In doing research for a mystery novel I’m currently writing, I had an opportunity to read a number of mysteries written at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries that featured female sleuths. I was pleasantly surprised at the intriguing and varied characters that I encountered. Here are the ones that piqued my interest:
George Sims’s Dorcas Dene was an actress who married an artist, who later became blind. She joins a private investigation business and solves cases of murder and theft.
Arthur B. Reeves has a character, Constance Dunlap, who becomes involved in forgery, embezzlement, gun running, gambling and the drug trade. She initially starts on the wrong side of the law trying to help her husband recover money he has embezzled. After her husband commits suicide over his guilt in dragging her into his crime, she helps set things right for other people who have been sucked into committing crimes. Along the way she is constantly dogged by a detective, who she managers to thwart at every turn.
Mary Roberts Rinehart introduces two female sleuths—Hilda Adams and Tish Carberry. Hilda is a nurse, who because of her investigative skills, is referred to as Miss Pinkerton (after the Pinkerton detectives). Tish Carberry is a spinster who gets involved in a variety of adventures and mysteries and has a fondness for cars and boats.
Anna Katherine Green also has two female sleuths—Violet Strange and Amelia Butterworth. Violet is a reluctant detective who has to be talked into investigating and only undertakes cases she’s interested in. Amelia is an inveterate snoop who watches people from her window.
Finally, I also enjoyed the lesser known Agatha Christie female amateur sleuth, Prudence (Tuppence) Beresford. She works with her friend then husband Thomas (Tommy) Beresford. The two of them keep up a constant patter, referring to each other as “old girl” and “old bean.”
This voyage of discovery launched me into some books I never would have read otherwise. There is a wealth of intriguing writing and characters in older mysteries.