who told him that it wasn't going to be addressed until next year? As far as I know, we haven't had any correspondence, and we're a pretty small office," he said.  (see USA Today)
Governor Dennis Daugaard: I am surprised by this decision, as I have heard very little support in South Dakota for renaming Harney Peak. This federal decision will cause unnecessary expense and confusion. I suspect very few people know the history of either Harney or Black Elk [Governor Dennis Daugaard, press release, 2016.08.11].  

(All I can say is that most Lakota know a great deal about Black Elk, and they know that Harney was a butcher, so to them it's sort of like if Israel changed the name of a mountain from Mendele Peak to Moshe Peak.  Great rejoicing.)  
“I truly believe that (Daugaard) wants to improve race relations in South Dakota, but comments like that don’t help matters,” said Sen. Troy Heinert, D-Mission, a Rosebud Sioux member who chairs the state tribal relations committee. “Black Elk is still very significant to our culture. So is Harney.... My suggestion would be to have a press release explaining that Black Elk was a spiritual man of peace and welcoming the opportunity for our citizens and the visitors of our great State to learn about the true history, majesty, and importance of the He Sapa (Black Hills).”   (See Argus Leader)

Maybe we should all send Governor Daugaard and Senator Thune a copy of Black Elk Speaks.  Or a history book.    


16 May 2016

Things That Go Bump or Scream in The Night


I'm  a notorious insomniac. It all started the night I was born. I didn't arrive until two am. I have no idea what my mother was doing out so late. She was barely eighteen. I think it was because she and my dad had a thing. But me sleep? No way. I was sliding naked into a brightly lit, cold room where some giant fellow slapped me on the butt and made me cry. Of course mother and I finally did get to sleep around four. Well, that was when I got to sleep.

First, this really sweet faced nurse cleaned me up and dressed me and I got to flirt with my dad. One look at him and I understood why mom married him. Tall, good looking, dark hair and blue eyes. Next I flirted with the boy baby next to me in the nursery. Must admit I've been making eyes with boys ever since. We did sleep a little while.  Mom went to asleep pretty soon after I arrived. I think that giant guy gave her some kind of knock out drops. Those bright lights and those darn nurses kept bothering me every few minutes. It all led to me having trouble going to sleep some sixty-seventeen years later.

The other night I was reading, Michael Connelly's latest book, The Crossing, featuring Harry Bosch and his half-brother Mickey Haller. A wonderful read by the way. If you like that sort of thing. Any way I heard this loud male voice say, "Get Out." or "You Get Out of Here." I wasn't sure of exactly what he said, it was something along those lines. Okay it's 2:30am and the house is really quiet that time of night. No television noise. The AC isn't running at that minute. I did notice the time.

Normally, I wouldn't exactly get scared. My little town is almost like a village and it's probably as safe as anyone can be. But, I do live here alone. And we do have full time police force. In fact, the police station is right up the street from me. A mile or less.

The loud male voice just hit me wrong that time of the night. I only heard that one remark. he didn't repeat it nor did I hear a response. I'm smart enough not to look out my windows or turn on the porch light to SEE what might be going on out in the street in front of my house. I didn't remember hearing any cars screeching or banging together, however I was involved in my book. And this book isn't like a Stephen King. If I'd been reading a King book I would have turned off my light, gone to bed and covered up my head. You know, just in case something was out there and could GET me.

I did pick up my phone and dial 911. The dispatcher said, "911 what's your emergency." I said, "It's not exactly an emergency. I want to report hearing a man's voice outside my home, yelling to someone." He asked for my phone number, I'm on my only phone, a cell phone. Then he asked to verify my address. And I started to give him my name about the time he was asking for it. He asked me again to detail what I had heard and assured me the police were rolling this way. I told him I was a 77 year old woman, widowed and lived alone. That this voice at this time of the night had scared me. He said "Did you look out?" I said, "No. I'm all locked up inside and didn't look out because if someone is out there I don't want them to see me. They might not be happy about that."

He kept me on the phone for a couple of minutes, I assumed until the police arrived. There wasn't a siren and I didn't even hear a car, but in a couple more minutes I heard someone walk up my front porch steps. Then someone said, "Mrs. Grape" and knock on the door. I said, "who is it." Then realized it must be police because they called my name. I got up, turned on the porch light and could see a police officer there. It was a very pretty female police officer. I opened the door.

My goodness, she was young, wearing an officer's uniform. Shorter than my five, three, she looked to be about five two and maybe a little more. Loaded down with belt and gun and all kinds of equipment that likely brought her weight up to maybe 110 lbs. She said, "I'm with the police." I said, " Come in." She stuck out her hand, shook mine firmly, and I said, my name is Jan. She said her name was Sara.

Police officer Sara said, "I walked up and down the street out here. I didn't see anything and all the houses around here looked dark. Have you heard anything else?"

I said, "No, only a dog barking."

She said she saw and heard a dog. Said it was an Alaskan Husky.  She said she wasn't too fond of big dogs. And she asked again to tell her what I heard.

I repeated it all again. This loud male voice and at 2:30 in the morning. I didn't know if a couple of guys were arguing or what? I didn't know if it was in front of my house or down the street. How noise travels this time of night. I said, "I didn't know if a couple of guys were arguing and could maybe start shooting one another."

The dog started barking again and that's when I realized that a man shouting, "Get Out." or "Get outta here" was probably yelling at that dog. Maybe the dog was in his yard and he was trying to chase him away. AND boy, did I feel dumb.

But Sara said,  "I'm glad you called. It could have been something dangerous and you and I are both glad it wasn't. Don't ever hesitate to call. I'm going to sit in the patrol car down here a little ways for a few minutes and be absolutely sure there's nothing to worry about.

I thanked her and apologized a couple more times. I asked her name again to be sure I had it right.

She said, "It's Sara."

I said, "I can remember that."

And then she said, "Just ask for the girl. I'm the only girl in the department. I get a little teasing about that."

I said, okay. I also made a mental note to tell her soon she should never put up with the guys just calling her a girl. She had to pass the same qualifying as the "boys" did.

I also didn't tell her that I write mysteries and that my imagination often goes wild especially with things that go bump or scream in the night.

11 February 2016

Vera


I have no problem with being “a woman of a certain age.” Well, to be frank, old. So long as you don't refer to me as a “senior” or some other namby-pamby euphemism, I’m OK with old. Youth may be wasted on the young, but they're the only ones with the energy to endure it. No, aside from “the ills that flesh is heir to” as Hamlet puts it, I’m pretty content, except for my quarrel with the almost uniformly young and glamorous heroines of popular novels and TV series.
Oh, it’s fine for a George Gently to show white hair and a bit of a paunch. Kurt Wallander was done in by dementia not low ratings, and Inspector Lewis, with a bit of makeup and hair dye, looks to go on until he's older than his one time mentor Inspector Morse.

Not so the women of mystery, who need youth or glamor and preferably both. Except for Hetty Wainthropp, I don’t think anyone has picked up Miss Marple’s cardigan. So it has been a pleasure to discover Vera Stanhope, the crusty, plain spoken DCI from Newcastle, who is the featured detective in Vera. The series from ITV is now several seasons old but is just now showing up on my set.

This DCI is middle aged and dumpy. Her wardrobe can best be described as functional. She has a peculiar and distinctive voice and calls everyone, even prime suspects, either Love or Pet. If she’s got emotional trauma in her past, secret addictions, or unlikely obsessions, she keeps them private. Brenda Bethyn plays her as a grown up lady and all the better for that.


Based on the novels of Ann Cleeves, who is also responsible for that taciturn depressive, Jimmy Perez of Shetland, Vera uses a nice blend of up to date tech – the cry for CCTV footage goes out several times in every episode – with a good sense of human nature to solve her cases.

Accompanied by her young and handsome DS Joe Ashworth (David Leon), Vera is often abrasive but never heartless, being particularly sympathetic to younger offenders. She’s no softie, but she’s a good listener who, unlike her able young sergeant, can draw on a vast experience of human oddities and frailties. She’s been around long enough so that nothing too much surprises DCI Stanhope. Nice to see age is worth something!

The TV show encouraged me to sample Cleeves’ Silent Voices, part of a Vera Stanhope series. I was not disappointed. Like the Shetland novels, Silent Voices is well written with an intricate plot, an abundance of red herrings and misdirection, and a fine sense of landscape and atmosphere – like me, the author is clearly a countrywoman.

But Vera is a much more interesting, rough-edged, and generally sparky character than the hero of the Shetland series, and these traits are emphasized in the novel more than on the screen. Vera occasionally succumbs to envy and she has a nice line in snarky thoughts. She gets cranky with her staff and over works Joe, her conscientious sergeant, who is her closest companion as well as assistant.

At the same time, the DCI never falls into self pity, although she is a lonely person. She is quick to apologize and also to praise. This is a well rounded character, with a good deal of sympathy for the people who get entangled in crime and violence, as well as a tremendous excitement about her job. Like Sherlock Holmes, she can’t wait for the game to be afoot.

There are differences between screen and print versions of the character. Clearly a novel is much better at presenting the inner thoughts of the characters and the intellectual process of detection. But it is also interesting that, as with Elizabeth George’s Barbara Havers, Vera has been tidied up a bit for TV. She is chunky but not really fat, and Brenda Bethyn is only a decent haircut and a nicer wardrobe away from being totally presentable.

Not so Vera of the novel, who is depicted not only as homely but as terminally undesirable, a convention I find unfortunate. If only the svelte and pretty were attractive, there would be no population problem anywhere, and it strikes me that Vera’s blank romantic life is simply the female variant of the suffering detectives are supposed to endure.

But maybe not forever. In the last TV episode, a would-be admirer appeared. Vera turned him down – but left the door open. Now a plain faced, overweight female detective of a certain age with a bona fide admirer would really break a number of stereotypes.

I hope the script writers will go for it!

17 March 2015

The St. Patrick’s Day Crime Blotter, and a Whole Lot of Blarney***


Crime Blotter d1

Valentine_Day_massacre
In honor of my post falling on St. Patrick’s Day and in keeping with the crime nature of this blog, I thought I should pay homage to the day with the St. Patrick’s Day Crime Blotter.

Everybody knows the famousinfamousSt. Valentine’s Day Massacre of 1929. So one might think St. Patrick got short shrift. I mean in a world where “my massacre is bigger than your massacre” is important stuff, one might think St. Paddy and St. Val would come to blows over who has the better holiday and, of course, who has a more impressive spot on the crime blotter.

After all, See’s Candy makes marshmallow-shaped hearts for Valentine’s Day, but what do they do for St. Patrick’s Day? A handful of chocolates in green boxes and green tinfoil and chocolate “potatoes”. Major slight. Which reminds me of the line from the Ernst Lubitsch classic To Be or Not to Be, where Colonel Ehrhardt (Sig Ruman) says, “They named a brandy after Napoleon, they made a herring out of Bismarck, and the Fuhrer is going to end up as a piece of cheese!”

Well, the chocolate potato is like the cheese, especially compared to marshmallow hearts. Where the herring fits in I’m not quite sure.

So, let’s take a little quiz:

Alex, I’ll take St. Paddy’s Day deaths for $100, please.

Who was the first St. Patrick’s Day death?

Uh, that’s a tough one, let me think. St. Patrick.

Right you are. That’s why the holiday is observed on the date of his death, March 17th.

*     *    *

Now, let’s see. It seems St. Val’s Day is in the lead what with the Massacre named after him, and seven murders from shotgun, pistol and Tommy gun blasts, the latter most likely emerging from Stradivarius violin cases.

So, it looks like St. Val is ahead in the Crime Blotter Race. But the fact is that St. Pat’s day can compete with St. Valentine’s Day. First, a couple minor examples:

On March 17, 1921, mafia hood Albert Anastasia was convicted of murdering GeorgePaul_Muni-scarface_1932 d1 Turino, a longshoreman. They’d quarreled. And I guess you don’t quarrel with one of the founding members of Murder, Inc. Due to a legal technicality, Anastasia was given a retrial in 1922, and because four of the original prosecution witnesses had somehow magically disappeared, Anastasia’s sentence was overturned.  The question is, were they given anesthesia by Anastasia before their disappearing acts? Like I said, I guess it doesn’t pay to quarrel with one of the founders of Murder, Inc.

March 17, 1996, the play Getting Away with Murder, by Stephen Sondheim and George Furth opened. March 31, 1996: the Broadway production of the play closes after seventeen performances one day for each day of March leading up to St. Pat’s day. Maybe not a record, but not bad. Even Sondheim couldn’t get away with this one.

And there’s a couple more pretty gruesome events that occurred on March 17th in history that my wife asked me to excise in the name of good taste, but if you look up Richard Ramirez, a.k.a. The Night Stalker, Rachel Manger Hudson and Uganda on this date you’ll get an idea.

*     *     *

The St. Patrick’s Day Massacre


Now here’s the KickerSt. Pat does have a massacre named in his honor. Bet you didn’t know that, did’ja?

St. Patrick: “I’ll see your St. Valentine’s Day Massacre and raise you one St. Pat’s Day Massacre.”

St. Valentine: “Ha.”

But let’s see.

March 16, 1926: Chicago gangster Jean Arnaud is having a St. Patrick’s Day party at his sister-in-law’s apartment. (Even though it’s the day before, it counts for St. Pat’s Day since it is in honor of that holiday and is, indeed, known as the St. Patrick’s Day Massacre.) Rival hood Alphonse “Scarface” Lambert wants to off Arnaud and his peeps. The party starts around 4:30pm and Scarface has several teams of gunmen hit the party by 5pm. Besides the in-house teams, sniper teams are on the buildings across the street. Scarface really wants this dude dead and gone. The whole attack takes less than ten minutes. There are no survivors, and the death count is never officially known, as some of the people who attended the party are never found.

A cop on the scene describes it as a "human slaughterhouse." And you thought your last party bombed.

All of the shooters, Scarface, and everyone involved in the crime escaped. No prosecutions follow.
And even with all that blood and gore, Scarface didn’t get what he wanted as one of Arnaud’s lieutenant’s took up the reigns of Arnaud’s crime family and then finked Scarface out to the cops. Equilibrium was restored and all was right with the world of crime again.

But for some reason St. Patrick’s Day gets the short shrift on this Massacre, which occurred before the more famous St. Val’s. So you see, it’s sort of like Betamax vs. VHS, and maybe the “best” massacre is forgotten. But, as we now know, St. Val ain’t got nothin’ on St. Pat in the Crime Blotter Department.

***Disclaimer: No already-dead people were hurt in the making of this article. Nor is itsAlice's Restaurant intention to cast aspersions on them or make light of their fate, or on the fate of the guilty, or innocent. Nor to cast aspersions on Thompson submachine guns, Betamax players, St. Patrick or his day, St. Val or his day, Irish people, Irish men, Irish women, Irish girls, Irish boys, Ireland, Jill Ireland, Kathy Ireland, John Ireland, Irish holidays, James Joyce, Ulysses, William Butler Yeats, J.M. Synge, Bono, Enya, Celtic Women (in general and the singing group), Danny Boy, my friend Denise, leprechauns, the blarney stone, blarney, the color green in all its variations, the Emerald Isle, Alphonse “Scarface” Lambert, Jean Arnaud, Stephen Sondheim, George Furth, Murder, Inc., the years 1921, 1926, 1929, 1996 (or any other years), chocolate potatoes, Alex Trebek, Jeopardy, Double Jeopardy, the Daily Double, Ernst Lubitsch, Sig Ruman, Col. Ehrhardt, Bismark, Napoleon, herrings, cheese, the massacree at Alice’s Restaurant, massacres in specific and massacres in general, and the specific massacres mentioned in this piece, but not limited only to those mentioned by name, Jack Webb or R.A. Cinader. No names have been changed to protect the guilty or innocent. Jack Webb had nothing to do with the writing of this article.

And yes, murder is bad, I get that. This article is satireGallows Humoras such it closes Saturday night.  But, we also know, Saturday’s alright for fighting.

Just one more thing, is it too late to buy stock in Murder, Inc.?

Oh, and Happy St. Patrick’s Day everyone. Please pass the green beer.


St_Patrick's_Day

*     *     *

And from the Department of BSP: I’m happy and honored to announce that my story, “Howling at the Moon,” came in at #7 in the Ellery Queen Readers Award Poll. And that fellow Sleuthsayer David Dean has threeThree!stories in the top ten. Way to go, David.

Ellery Queen 2014 Readers Award Poll -- 3-13-15 -- D1

30 November 2014

The First Female Detective


In my August post, “An Homage To Poe,” I discussed Andrew Forrester (pen name of J. Redding Ware) and his short story “Arrested On Suspicion.” I also mentioned The Female Detective, a collection of stories that he supposedly edited. I couldn’t find the book on Project Gutenberg. I found and downloaded it from Google Play. Because I couldn’t increase the small text in the scanned edition, I bought a print edition (released in 2012). The Female Detective was originally published in 1864.   
In the introduction to the 2012 edition of The Female Detective, Mike Ashley accepts Forrester as the author of the stories, though the scanned edition shows him as the editor. When  the book was published, there were no women detectives, either private or police, in Britain. It would be 50 years before women detectives appeared. Meanwhile, in the United States, the Pinkerton agency employed a woman detective in 1856, and the first policewoman appeared in 1908 in Portland, Oregon.
However, women as amateur detectives had appeared in stories prior to 1864, but “These works...involved women who, by circumstance, were forced to investigate matters.” According to Ashley, THE FEMALE DETECTIVE features the first professional woman detective: "Whether inspired by real events or entirely fictional it is clear that the mysterious 'G' is first and foremost the pioneering female detective.” 

G, as the police refer to her (she calls herself Gladden), is retired from the detecting business and was wise enough to allow a “literary editor” to revise her manuscript. G wrote the “book to help show, by my experience, that the detective has some demand upon the gratitude of society.”
The first case in the collection, “Tenant For Life,” is about a five year old inheritance fraud that G feels she must expose. Her round-about way of telling the story at first annoyed me until I accepted that she, like many of us old folks, likes to talk. She considers herself “a good talking companion, and “women are in the habit of talking scandal, with me for a hearer, within three hours of my making their acquaintance."
From a cabman and his wife, she learns the story of how, five years earlier,  the cabman bought a baby from a poor woman who appeared to be in distress. Shortly after the transaction, a lady ran after him looking for a woman with a baby and hears the baby crying in the cab. She offered him thirty pounds and he sold the baby to her. After hearing the story, G suspected the lady wanted to substitute the child for one who had died and that possibly an inheritance fraud was involved. She feels it is her duty to “deal out justice” and see that the property is return to the rightful owner, if it is in fact an inheritance fraud. 
I like the story for the way in which G goes about the investigation. Researching the birth and death records of the village where the cabman had sold the baby, she discovers it was born close to the same time a wealthy lady, Mrs. Shedleigh, in the village died. Armed with this information, she locates a family consisting of a five-year-old girl, her father Mr. Newton Shedleigh, and his sister Miss Shedleigh. Disguising herself as a seamstress, she gains entrance into the Shedleigh household and learns all she can about the Shedleighs. 
From her research on the law on inheritance, she learns that if the children of a husband and wife die before the wife, and she dies before the husband, he inherits her possession and becomes a “tenant for life.” If she dies without children, her property passes to her father’s brother. Her investigation of the Shedleighs leads to the dead wife’s uncle, whom she suspects is the rightful heir.
I like G even though she seems to be a meddlesome woman who interferes in other people’s lives to prove that detectives are necessary. I’m sure I’ll enjoy the remainder of her sleuthing adventures.

So long until next month when I must say goodbye.

31 August 2014

An Homage To Poe


After struggling with the article on the colon, I once again turned my attention to the stories in the anthology The Dead Witness and selected “Arrested on Suspicion” by Andrew Forrester because the author pays homage to Poe. The narrator explains, “Of course I do not wish to hide from the reader that I was trying to copy Edgar Poe’s style of reasoning in this matter; for confessedly I am making this statement to show how a writer of fiction can aid officers of the law.”
In his brief introduction to the story the editor discusses the public’s attitude to detective stories, and the publication of the stories in “yellowbacks,” cheap magazines similar to the penny dreadfuls. Naturally, I had to see what the “yellowbacks” looked like. To Google once more I went. 






 Since the anthology was compiled in 2012, I assumed the editor also had access to Google. I therefore was somewhat skeptical of his claim that he couldn’t verify the  author’s birth and death. He also claims, “Andrew Forrester was a pseudonym employed by an important early writer whose real name is lost.” I looked up Andrew Forrester on Wikipedia. His actual identity was unknown until recently when a story of his, “A Child Found Dead: Murder or No Murder?” was discovered, reprinted, and published as “The Road Murder” under the name J. Redding Ware (1832-1909). He was a writer, novelist, and playwright, and created one of the first female detectives. He was apparently one of those writers whose works didn’t survive into the twentieth century, for I couldn’t find any of his books on the Project Gutenberg site. I did find on Google Play a book of stories, The Female Detective, that he edited.  
“Arrested On Suspicion” is a puzzle story with echoes of “The Purloined Letter” and Poe’s essay on ratiocination in the beginning of “Murder in the Rue Morgue.” John Pendrath, the narrator/protagonist, must free his sister Annie who has been arrested on suspicion of shoplifting a blue-stone ring. He employs Poe’s method of ratiocination to identify and catch the real thief or thieves. John refuses to give the reader his profession, but he apparently has some pull with the local police because he requests and is given an officer to help him catch the real thieves. Could he be a “writer of fiction?”
The arrest is a case of mistaken identity. Shortly after Mrs. Mountjoy moved in the apartment above John and Annie, he saw a blue-stone ring on Annie’s finger. Annie couldn’t afford to buy such a ring and certainly wouldn’t steal it. Mrs. Mountjoy’s  daughter, Mrs. Lemmins, sometimes visits her and looks enough like Annie to be her sister. Because of their strange behavior, John suspected Mrs. Mountjoy and her daughter were criminals from the day they moved in. He suspects Mrs. Lemmins stole the ring, and Mrs. Mountjoy gave it to Annie.
The puzzle has two parts. In the first part, John must find the piece of paper containing the message that Mrs. Lemmins sent to Mrs. Mountjoy in a laundry basket. John doesn't help the officer search the room because  he needs to hunt “with his brains.” To get into Mrs. Mountjoy’s mind, he sits in the same chair she occupied when she heard the officer coming up the steps.
In the second part, he decodes the message, which is written in criminal slang, to determine the criminal duo’s next move. With charts inviting the reader to try his or her hand at what, for John, is a simple code, the decoding takes up most of the story. Since I don’t normally like puzzle stories because I’m not very good at solving puzzles, I didn’t accept the invitation.
 “Arrested on Suspicion” is a nice example of an early writer following Poe’s rules. For me, not knowing how the theft was committed was a little disappointing.

29 June 2014

Guilt and Vengeance


After finishing the Naguib story in Murder & Other Acts of Literature, I read two stories by women who commit literary murder on the page in the anthology. Guilt, not a woman scorned, fuels the desire for revenge in the stories by Alice Walker and Isabel Allende.

Alice Walker

  “How Did I Get Away With Killing One Of The Biggest Lawyers In The State? It was Easy” is a long title that identifies the 17-year-old narrator as the killer, leaving only as a surprise the motive. She is 14-years-old when the prominent lawyer Bubba (her name for him), the husband of her mother’s employer, rapes her. After the first encounter, they began a consensual relationship that lasts three years. Her mother constantly nags her about what she is doing with the man whose father is a segregationist. That he is a segregationist doesn’t matter to the teenage narrator because she thought, “he loved me. That meant something to me.” She knew nothing about civil rights; what she wanted was “somebody to tell me I was pretty, and he was telling me that all the time.” After three years, fed up with her mother’s constant nagging, with the help of the lawyer, she has her committed to an insane asylum. Three months later, she sees her in court when the mother’s lawyer challenges the commitment. To her surprise, her mother is really insane.  
Vapid was my reaction when I finished the story. It was difficult for me to objectively analyze it because of my anger at Alice Walker for the way she treated male characters, black and white, in The Color Purple, the first novel of hers I read a few years ago. I read two more novels and realized that she is a very good novelist. Not all her male characters are monsters, but I can’t shake my anger. So, I didn’t trust my reaction to the story.

Isabel Allende

  Isabel Allende, a Chilean writer has written numerous novels and received several awards. “An Act of Vengeance” is the first and only story of hers I’ve read. Like Walker’s story, it is about rape, guilt, and vengeance. During a violent time in a South American country, as his last mission, guerrilla Tadeo Cespedes comes to her village, kills her father, and rapes the 15-year-old Dulce Rosa Orellano. For 30 years, she thinks only of revenging the death of her father, who had sacrificed his life to save her. 
After 30 years, Tadeo, a powerful and important man in the new government, haunted by the image of the 15-year-old beauty he raped, returns to the village to find her.
The story is dissatisfying because of the predictable twist and easily guessed ending.
I enjoyed the stories, but, unlike the  Naguib story, which left me with the desire to reread, they did not invite rereading.

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.

22 December 2013

When Good Teachers Go Bad


Last week, I wrote about the attorney who argued his client was too rich for prison, and this week’s article began with a similar theme until it morphed into something else.
Kristin L.S. Beck is an athletics trainer who had sex with at least one minor. Although a juvenile, the Commonwealth of Virginia does not consider an adult engaging in sex with a child 15 years or older a felony. The 30-year-old was charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor, a misdemeanor, and is not required to register as a sexual offender.

Beck’s lawyer argued for no sentence at all, claiming his client was the victim and added she voluntarily forfeited her license as an athletic trainer working with students.

“I'm not sure jail time would achieve anything,” he said.

The judge compromised, giving her six months behind bars, but he chastised her for betraying the public trust.

What we think we know

As I mulled over the article, it seemed to me I’d been reading a lot about women teachers having sex with minors. Curious, I googled.

teachers apple
One of the first sites I turned up listed thirty-some teachers. Naturally, Florida is one of the worst offenders. Only three were male, one out of eleven. I googled again, recognizing such names as too-pretty-for-prison Debra LaFave who prosecutors and judges in two Florida counties let walk. And Mary Kay Letourneau, the teacher who bedded one of her sixth-grade students and, after being given a pass by the judge couldn’t stay away from him, and following re-arrest and time  in the clink, eventually married him. And Pamela Smart who persuaded her 15-year-old paramour to murder her husband.

Wait. I know teachers. For some reason, I’ve dated an inordinate number of educators and many more are friends, including my writing buddies. Every one I know is dedicated, hard-working, and concerned about their students. It has to be every vulnerable teacher’s nightmare to be falsely accused. But, as every teacher knows, there are always a few bad apples.

What’s going on here?

Something else is happening. One writer bemoans that dozens of women teachers are being accused of sexual acts. As it turns out, the writer was wrong: not dozens, but hundreds. Names poured out of my screen. Hardly digging at all, in less than an hour I turned up more than 400 cases:

Kelly A•••Christina G••••••••Alexa N••••••
Tabitha A••••Donna Carr G•••••••Amie Lou N••••
Susan Christina A•••••••Kelly Ann G•••••Linda N••
Shelley A••••Jennalin G•••••-C••••Cheryl N•••••
Toni A•••••Lindsay G•••••-Y••••Angela Sue N••
Brianne A•••••Ellen G•••••••Kristine N•••
Tina Marie A••••Jacquelyn Faith G•••••••Rebecca N••••••
Barbara A•••••••Sandra ‘Beth’ G•••••Christine N••••
Ethel A•••••••Rachelle G••••••Amy N••••
Melissa A•••••••Robin G•••••••••Amy N••••••••
Melissa Ann A•••••••Stephanie G••••••••••Carrie O’C•••••
Bethany A•••••••Jennifer M. G•••Kristi Dance O••••
Jamie A••••••••Lisa G••••Christina O•••••
Melissa A•••••Helen G••••••Jody O••••••
Amanda A••••Brandy Lynn G•••••••Brenda O••••••
Kari Jo A•••••••Christel C. G••••••Laura P•••
Sherri Lynn B••••Marla G••••••-H••••••Angela P•••••
Brenda B••••••••••Lisa G•••••••Janet P•••••
Leslie B••••Jamie Nicole H•••Cameo P••••
Erica B••••Summer Michelle H•••••Karen P•••••
Pamela B•••••Emily Suzanne H•••••••April P•••••••••
Melissa B•••Katherine J. H•••••Alison P•••
Nicole Andrea B•••••••Emma Jean H••••Naomi P••••
Bella B••••••Dr. Allison H•••••••Carrie P••••••
Janelle B••••••Georgianne H••••••Kelsey P•••••••
Ashley Jo B••••Stephanie Diane H•••••Candace R. P•••••
Amy B•••Holly H••••••Linda P••••••
Kristin L. S. B•••Cathy H•••••••••Kaci P••••••••
Rebecca B•••••Kristal Renee H••••Nicole P••••••••
Allanah B•••••-W••••Maria Guzman H••••••••Nicola P•••••••
Shannon B•••Shannon H••••••Michelle P••••••
Anna B••••••••••Wendy L. H••••••Julie P••••••••
Sandra L. B••••••Katherine H••••Stephanie R•••••
Janelle Marie B•••Rachel Ann H••••Shebana R•••••
Joy B•••••••••Symantha H••••Beth R••••••
Michelle B••••••Deanna H••••••Makayla Dawn R••••••
Deanna B•••Becci H•••Lauren R••••••
Rebecca B•••••Crissy H••••Danielle R•••
Rebecca B•••••••Adrianne H••••••Deborah R•••••
Sandra B••••••Meredith H•••••Courtney Sue R••••••
Loni B•••••••Abigail H•••••••Jennifer R•••
Valynne B•••••Sarah H•••••Claire R•••••••
Courtney B•••••Rachel L. H•••Kristy C. R•••••
Rebecca Ann B•••••••Diana H•••Karen R••••••
Kristyn B•••••Kanesa H••••••Liza-Anne R••••••
Keri Ann B•••••Stacy H••••••Rebecca R••••••••-S••••••
Cheryl B••••••Cynthia H••••••Trina R•••••
Mariella B••••••Emily Elizabeth H••••••Valerie R••••••
Sherry B•••••Amy Lynn H•••••Pamela R••••• T•••••
Sarah B••••••Christine H••••Marcie L. R•••••••
Alini B••••Janet H•••••Sharon R•••••••••
Christy Anne B••••Ellen H•••Erica R••••••
Rosanna Encinas B••••Heather I•••••Kellie R•••
Laura-Anne B•••••••Amy Bass J••••••Tamara R••••
Rita B•••Hope J•••••Amira S•’D•
Sheree B•••••••Nicole J••••••Maria S•••
Whitney Dow B•••Urszula J••••••••Megan S••••••••
Ashley B••••••Courtney J••••••Kristy S••••••-T•••••••
Rachel B•••••••Amber S. J•••••••Donna Lou S••••••
Stephanie B•••••••Sarah J•••Lynn S•••••••
Kimberly B••••Christine Marie J•••••••Christine S•••••••
Lucinda Rodriguez C•••••••Kasey J•••••Stacy S••••••
Christine C••••Hope J••••Jennifer S••••••
Wendy C•••••Marie J••••••Dawn Marie S•••••••••••••••
Diana C•••••Danielle J••••Wendie A. S•••••••••
Christina C••••••Sarah J••••April S••••••
Gwen C••••••Christine J•••••Heather S••••••
Katheryn L. C••••••Meredith K•••Beth S•••••••
Harriett Louise C•••••Elisa K•••••••Bethany S•••••••
Amy Kathleen C•••••Denise K•••••Leah S••••••
Katie C••••••••Rebecca Lee K•••••Michelle S•••••••
Melissa C••••Jodi A. K••••••Natasha S••••
Beth Ann C••••••Heather K••••••Joan Marie S•••••
Heather C•••••••Tammy K••Pamela S••••
Whitney C•••••Irene K•••Christy Lee S••••
Michelle Rose C••••Mariane K••••••Sheral Lee S••••
Jodi C•••••Kirsten K•••••Melissa S•••
Jennifer C••••Haven K••••••••••Samantha S••••••
Lisa Lynette C••••Jodi K••••••••••Amanda S•••••
Susan C•••••••Anne K••••Mary Jo S••••
Tammy C••••••Melissa Diana K•••Christine S•••••
Stephanie C•••Abby K•••••Ashley S••••••
Angela Christine C•••••Kym K•••••Yvette S••••••
Brittni C••••••Nicole K•••••••Stephanie Ann S••••
Angela Renee C••••Michelle K•••Angela S•••••••
Andrea C••••••Debra Beasley L•F•••JoAnn S•••••••
Amanda Leigh C•••••Adrienne L•••••••Erin Baynard S••••••
Kellie Ann C•••••••Margaret L•••••••Meghan Allison S••••••
Julie Gay C•••••Shanice L••••••Jenifer S••••••
Lauren C•••••••Melissa L•••••••Elizabeth S•••
Megan C••••••Lisa L•••••Sara S•••••
Kimberly C••••Christina L•••••Lakina S•••••
Tara Lynn C••••Heather L•• B••••••••Kristen S•••••••
Elyse C•••••••Autumn L•••••••Beulah Nicole G••••••• S•••••
Kahtanna C•••Mary Kay L•••••••••Abbie Jane S••••••
Kelly Lynn D••••••Vicky Lynn L•••••••Traci T•••
Heather D•••••••••Jill L••••Jennifer T••••••••
Gay D•••••••-S••••••Amy Gail L•••••Michele T•••••
Kathia Maria D••••Angela Simmons L•••••Katherine T••
Margaret •• B••••••••Jennifer Dawn L•••••Tanya T•••••••••
Teri K. D••••Elizabeth Claire L••••••Erin T•••••
Melissa Michelle D•••Nicole L•••Heather T••••••
Melinda D•••••Chantella L•••••Lauren T•••
Diane D•M••••••-S•••••Julia L•••Deborah Lee T•••••
Jennifer D••••••Kimberly L••••Rebekah T•••
Megan D•••••Jennifer M••••••Sarah L. T••••••
Melinda D••••••Jennifer M••••Gay Lyn T•••••
Julie A. D••••Kesha D. M•••••Pamela Joan Rogers T•••••
Erica D•P•••Kristen M••••••Jennifer T••••
Nadia D•••Lisa Robyn M••••••••Erica U•••••••
Cara D•••••Amber M•••••••Michelle V••M••••
Stefanie D••••••••Christy M•••••Rachelle V•••••••
Pamela D••••-M••••Katryna M•••••Sheila V••••••
Dorothy Elizabeth D••••Elisa M•••••••••Jamie W••••
Jennifer D••••••Andrea M•••••••Jaymee W••••••
Stephanie D•••••Tina M••••Danielle W••••
Tara D•••••••Lindsay M••••••Stephanie Jo W••••••
Christine D•••Cindy M••••Allenna W•••
Andrea E••••Melissa Kellie M•B••Donna W••••••••
Susan E•••Christine M•C•••••Amanda W••••••
Amy E••••Carrie M•C•••••••Gina Marie W••••••
Christine E•••••Cristina M•C•••April W•••••
Rhianna E••••Melissa Dawn M•C•••Kelly McKenzy W•••••
Amy Rita E••••••••Michelle M•C••••••Melissa W••••
Celeste E••••••Amy M•E••••••Crystal W••••
Teresa E••••••••Lynnette M•I•••••Dawn W•••••
Jennifer E•••••••Regina M•K••Kathy W••••
Darcie E••••Alexandra Elizabeth M•L•••Shelley W••••
Michelle F•••••Erin M•L•••Jennifer W••••••
Diana Leigh F••••••Amberlee Evonne M•••••Heather W••••••
Rachel L. F••••••Elizabeth M•••••••••Amber Renea W•••••••••
Laura Lynn F••••••Amy N. M•••••Christy A. W•••••
Marcy R. F•••••Kelly K. M•••••Kacy W•••••
Carol F••••••••Julie Ann M••••Tawni W••••••••
Stephanie F•••••••Michelle M•••••Robin W•••••
Ashley F•••••Cris M•••••Emma W•••
Lisa F•••••Emily M•••••Jessica Bailey W•••••••
Ronda F•••Alison M••••••Toni Lynn W••••
Andrea F••Melissa M•••Kimme A. W••••
Chandra F•••••Elizabeth M•••Amy Y••••••••
Natalie F•••••••Antonia M••••-J•••••Shannon Y••••
Lynne F••••••Franca M••••-J•••••Melanie K. Y••••
Kenzi F•••••Allison M••••••••Heather Lynne Z••
Gail E. G••••Karolyn N••••Michelle Z••••••••
Zenna G••••••Sheryl A. N•••••••Maria Z•••••
Some of the above cases have yet to go to trial while charges in others have been dropped. A person is not judged guilty until determined by a court of law.

This is a sizable sampling, not a comprehensive list, but I'm making a point. Columnists casually speak of 'dozens', but there appear to be hundreds, perhaps thousands plus many unreported.

I could be wrong, but I don’t for a moment believe predation by female teachers (and aides, coaches, PTA members, etc.) outnumbers male’s by eleven to one. Slate writer William Saletan attempts to extrapolate from general rape statistics. Contrary to an US Department of Education survey that says in 2004 that 43% of complaints were against women, he claims assaults by male teachers outnumber female by 25-to-1 and echoes popular opinion that female aggressors are “less vile.” He intimates that male ‘victims’ are almost grown up and can better tolerate harassment.

He appears to miss the point that many Americans don’t regard sex with a female teacher a crime. Thanks to reluctance of victims and their families, fewer female teachers are accused, fewer yet are charged, fewer are prosecuted, and still fewer are given jail or prison sentences and required to register as sexual offenders. It’s a bit like that tree falling in the forest: If the teacher is let off, is it a crime?

As a 2007 NPR segment pointed out, fewer women teachers face criminal penalties. The day after Debra LaFave was allowed to walk, a male teacher was given twenty years for the equivalent crime. Elsewhere, a former Miss Texas contestant had her case dismissed without trial. The grand jury found the relationship ‘endearing and flirtatious.’

What’s a crime in one state may not be a crime in another. If the age of consent is 15 or 16, then a felony may not have been committed. Worsening the problem, laws that acknowledge women can be capable of sexual assault have been slow to catch up. One teacher said an internet search she conducted suggested she wasn’t engaging in a crime. Often, boys and even their families refuse to cooperate with authorities. The British National Association of Women Teachers has said that teachers who have sex with pupils over the age of consent should not be placed on sex offender registers.

The Association went on to say statutory rape laws were out of date. They weren’t alone. In the comments following some of the articles I researched, many readers suggested the age of consent should be lowered to 14. Fourteen! This age was the one that cropped up most often in the case searches (varying from ages 9 to 17).

Former US Secretary of Education and former Houston School Superintendent Roderick Paige taught us thousands of ways to manipulate school statistics. We don’t know how many teachers are simply dismissed rather than prosecuted, which makes a shambles of statistics maintained by Departments of Education. We don’t know how often a woman is allowed to plead to a misdemeanor or non-sex crime, whereas her male counterpart may be charged with statutory rape, sexual assault, or creative charges like false imprisonment.

The adage ‘Women get months, men get years’ isn’t quite accurate, but New Jersey courts convict a majority of men but less than half of women, and they sentence men to terms 50% longer than that of women. Nancy Grace says, “Why is it when a man rapes a little girl, he goes to jail, but when a woman rapes a boy, she had a breakdown?

While I’m surprised by the mounting evidence, I am willing to adjust my stereotype. I once consulted for Sinai Hospital outside Baltimore where they gathered reams of statistics. According to one curious number, domestic battery by women outnumbered assaults by men. (While more wives assaulted husbands, men tended to inflict more harm because of the sheer physical strength.)

I mentioned this to a psychiatrist friend in New York and later to another in Virginia. Both confirmed that finding. The Virginia doctor said she believed the reason was that women didn’t feel constraints, whereas sensible males have been taught to never hit a woman. The reverse isn’t taught.

With that little bit of knowledge, I could understand more or less equal numbers, but without hard statistics it’s difficult to judge. As mentioned the other day in the comments of a SleuthSayers article, our society doesn’t trust men. At the same time, we take greater steps to protect our daughters than our sons. Because women teachers are trusted, is it possible some see an opportunity? Or, more kindly, does emotion and sensation slip under their guard?

This phenomenon isn't a fluke and we can’t blame incidents on ‘trashy women’. These are women with bachelors degrees, sometimes masters and doctorates, as in the case of Dr. Allison Hargrave, seducer of a troubled 13-year-old girl. These women are articulate, smart, poised community figures. Many have won awards. They held such promise.

And now?

Like many men, it’s much easier for me to sympathize with women, but can’t we find a better way to deal with this situation?

Why does one teacher receive a 25- or 30-year sentence while branded a pedophile and another's given no sentence at all? I’ve suggested before in a different context, we need to balance sentencing. First, we must decide whether an act constitutes a crime and at what level: Misdemeanor? Felony? Or simply bad judgment? And once that's determined, we need to be fair, sensible, and consistent.

The too-pretty-for-prison defense has to vanish as do overly harsh sentences. Educator-of-the-Year Ethel Anderson wasn’t pretty and she wasn’t white. She received 38 years for her relationship with a 12-year-old. Hundreds of others received a virtual slap on the wrist if they were reprimanded at all.

Society clearly has both a problem and a vested interest. We entrust our children to our teachers, people we want to care about and train our children. How do we solve this problem?

17 March 2013

Women in Mystery Month


by Emma Pulitzer
My guest today is Emma Pulitzer of Open Road Integrated Media. She celebrates Women in Mystery this Women's History Month, publishing works both new and old.
— Leigh
Historically, writing has been one of the few professions that have largely accepted women into its professional ranks. Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, Caroline Keene and dozens of other multiple-best-selling female authors have placed high on Must Read Mystery lists over the last century.   This year, we are taking a new look at women writers who have taken on “unlady-like” stories and characters. From Charlotte MacLeod’s murderous mayhem to Dorothy Uhnak’s tough-talking lady cops, the last hundred years have seen women fight crime, dig up clues, and chase bad guys at the same pace as their male peers. Here’s my list of 5 Women Mystery Authors to celebrate:

Patricia Wentworth Patricia Wentworth helped challenge society’s perception of the “stay-at-home woman” with her Miss Silver mysteries. Similar to the author, Miss Silver is an unassuming detective, because of her age and gender and expectations of women at the time. Despite this, she proves that, more often than not, she is able to find clues that even the most astute police officers overlook. Not only did Wentworth upend stereotypes of women with characters like Miss Silver, but her popularity in mystery fiction also helped advance women writers during the early 20th century.

Although she was always described as a “true lady” (she was never seen without her dainty white gloves), Charlotte MacLeod was a force to reckoned with. Born in 1922 in Canada, she moved to the United States at a young age, and eventually became a US citizen. During the 1940s and 1950s, while most women were expected to stay home and care for the kids or work as a secretary until marriage, MacLeod worked as a copy writer, then moved to join the staff of N. H. Miller & Company, an advertising firm, where she become vice president. During this time she wrote many mysteries, including the Peter Shandy series and the Sarah Kelling and Max Bittersohn series. Her books went on to sell over a million copies, and continue to be loved for their humor, wit, and beloved characters. Charlotte MacLeod

Dorothy Uhnak Dorothy Uhnak used her fourteen years as a policewoman with the New York City Transit Authority—twelve of which she spent as a detective—as inspiration for her gritty crime novels. Her heroic efforts protecting the city even gained her a bit of fame when she was in the news for taking down a mugger who held her at gunpoint. When she retired in 1967, she claimed she left the force because of criminal discrimination. Despite her change in careers, however, Uhnak continued to look at life through the eyes of a cop, and translated her experiences into a number of successful novels, including Law and Order, The Bait, and her memoir about her time as a law enforcer, Policewoman.

Even with her early success as a senior editor for Seventeen magazine, Susan Isaacs, a self-proclaimed feminist, yearned for work that felt more substantial and began to freelance as a political speechwriter. Isaacs notes that this job taught her one of the fundamentals of writing fiction: drawing out the characters. By observing politicians and understanding the messages they wanted to convey, she learned how to adapt her writing to their different styles. Later she transitioned into writing fiction, and her first novel, Compromising Positions, was an instant bestseller. Since achieving success as a fiction author, Isaacs still finds herself writing about politics, but in a much more sinister medium. Susan Isaacs

Susan Dunlap Susan Dunlap’s career as a mystery writer was inspired by two things: an Agatha Christie novel and a dare. While reading the mystery, she mentioned to her husband that she too could write a mystery novel. “Well go ahead then,” he responded, and to show him she meant business, she put paper in the typewriter and began to type. Five years and five manuscripts later, Karma sold. But being a writer (she has written over seventeen books) is only part of her story. She is one of the original co-founders and served as the president of Sisters in Crime (SinC), a national organization that promotes and supports women crime writers and helps them to achieve equality in the industry. Speaking about the organization, Dunlap says, “It is a vehicle that brings women together, and makes them realize that they don’t have to only read mysteries–they can write them too.”



SleuthSayers celebrate our own Women in Mystery: Deborah, Elizabeth, Eve, Fran, Jan, and Janice, as well as our friends over at Women of Mystery. They're damn good writers!