All Things Mysterious Volume Thirty-Two
William Stephens Hayward wrote Revelations of a Lady Detective in 1864. One of the very first iterations of a female detective, which veers very far from the stereotype of the simpering, helpless woman. Mrs. Paschal is never given a first name and takes on the role of detective after her husband dies and leaves her destitute. A resilient, clever woman, who also packs a Colt revolver! One case has her being captured by a band of miscreants, only to have their ringleader barbecued by a bolt of lightning--whereupon Mrs. P faints when the cops arrive! Perhaps not all of the feminine stereotypes were abandoned here...
One of the biggest mysteries in the annals of crime fiction is, what happened to Agatha Christie during her infamous disappearance in 1926?
In a tale surely worthy of Miss Marple, she abruptly left her home on cold December evening and promptly disappeared. Her car was found abandoned near Guildford, but there was no sign of the celebrated author, whose sixth novel, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, was selling well. Rumors abounded of suspected foul play, with some suspecting her husband, who had just announced his love for another woman, some believing it a suicide, and others thinking it a publicity stunt. Eleven days later she was found safe and living under an assumed name in an inn in Harrogate. Some modern researchers now contend that Mrs. Christie suffered from a condition known as psychogenic amnesia, or a ‘fugue state,’ caused by stress and characterized by a loss of self and memory. Unsurprisingly, Christie mentions not one word about the incident in her autobiography:
Speaking of Miss Marple, she made her first appearance in a short story called The Tuesday Night Club in 1927. Her first novel-length adventures was Murder at the Vicarage three years later, although the character evolved significantly from this point. From the various clues in the stories, we can estimate her age as in her seventies. Said to have been based on the author’s step-grandmother and some of her cronies, Miss Jane Marple is certainly one of the best known lady detectives.
The writer Heron Carvic created Miss Seeton in 1968, and the retired art teacher generally finds herself in wacky situations not of her own making. Played for laughs more than most mysteries, even cosies.
And of course:
Nancy Drew was a creation of the Stratemeyer syndicate. Appearing for the first time in 1930, Edward Stratemeyer wanted to create a counterpart to the Hardy Boys for his female readership. He outlined the plots and then turned them over to Mildred Wirt (Benson) to write the stories themselves. Not to destroy anyone’s cherished memories, but there never was such a person as Carolyn Keene writing these adventures! In the original stories, Nancy loses her mother at the age of ten and by the time she’s sixteen, she’s pretty independent, running the household of her father and solving crimes at the same time. Starting in 1959, the stories were revised to eliminate anachronisms and stereotypes. Some feel that the essential sassiness and independence of Miss Drew was drained from the revised versions along with much of their charm and appeal.
In 1929, Gladys Mitchell introduced Beatrice Lestrange Bradley. She’s elderly but tough as nails, with a strength belied by her ‘little old lady’ appearance. She is never, ever injured or even slightly hurt in her adventures, nor does she ever lose her cool. (Although at least once she hid in the powder room while mayhem was going on around her.) The heroine of sixty-six novels and one television series, The Mrs. Bradley Mysteries starring Diana Rigg of Avengers fame, the eminent psychoanalyst is one of the more unusual sleuths in the crime fiction canon and is perhaps unjustly overlooked.
Irene Huss, a creation of the Swedish writer Helene Tursten, is a Detective Inspector with the Violent Crime Unit in Goteborg, Sweden. Eight police procedurals highlight social issues, and one of the more interesting features of the series is the intra-Scandinavian infighting, so to speak, as the Finns are sometimes regarded as too different to meld with, for example, Swedish society. How little we in North America hear about the dark underbelly of our Northern friends! The first in the series is simply called Detective Inspector Huss:
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