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The Dead Letter and The Figure Eight by…

The Dead Letter and The Figure Eight

by Metta Fuller Victor

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between a 3.5 and 3.7, rounded to 4

for plot, etc., I'll refer you to my online reading journal here.

Published in 1866, The Dead Letter, in my opinion, is the better of the two novels featured here. Catherine Ross Nickerson in her The Web of Iniquity: Early Detective Fiction by American Women labels The Dead Letter as "the first American detective novel" (29); both books are, as she notes,

"documents of a moment in cultural history when the young professional seemed to hold the promise of mediating between the cloudy-minded nostalgia of the landed class and the unprincipled greed of the merchant and capitalist classes." (31)

I will leave it for the reader to discover exactly what she means, but she is most definitely on target here. While there's definitely a LOT going on between the lines (way more than I can explain here), for example a portrait of a) what was holding the American reading interest at the time, b) societal/cultural attitudes towards outsiders (here including the Irish, Mexicans, Spaniards and other ethnic groups) c) the focus on the home, marriage, and the domestic sphere as a prime focus of "investigation", these books are also fun reads for anyone interested in American literature of this period that won't likely be found on any general American Lit course syllabus.

Nickerson also reveals in her book that

"the first Americans to write detective novels picked the domestic sphere as the area most able to support the detective story and the area most in need of investigation," (46)

and as I continued to read through both novels here, this idea became clearer with every page turned.

As I said earlier, there's no possible way to go into all of the under-the-surface things I uncovered while reading these books, and both are much more complex than I make them out to be in my reading-journal post, but trust me, there is a lot between the covers that is discussion worthy. For someone like myself who loves these old books and who tries to read between the lines as to the cultural climate, the politics, and the historical significance of the time in which they were written, it is a goldmine. On the other hand, they're definitely not for everyone, but if for no other reason, the fact that Metta Fuller Victor made an appearance before Anna Katherine Green (who I've always believed was the first American detective novelist) makes her extremely readworthy. ( )
1 vote bcquinnsmom | Jan 14, 2016 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0822331659, Paperback)

Before Raymond Chandler, before Dorothy Sayers or Agatha Christie, there was Metta Fuller Victor, the first American author—man or woman—of a full-length detective novel. This novel, The Dead Letter, is presented here along with another of Victor’s mysteries, The Figure Eight. Both written in the 1860s and published under the name Seeley Regester, these novels show how—by combining conventions of the mystery form first developed by Edgar Allan Poe with those of the domestic novel—Victor pioneered the domestic detective story and paved the way for generations of writers to follow.

In The Dead Letter, Henry Moreland is killed by a single stab to the back. Against a background of post–Civil War politics, Richard Redfield, a young attorney, helps Burton, a legendary New York City detective, unravel the crime. In The Figure Eight, Joe Meredith undertakes a series of adventures and assumes a number of disguises to solve the mystery of the murder of his uncle and regain the lost fortune of his angelic cousin.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:23:20 -0400)

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