THE LADY INVESTIGATES: Women Detectives and Spies in Fiction by Patricia & Mary Cadosan Craig

THE LADY INVESTIGATES: Women Detectives and Spies in Fiction

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An occasionally diverting but far-from-authoritative survey--agreeable in tone (neither too earnest nor too cute), haphazard in organization, hit-or-miss in coverage. Best are the opening chapters on pre-Golden Age detectives in England and America: Craig and Cadogan have dug up a surprising array of early sleuths--from Janet Darling, the Love Detective (""the Girl Detective who will only help lovers""), to Holmes clone Madelyn Mack (who even takes drugs à la Holmes) to Millicent Newberry, ""a cross between a psychiatric social worker and a medium""; and they wryly capture the literary foibles (and strengths) of these early outings, along with the variations on female stereotypes of the period. Instead of then continuing to trace the genres on either side of the Atlantic, however, the authors divide the rest of the book into arbitrary chapters which give little sense of social or literary development. There are two sketchy chapters on women spies, but virtually no discussion of the far more important damsel-in-distress/Had-I-But-Known genre. (Phyllis A. Whitney et al. appear nowhere.) There's a chapter on ""Spouses, Secretaries and Sparring Partners""--though three of the best-known detective-wives appear in another chapter called ""Home Sleuths."" Mary Roberts Rinehart isn't mentioned until after a discussion of those influenced by her. And though the curiosity items brought forth in grab-bag chapters like ""Six Wonderful Old Women"" are mildly amusing, most US readers would probably prefer fewer British rarities and more reflection of recent American trends. (Amanda Cross is the only US entry in the skimpy chapter on post-1960 female detectives.) Moreover, savvy fans may be put on their guard by the authors' expansive enthusiasm for Gladys Mitchell, by their idiosyncratic view of the later Miss Marple books (two of the best aren't even discussed), and by numerous small errors--from the publication date of Murder at the Vicarage to the spelling of ""Gipsy Rose Lee."" Very iffy as a reference, then--but, as a source of lesser-known titles and sporadic insights (the section on Christie's Tommy and Tuppence is especially good), this is a mostly welcome addition to the crime-literature shelf.

Pub Date: Feb. 10th, 1981
Publisher: St. Martin's