A history of the intrepid women who ventured into male territory to solve crimes.
Janik (Marketplace of the Marvelous: The Strange Origins of Modern Medicine, 2014, etc.) investigates nearly two centuries of policewomen, female detectives, and fictional sleuths in this lively look at women’s adventuresome careers. In 1856, the famed detective Allan Pinkerton took a chance on hiring Kate Warne, who became “America’s first-known female private eye and one of his finest sleuths.” Warne brought to her job skills that most male detectives simply did not have: innocence and charm that earned the trust of criminals’ wives and girlfriends, who divulged crucial information. Janik points out that sleuthing seemed a logical career for unmarried women, in both fact and fiction. “Detection,” she writes, “gave women mobility and provided an acceptable outlet for probing into people’s lives. Through sleuthing, the spinster turned gossip into an art and snooping into a useful science.” Agatha Christie’s clever, observant Miss Marple and Dorothy Sayers’ “quick-witted” Miss Katherine Climpson are two examples, among many others. Women broke through police ranks, as well, first taking positions as matrons in police stations and prisons, where they forged connections to social workers. Matrons, the author finds, brought a “social-service approach to incarcerated women and children,” aiming to prevent crimes, such as prostitution, through positive intervention. Joining a police force took longer: only a few cities appointed women in the early 1910s. By 1913, the number had increased to 38; two years later, 26 cities had brought the number to 70. In 1916, the first black policewoman joined the Los Angeles Police Department, and the following year, the first Hispanic officer was hired. Janik creates vivid portraits of many feisty women, including contemporary TV detectives such as Jessica Fletcher of Murder, She Wrote and Jane Tennison of Prime Suspect.
An entertaining history of women’s daring, defiant life choices.