Sunday, August 14, 2016

A Victorian Police Officer in Petticoats: The Female Detective by Andrew Forrester

The Female Detective was published in 1864 when law enforcement organizations were cutting edge. Mike Ashley's introduction to The Female Detective notes the first British police agency was organized in 1829 and Scotland Yard was created in 1842. Edgar Allen Poe introduced the first detective in fiction in 1841. Alan Pinkerton employed the first woman detective in 1856. The character of 'Miss B', undercover police agent, was novel and original.

The Female Detective stories were written by Andrew Forrester, the pen name of writer and editor James Redding Ware. His unnamed heroine addresses the reader to explain the importance of her secretive work and justify the role of the female spy in society.

Who am I?It can matter little who I am.
I would have my readers at once accept my declaration that whatever may be the results of the practice of my profession in others, in me that profession has not led me towards hardheartedness. 
For what reason do I write this book?
...I may as well say at once I write in order to show, in a small way, that the profession to which I belong is so useful that it should not be despised.
Seven stories follow, some showing how our female detective operates, some are stories she has heard, and the last story is a comedic delight that is quite Dickensian in humor. Her purpose is to broadly illustrate the importance of the detective.

Miss B predates Sherlock Holmes but uses the same logical thinking to puzzle out her cases. She posses as a milliner or takes up local residence to gain access to her subject. She cross-examines in the guise of a friendly ear. Then she makes her deduction and sets out for proof.

Her powers of observation are astute. Boot marks "have sent more men to the gallows, as parts of circumstantial evidence than any other proof whatever," Miss B proclaims. She advises evildoers to carry a second pair of boots to wear while committing their crime! She explains what she calls the "audacity of hiding," that the safest hiding place is the most obvious, citing "the great enigma-novelist, Edgar Poe" who illustrated this when a man places a letter in a card-rack on the mantelpiece when he knows his house will be searched.
...the value of the detective lies not so much in discovering facts, as in putting them together and finding out what they mean.
Because our female detective is not heartless, but is committed to the law, she can find herself faced with perplexing moral choices. She places her duty above pity.
A man is your friend, but if he transgresses that law which it is your duty to see observed, you have no right to spare him...
She accuses the English police system as requiring "more intellect infused into it. Many of the men are extraordinarily acute and are able to seize facts as they rise to the surface. But they are unable to work out what is below the surface."

I enjoyed the sense of humor in the writing, often at the expense of her male coequals. "I found out the constable, and I am constrained to say--a greater fool I never indeed did meet. He was too stupid to be anything else than utterly, though idiotically, honest."

The stories are varied in subject and style; some are recognizable as traditional detective fiction, some more anecdotal and not directly related to Miss B. I enjoyed reading them all.

I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

The Female Detective
Andrew Forrester
Poisoned Pen Press
Publication Date August, 2016
ISBN: 9781464206481 ebook

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