Monday, February 16, 2015

Mount TBR #3

I read this book for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge hosted over at My Reader’s Block from January 1 – December 31, 2015. The challenge is to read books that you already own.

The Unknown Weapon – Andrew Forrester

Forrester published mystery stories in the early 1860s. Critics say his best work was collected The Female Detective (1864). It starred his series heroine, Mrs. G. of the Metropolitan Police, possibly the first female detective in the history of the mystery genre. Against stereotype, she is relentlessly systematic and logical in her reasoning.

In this story, she periodically pauses to explain her analysis before she moves to the next interview or procedure. She even includes a list of 12 inferences that leads her to the inescapable conclusion that she must locate a box mentioned by an intellectually challenged maid. Near the end she makes an allusion to “Edgar Poe” and his character Dupin’s idea of hiding things in plain sight. Mrs. G., like Sherlock Holmes, is a thinking device, without a shred of, or belief in, feminine intuition, though she is not averse to sitting down for a good old gossip session with talkative housekeepers and village Nosey Parkers. Not much is known about the author Forrester so it makes one wonder if Andrew was really an Andrea.

Mrs. G.’s background history of the unhappy victim makes the reader really feel for the young man’s sorry situation under the thumb of a miser of a father.  Once Mrs. G. arrives on the scene, the dialogue, especially in the scenes of the inquest and Mrs. G.’s interrogations, reveals character.  Mrs. G. may be a short on personality, but she’s long on trenchant irony and keen observation. It’s almost as if she is saying that her sex, her background, her character are not nearly as important as her ability to ratiocinate. Her observations on police work feel very modern too, especially when she says basically the police cannot be plaster saints and protect society from evil-doers at the same time. In a climax that makes the reader ponder ethics, however, Mrs. G. makes a judgment not pursue the perp. 

I found this novella in a Dover Books collection from 1978, Three Victorian Detective Novels, which also included Wilkie Collins’ My Lady's Money and Israel Zangwill's The Big Bow Mystery. It is available for a cent plus postage and handling online. There are plenty of worse ways to spend four bux.

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