I read this book for the Back to the Classics Challenge 2015.
My Lady’s Money – Wilkie Collins
First published in 1878, this romantic mystery fell into obscurity because it was too long for inclusion in short story collections and too short for release as a stand-alone novel. Collins wrote it for a magazine’s Christmas issue in his late career – when he was having health and laudanum- abuse problems.
Stolen is a £500 bank note intended by Lady Lydiard to aid a distressed family. It was stolen out of an unsealed envelope, during the household upheaval of taking care of an ailing pet dog. At the time of the theft, our characters in the household are Isabel Miller, her noble adopted daughter; Felix Sweetsir, her lazy spendthrift nephew; Robert Moody, the self-effacing steward; and Alfred Hardyman, a horse breeder who has come to treat Tommie, the sickly Scotch Terrier. Suspicion logically rests on Isabel who feels she must go stay with her snobbish Aunt Pink in the country until her name is cleared. Moody, in love with Isabel, engages an eccentric slob of a detective, Old Sharon, to find the perp. In the country at South Mordern, Isabel by an unlucky chance meets Hardyman who proposes marriage. She accepts only if Hardyman's family and friends signal their acceptance her by attending a garden party for Isabel. On the day of the soiree we witness an enjoyable climax and the unmasking of the true thief.
On the downside, the schmaltzy love triangle overshadows the mystery side of the story. On the upside, more than many Victorian authors (I’m looking at you, Chuck), Collins created vital and believable female characters, such as Lady L., Isabel and Miss Pink. Collins had to include a supernatural or mystery element in a story for a Christmas number, but the mystery, at least, does not feel tacked on. Old Sharon is a funny character, with his unwashed face, frowsy coat, disgusting pipe, and impudent manner. He is an eccentric PI that predates Sherlock Holmes. His dictum is “Suspect, in this case, the very last person on whom suspicion could possibly fall.”
I found this novella in a Dover Books collection from 1978, Three Victorian Detective Novels, which also included Andrew Forrester’s The Unknown Weapon 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.