The Penguin Book of Victorian Women in Crime

Forgotten Cops and Private Eyes
from the Time of Sherlock Holmes


Podcast review on "Classic Mysteries."


"Sims organizes a meet-and-greet with the most notorious crime-fighting females of Victorian literature. . . . The book bespeaks the era’s restlessness for the empowerment of women, embodying culture’s tendency to first imagine social shifts, then enact them."


"Editor Michael Sims gathers 11 stories about female detectives in British and American fiction from W.S. Hayward’s pioneering Mrs. Paschal in 1864 to Anna Katharine Green’s Violet Strange in 1915. Green’s humorous spinster sleuth Amelia Butterworth also appears in an excerpt from the 1897 novel That Affair Next Door (1897). Like some of the editor’s other anthologies, this one has considerable reference value, with an enjoyable and informative 15-page introduction and substantial story notes plus three pages of secondary bibliography, including useful websites. Other authors included are Andrew Forrester, C.L. Pirkis, Mary E. Wilkins (Freeman), George R. Sims, Grant Allen, M. McDonnell Bodkin, Richard Marsh, and Hugh C. Weir. In explaining his selections, Sims humorously says he excluded Fergus Hume’s Hagar Stanley and Arthur B. Reeve’s Constance Dunlap out of boredom, 'an emotion that every anthologist must employ as doorkeeper.'"


"A fine edition of classic crime fiction with a feminine flair. Writer and editor Michael Sims has followed up his wonderfully entertaining Penguin Book of Gaslight Crime with a sequel of sorts that shines a light (see the fun cover!) on another aspect of suspense fiction in the late 1800s and early 1900s: The Penguin Book of Victorian Women in Crime. In researching the gaslight crime anthology, Sims discovered ‘how few of the great women detectives and criminals of the Victorian and Edwardian eras are remembered today’—a situation that certainly needed remedying. In the interim between that collection and this one, Sims also revisited one of the earliest and most successful female crime novelists in the U.S., presenting just last year a must-have new edition of Anna Katherine Green’s The Leavenworth Case, and so it’s perhaps no surprise that two of Green’s other series protagonists appear (much deservedly) among the eleven pieces in the new collection: the young and spunky Violet Strange, a socialite with a flair for detection, and the spinster snoop” Amelia Butterworth, a precursor of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple. While several of the authors here are female—Green, Mary Wilkins, and C.L. Pirkis—Sims stresses that the collection’s focus is on female characters, so male authors outnumber the ladies, even as all of them champion female protagonists. Selections range from W.S. Hayward, whose Revelations of a Lady Detective was first published anonymously sometime in the early 1860s, to George R. Sims, whose heroine Dorcas Dene suggests to Sims a female Sherlock Holmes (she debuted just three years after Holmes’ ‘death’ at Reichenbach Falls), to Hugh C. Weir, whose Madelyn Mack, Detective was inspired by (if not entirely modeled after) real-life investigator Mary Holland, who joined her husband in running a detective agency and publishing a popular law enforcement periodical and became the first female fingerprinting expert in the United States. Sims has not only gathered a fine array of stories but also takes care to place them in the kind of historical context I’ve already hinted at above—and he’s equally adept at framing these tales in today’s terms as well, as quick to mention Veronica Mars, for example, as the Memoirs of Vidocq."


"A fascinating group of Victorian stories . . . . Sims’s lady detectives, who come from both sides of the Atlantic, have various motives for solving crimes. One wants to clear her name. Another is a 'new woman' on the road to adventure. Several are typical Victorian ladies who become detectives out of financial necessity. Some have scribes who serve as Watsons to their Sherlocks; some tell their own tales. . . . These Victorian sleuths have one thing in common: they’re all complete fabrications. As Sims explains in his introduction, there were no women detectives in the Victorian era; the bobbies were all male. . . . In an introductory essay that is as much a pleasure to read as the stories themselves, Sims explains how these characters were both ahead of and a product of their period. He has clearly taken much care in selecting stories that are not only entertaining reading but also exemplify the full character range of women detectives during the time period. While once popular, many of these authors have been lost to the mists of literary history, even to some real fans of Victorian literature, but thanks to Sims they may become popular once more."

—Faye Jones, CHAPTER 16