The Dead Witness

A Connoisseur's Collection
of Victorian Detective Stories


UK cover

★ "Exceptionally intelligent and varied"

—PUBLISHERS WEEKLY (starred review)

"Pure chocolate box indulgence"

—THE TIMES (London)

"Suspenseful stories for long winter nights"


"A cornucopia of dastardly delights"


"Generous, entertaining, and enlightening"


"Very highly recommended"




"Particularly good"




"Obligated to read it by candlelight"


"Sims shows off a formidable knowledge of the genre"


"Hugely enjoyable"

—THE TIMES (London)

"It has Christmas written all over it"


"A juicy book…. Fascinating stuff"


"A must-have for detective fiction fans"


"Wonderful compendium….Cracking"



An interview with Linda Wertheimer on Morning Edition

A Los Angeles Times interview

A podcast review by Les Blatt on Classic Mysteries


"A masterful collection. . . . It transports us to a gentler time of honest, intelligent sleuthing and to an era where words of shock don’t hit much harder than a 'by Jove'. Sims gives a smart preface to each story and then allows the mysteries to unfurl. Demand some quiet, settle in a corner and let your imagination fly. This collection is pure chocolate box indulgence."

—THE TIMES (London)

"Suspenseful stories for long winter nights. . . ."

—Linda Wertheimer, MORNING EDITION (NPR)

"Sims collects some excellent well-known and lesser-known examples of Victorian detective fiction, including some by neglected female writers in the genre. . . . Each is expertly introduced."

—Josh Dzieza, THE DAILY BEAST, "Hot Reads"

"Excellent. . . . Shines a light on long-forgotten ‘mystery’ writers such as Wilkie Collins, Alexandre Dumas Sr., Charles Dickens, and Mark Twain. These authors, better known for their other writings, and others, created a fiction genre that continues to be overwhelmingly popular."


"Chilly? Why not stay by the fire, reading about fogbound Victorian crime? . . . . Arthur Conan Doyle, who created Holmes and Watson, still dominates the era's writers of 'sensation novels' so thoroughly that it's easy to overlook others. The Dead Witness will help remedy that. . . . Sims adds some surprises, notably a wonderful piece of reporting in which Charles Dickens accompanies a bobby on his rounds. Bonus feature: Sims' concise and cogent introductions."


"A cornucopia of dastardly delights and surprises. Watching the characters patiently unravel knots and ingeniously solve puzzles provides the delight. The surprises are the depth and breadth of variety represented in Sims' overview of the genre. Humor and pathos, moralism and mercy, parody and tragedy, horror and retribution—the full spectrum of the human psyche is on display in this collection. The international cast of characters features authors and protagonists alike from England, Scotland, Australia, Canada, France and the United States. They include a mild-mannered Catholic priest and a tough-talking Virginian, a folksy Canadian tracker and a wide-eyed teenage boy, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives, a blind man, a Musketeer, a bumbler, a dilettante, and of course, that curiously observant Englishman with a penchant for violins and cocaine. . . . Originally published between 1837 and 1915, most of the 22 selections are short stories, but Sims also includes novel excerpts, magazine and newspaper articles and the transcript of a coroner's inquest from one of the grisly murders attributed to Jack the Ripper. . . . Sims introduces each selection by explaining its significance within the genre and includes biographical information about each author. He takes particular pains to highlight the changing role of women in detective fiction, both as characters and creators. Notable among the male protagonists are those characters that do not fit the traditional detective mold."


"Smartly assembled by Michael Sims. . . . A generous, entertaining, and enlightening collection. . . . Superstars are supporting players in a book that takes on the admirable—and, for the reader, gratifying—task of resurrecting a host of largely forgotten genre raconteurs."

—Kevin Canfield, STAR TRIBUNE (Minneapolis)

"A fine collection ranging from the earliest 'detective' stories and fictionalized 'casebooks' of real detectives to the very popular mysteries published in the late Victorian and Edwardian eras. . . . There are a number of stories by authors who are more likely to be considered 'literary' authors than mystery writers—Dickens, Twain and Harte, for example—but their stories are most certainly part of the early history of the mystery genre, and they're quite entertaining as well. There are many marvelous stories about detective characters, amateur and professional—some quite well known, others largely forgotten - who attracted a lot of readers in their day. . . . It is a large collection—22 stories, running to more than 600 pages, all quite readable, most thoroughly entertaining. The introductions to the individual stories by Sims, along with his first-rate introduction to the book, help to put the stories in some perspective and place their authors within the history of the detective story. Dead Witness is a book of stories to savor. Very highly recommended."

—Les Blatt (hoest of "Classic Mysteries"), I LOVE A MYSTERY

"Authors include names both familiar (Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, Arthur Conan Doyle) and not so well known, at least to me (Harvey O’Higgins and Hesketh Prichard). The title story is by an Australian, Mary Fortune, which Sims says is the first known detective story by a woman. That’s reason enough right there to get a copy of the book, but Sims also provides an excellent introduction and a bibliography with suggested further reading for those interested in the time period or the history of the crime story."


"Back in January Michael Sims gave the 2011 Baker Street Irregulars’ Distinguished Speaker Lecture. His latest book is The Dead Witness, a satisfying 600 pages. . . . Particularly good. . . . Few will have read all the stories in this grand doorstep of a book, and even those who have may benefit from Mr Sims’s introduction and his foreword to each tale."

—Roger Johnson, THE DISTRICT MESSENGER (The Newsletter of the Sherlock Holmes Society of London)

"If you're a fan of the stories of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, you may or may not realize: You're barely scratching the surface of Victorian detective fiction. . . . Consider the fine group of sleuths assembled by editor Michael Sims. . . . Introduces readers to the impressive skills of several sleuths who live far from Baker Street. . . . Essential."


"Here’s what I’ve been setting aside for the readers on my list. . . . Apologies to Michael Connelly, but we’re going old school with The Dead Witness. With almost 600 pages of classics and rarities . . . you’re almost obligated to read it by candlelight."


"A smorgasbord of Victorian crime writing, encompassing both fact and fiction, and running the full gamut of writers from colossi like Dickens, Collins, Poe and Twain, to more obscure authors like William E. Burton; reprinted here for the first time in over 170 years. . . . Sims shows off a formidable knowledge of the genre, noting the influences and cross-pollination occurring between authors . . . . Highlights here include Dickens’ superb ‘On Duty with Inspector Field,’ a non-fiction account of a night on patrol with the eponymous inspector. . . . Another stand-out moment comes with the contemporary news report on the Whitechapel murders; the police are lambasted by journalists with an eye for the sensational, and the gruesome details of the crime are recounted in a manner that gives the lie to notions of delicate Victorian sensibilities. . . . Essential reading for students of the genre. Through informed commentary and the clear threads running through the chronologically arranged pieces, Sims examines the Victorian fascination with the new discipline of detection. The nascence of the police procedural and the PI story can be found within its pages. . . . Aside from being a tremendous tool for understanding the genre though, The Dead Witness is, given the time of year, a superb potential Christmas gift for the crime fiction buff in the family."

—Mike Stafford, BOOKGEEKS (UK)

"Anthologies of detective short stories are especially enjoyable for consumption at Christmas. Setting the stories mostly in the Victorian era only enhances the pleasure. THE DEAD WITNESS is a hugely enjoyable collection, nearly 600 pages long, of 22 tales of detection, each with its own admirable introduction. . . . There are relatively unknown stories by famous authors and contributions from able writers long forgotten, including what is claimed to be the first detective story by a woman."

—Marcel Berlins, THE TIMES (LONDON)

"It has Christmas written all over it."


★ "Sims (Dracula’s Guest) has pulled together an exceptionally intelligent and varied anthology of Victorian crime fiction, starting with a detective story that predated Poe’s 'The Murders in the Rue Morgue' by four years, William E. Burton’s 'The Secret Cell,' reprinted for the first time since its original publication in 1837. The usual suspects—Poe, Dickens, Collins, Doyle, and Chesterton—are all on hand, but the chronological placement of their contributions, each with an insightful introduction, helps delineate what each author got from his or her predecessors. D’Artagnan’s impressive deductive reconstruction of a gunfight 30 years before A Study In Scarlet amply justifies the surprising inclusion of a section from a Dumas pere musketeer romance. Among the lost treasures is the title story, 'the first known detective story by a woman,' Mary Fortune, an Australian immigrant who wrote a story a month for 40 years under the pseudonym Waif Wander. Serious readers of detective fiction will cherish this volume."

—PUBLISHERS WEEKLY (starred review)
   Read the PUBLISHERS WEEKLY interview here. (PDF)

"A juicy book. . . . Fascinating stuff. . . . Sims adds a good general introduction to the Victorian detective, plus pieces for each story. . . . An excellent anthology, and an excellent introduction to the detective tales of the Victorian era."


"The writing is atmospheric, in traditional Victorian style, conjuring up vivid images of smoke, carriages and wild chases through the dark streets. The chronological order of the stories, combined with Sims’s short introductions to each story, mean that the reader is guided through the Victorian years with the authors, and it’s easy to see how each author has influenced the next. The confident editing and original story selection make this a must-have for detective fiction fans."

—Sarah Chapman, WE LOVE THIS BOOK

"Wonderful compendium. . . . Sims has cherry picked a number of stories to bring the reader up to speed with an England he fell in love with during his youth. It has a lot of twists, the reader can veritably smell the environments. . . . Cracking."

—Gareth Wilson, FALCATA TIMES