cover image The Female Detective

The Female Detective

Andrew Forrester. British Library (Univ. of Chicago, dist.), $15 trade paper (328p) ISBN 978-0-7123-5878-1

This republication of an 1864 mystery by Forrester (the pseudonym of James Redding Ware), with a heroine "usually regarded as the first professional female detective to appear in fiction," according to Mike Ashley's introduction, has some intriguing elements%E2%80%94such as the discussion of the significance of a dog not barking%E2%80%94but these are relatively few. Modern readers may struggle a bit to get through the accounts of seven cases the female PI relates, especially the first and longest one, "Tenant for Life," which centers on the identity of the heir to an estate. Dialect-soaked dialogue can be an obstacle (e.g., "I could not rersist that there thutty poun', bein' at that identkle time werry hard up"), as well as pronouncements by the sleuth that will elicit more head-scratching than awe (e.g., she comments "for that which is not white may fairly be guessed to be of some other colour"). And her prejudices also stand in the way of her being considered astute. In one case, she concludes that a murder must have been committed by "foreigners" because the "percentage of deaths from the use of the knife" by English people is so minimal as to not bear consideration. Many will find that comment, intended to showcase her wisdom, as evidence of the exact opposite: her closed-mindedness. (Oct.)