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The Female Detective by Andrew Forrester

The Female Detective (1864)

by Andrew Forrester

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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The Female Detective was sent to me by the publisher Poisoned Pen Press via NetGalley. Thank you.

This British Library Crime Classic, originally published in 1864, is definitely a winner! The detective “Miss Gladden” has an ambiguous position with the police. In some of the stories she seems to be working directly with them and in others she begins an investigation on her own. Like the later Holmes stories she is meticulous in laying out the clues and explaining how she reached her conclusion. She is also honest in stating that chance and coincidence do have a place in some of her cases.

For example, in Tenant for Life, one of the strongest stories, she becomes interested in a case involving the purchase of a baby because of a chance remark made by a London cabman. To satisfy her own curiosity, she decides to try to identify the infant the cabbie purchased from a poor woman and sold within an hour to another distraught woman. As she methodically pursues her case, she discovers a crime has been committed (beyond the buying and selling of a child). And then she is in a real dilemma, for the criminal or criminals appear to be perfect, contributing members of society and the victim a useless rogue. Whom would she hurt and whom would she aid by continuing her investigation? Must justice always be served? It is a fascinating, very contemporary, problem.

The other cases pose similar puzzles and often the villain is not brought to justice, another very surprising outcome.

What makes these stories so interesting to the modern reader is that even though they have a timeless appeal, they are definitely Mid-Victorian. The deaths of two children in Tenant for Life get a passing mention because the nineteenth century reader just would accept the high death rate of children under ten and not need a lengthy discourse. I, instead, was very surprised by the casual way it was slipped into the text.

As in all collections, some stories are stronger than others. The one I found the most far-fetched was A Child Found Dead: Murder Or No Murder. I thought the solution was unrealistic to the point of being silly. Then I read the comments by Mike Ashley who stated that the story was a reworking of an actual notorious murder case with the same murderer and method. Another glimpse into the Victoria mind.

This is a wonderful book with a heroine well ahead of her times. A strong recommendation. ( )
  Liz1564 | Aug 2, 2016 |
Andrew Forrester's The Female Detective, published in 1864, is the first of its kind*, introducing a female protagonist in a relatively new genre. Using the name of Mrs. Gladden, although never actually recognizing this as her legal name, the female detective in question introduces the occupation to her readers in a series of narratives, both justifying her position and actions and relating the specifics of a series of "cases" in which she is involved. As a whole, the novel is clumsy and unsure of itself, using bracketed asides and footnotes to try to direct and clarify and generally justify the text, characters, and occupation itself. Interestingly, a true organization of occupation familiar to modern readers (and anyone familiar with police procedurals!) is missing, and Mrs. G reads more like a busybody with police connections than a competent professional; for example, in one significant case she takes it upon herself to research the strange adoption of a young girl, whose household presence secures a financial legacy, ultimately revealing the results of her investigation because it is "required" of her position, though she was hired of no one and her investigation threatens to bring true harm to very good people. Her works seems more like that of cozy mystery protagonists than a professional detective, which has interesting gender implications for the genre itself. Not good in its own right, Forrester's novel is nonetheless an interesting cultural object for the study of Victorian culture, and the evolution of the genre.

*Like many "firsts", this is a bit contentious. However, despite the existence of Ruth the Betrayer from 1862/3, I'll maintain for my own purposes that Forrester's novel is "first." My own personal justification for this is that Ellis' text is a serial penny dreadful, a different form of publication from Forrester's formal novel publication. Therefore, Ellis' spy may be the first female detective in English, but Forrester's novel is the first female detective novel. ( )
  Luxx | Jul 10, 2016 |
While not the first female detective in fiction (that honor goes to Ruth Trail, in Edward Ellis’s “Ruth the Betrayer,” in 1862), Forrester’s “female detective,” Miss G, was the model for many that followed. As a woman, she disguises herself easily as a maid, or a dressmaker, or as a charity worker. Most detective stories of the time were still a form of melodrama, but Miss G was different: She operated through deduction and science, even at one point giving evidence on ballistics. She can sound remarkably blasé about her job: “Strangling, beating, poisoning (in a minor degree)—these are the modes of murder adopted in England.” It’s the “in a minor degree” that makes her real. Her professionalism, her ability to observe and draw deductions, and, most importantly, her outsider status, in her case her gender, make her the unacknowledged prototype for many of later, more famous, and male, fictional detective. ( )
  Judith.Flanders | Apr 28, 2014 |
Surprisingly good for such an early mystery, the first with a woman detective. The woman, Ms. Gladden, is a practical no-nonsense sort and her stories are told in clear, conversational prose. Several are almost brutally realistic about social conditions in Victorian England --one turns on the fact that some poor women would sell their children for a few pennies, and another on the fact that sweatshop managers sexually exploited their female employees. ( )
  antiquary | Mar 20, 2013 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Andrew Forresterprimary authorall editionscalculated
Ashley, MikeIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Smith, Alexander McCallForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Typical of detective fiction of its time, Forrester’s book features various cases narrated by 'G', whose deductive methods and energetic approach anticipate those of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. 'G' uses similar methods to her male counterparts – she enters scenes of crime incognito, tracking down killers while trying to conceal her own tracks and her identity from others. She does much physical detective work, examining crime scenes, looking for clues and employing all manner of skill, subterfuge, observation and charm to achieve her ends. Like Holmes, 'G' regards the regular constabulary with disdain. For all the intrigue and interest of the stories, little is ever revealed about 'G' herself, and her personal circumstances remain a mystery throughout. But it is her ability to apply her considerable energy and intelligence to solve crimes that is her greatest appeal, and the reappearance of the original lady detective will be welcomed by fans of crime fiction.
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'CRIMINALS ARE BOTH MASCULINE AND FEMININE...AND THEREFORE IT FOLLOWS THAT THE NECESSARY DETECTIVES SHOULD BE OF BOTH SEXES...' London, 1860s: Mrs. Gladden's friends suppose her an innocent dressmaker. But she is in fact a private detective, fiercely dedicated to her trade, and an expert at moving undercover in both high society and the criminal underworld. Not only accomplished in gathering information, but also in analysing it with her formidable skills of logic and deduction, Mrs. Gladden delves to the heart of murders and mysteries that have even the official police baffled...… (more)

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