Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Victorian Tales of Mystery & Detection

Victorian Tales of Mystery & Detection, edited by Michael Cox, gives us a sampling of some of the finest tales written from the 1840s to the early 20th Century. Authors include everyone from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to Wilkie Collins, Charles Dickens to Edgar Allan Poe, and Sax Rohmer to Baroness Orczy. Readers are given a vast array of murderers and miscreants, detectives and villains, and methods and motives. There are old familiar favorites such as "The Purloined Letter" and virtual unknowns like "The Clue of the Silver Spoons" by Robert Barr. Something for every taste and mood.

I am well-acquainted with Poe's "Purloined Letter" and with both of the Holmes stories included here ("The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle" and "The Lost Special")--and while I delight in the stories of these masters of the early detective novel, it was even more delightful to discover new Victorian treats.

Here are the best of those new treats:

"The Murdered Cousin" by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu. I just discovered Le Fanu this past fall. I read a collection of his ghost stories for one of my Fall Challenges. "The Murdered Cousin," written in 1851 is billed as one of the earliest locked room stories. The story is full of atmosphere and leans more towards the gothic than detective fiction. There is no final summing up and the villains get away, but it is still a very satisfying story.

"Hunted Down" by Charles Dickens. A tale of murder done and a revenge that's due. It starts off slow but builds to a wonderful climax.

"Levison's Victim" by Mary Elizabeth Braddon (of Lady Audley's Secret fame). Another story of revenge for murder committed. This time the revenge stays within the bounds of the law.

"The Mystery at Number Seven" by Mrs. Henry Wood. Very suspenseful and enjoyable. A bit of a surprise at the end.

"The Mystery of Essex Stairs" by Sir Gilbert Campbell. A short and tidy little mystery which manages to include a dramatic courtroom scene.

"Daggers Drawn" by C. L. Pirkis. I have long had The Experiences of Loveday Brooks, Lady Detective on my list of books to look for. I am very glad to have had a chance to read one of the short stories included in that volume. "Daggers Drawn" pays homage to Sherlock Holmes and I find Miss Brooks' way of keeping clues to herself very much in the Holmes style. Very feminist characterization for the time period.

"The Ivy Cottage Mystery" by Arthur Morrison. A tidy little mystery with an interesting twist. I guessed part but not all.

"Murder by Proxy" by M. McDonnell Bodkin. A rather ingenious "locked room" story. Elegantly told with very interesting characters.

"The Clue of the Silver Spoons" by Robert Barr. A nifty bit of sleight of hand...both in the story itself and by the author of this intriguing little mystery.

Overall, I enjoyed the stories in this volume very much. Some were a bit obvious...but I'm sure they were much more startling to the reading public at the time. Given the many years of mystery-mongering between the Victorian Age and now, it's much more difficult to surprise today's reader. But there were some definite gems. Four stars out of five.

1 comment:

Jennifer said...

Oooh, sounds fun! I'll have to get my hands on this! Of course, put the word "Victorian" in any context and I'll want it. :]