Long before police departments in Britain were ready to hire female officers, the British reading public had discovered female detectives in the pages of popular fiction. While the first London policewomen were not hired as officers until 1918 - 1918! - fictional female detectives, often working for or consulted by the police, began appearing in mysteries half a century earlier.
These pioneering female detectives aren't very well known to today's readers - names like Loveday Brooke or Dorcas Dene or Lois Cayley. So it is a delight to meet some of them in "The Penguin Book of Victorian Women in Crime," edited by Michael Sims and recently published by Penguin Classics. The book's subtitle also sums it up quite well: "Forgotten Cops and Private Eyes from the Time of Sherlock Holmes." It's the subject of this week's audio review on the Classic Mysteries podcast, and you can listen to that review by clicking here.
Sims has gathered eleven stories about Victorian women who were every bit as talented as their fictional male counterparts. They solve seemingly impossible murders, figure out how ingenious robberies were committed (or block them altogether). There are fiendish murder plots, secret underground passages - all the trappings of Victorian mystery stories, with the sleuthing done by some remarkable and talented women.
For readers of vintage mysteries, these stories are excellent companions, having been written between 1864 and 1915. Penguin Classics has been reissuing a lot of excellent early mysteries and thrillers, and Michael Sims's commentaries on the individual stories along with his first-rate introduction make this lively and informative collection well worth a place in any mystery lover's library.
(Disclosure: this post is based on a complimentary copy sent to me for review.)