Veteran anthologist Klinger’s fondness for shadows (In the Shadow of Edgar Allan Poe, 2015, etc.) leads him to a bit of overreaching: none of the 17 authors showcased here toiled in Christie’s shadow, because their stories all appeared between 1850 and 1917, before Christie had published a word.
Even so, Klinger the archivist and editor has done the field an invaluable service by excavating so many stories, mostly, as his subtitle aptly puts it, “by forgotten female authors” from the supposed interregnum between Poe and Conan Doyle. True, the earliest and most obscure of his discoveries—Catherine Crowe’s “The Advocate’s Wedding Day,” Mary Fortune’s “Traces of Crime,” Harriet Prescott Spofford’s “Mr. Furbush”—are so ponderous and unmysterious that they’re more likely to interest antiquarians than fans, and Elizabeth Gaskell’s “The Squire’s Story,” though more finely wrought, offers little more mystery than its contemporaries. The plot thickens with Ellen Wood’s “Mrs. Todhetley’s Earrings,” which adds an actual, albeit transparent, mystery; Elizabeth Corbett’s “Catching a Burglar,” which sends detective Dora Bell undercover as a lady’s maid; and C.L. Pirkis’ “The Ghost of Fountain Lane,” in which sleuthing Loveday Brooke brings some ingenuity to the case of a stolen check. Ellen Glasgow raises questions about the morality of abetting a criminal’s suicide in “Point in Morals”; L.T. Meade and Robert Eustace provide a virtually unguessable cause of violent death in “The Blood-Red Cross”; a nondescript Viennese detective clears a man accused of murder in Augusta Groner’s stolid “The Case of the Registered Letter”; the ghost in M.E. Braddon’s “The Winning Sequence” hides a shameful secret; the disappearance of a valuable formula in Anna Katherine Green’s “Missing: Page Thirteen,” holds the key to a long-unsuspected crime. The best stories, though, are by the least-forgotten names in the genre. The detective known as The Old Man in the Corner shines in Baroness Orczy’s “The Regent’s Park Murder”; Carolyn Wells sends up the genre amusingly in “The Adventure of the Clothes-Line”; and Susan Glaspell’s frequently reprinted “Jury of Her Peers” brings the volume to an appropriately grim yet triumphant close.
Less notable for its individual stories than for the revised narrative they support that shows Victorian women actively working the field long before Miss Marple.