Mystery crime fiction written in the Golden Age of Murder
"Literary ancestor to Miss Marple, Lisbeth Salander and Nancy Drew" Guardian
'Miss Gladden', the first female detective, is a determined and resourceful figure, with ingenious skills of logic and deduction. Pursuing mysterious cases, she works undercover and only introduces herself as a detective when the need arises. Her personal circumstances and even her real name are never revealed. This obfuscation makes sense, considering that when The Female Detective was first published in 1864 there were no official female detectives in Britainin fact, there were no women police officers either (and would not be for another 50 years). And the novel itself was well ahead of its time; further stories and novels featuring women detectives would not be widely published until the turn of the century.
About the Author
ANDREW FORRESTER was the pseudonym of James Redding Ware (1832-1909). Among his other books were Revelations of a Private Detective (1863), and Secret Service, or Recollections of a City Detective (1864).
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The Female Detective
By Andrew Forrester
Poisoned Pen PressCopyright © 2016 Poisoned Pen Press
All rights reserved.
The Female Detective
Who am I?
It can matter little who I am.
It may be that I took to the trade, sufficiently comprehended in the title of this work without a word of it being read, because I had no other means of making a living; or it may be that for the work of detection I had a longing which I could not overcome.
It may be that I am a widow working for my children — or I may be an unmarried woman, whose only care is herself.
But whether I work willingly or unwillingly, for myself or for others — whether I am married or single, old or young, 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 have a chief reason, and as I can have no desire to hide it from the reader, for if I were secretively inclined I should not be compiling these memoirs, I may as well at once say 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.
I know well that my trade is despised. I have all along known this fact so well that I have hidden my trade from those about me. Whether these are relations or friends, or merely acquaintances, I have no need here to tell.
My friends suppose I am a dressmaker, who goes out by the day or week — my enemies, what I have, are in a great measure convinced that my life is a very questionable one.
In my heart of hearts I am at a loss to decide at which side I laugh most — at my friends, who suppose me so very innocent, or at my enemies, who believe me to be not far removed from guilty.
My trade is a necessary one, but the world holds aloof my order. Nor do I blame the world over much for its determination. I am quite aware that there is something peculiarly objectionable in the spy, but nevertheless it will be admitted that the spy is as peculiarly necessary as he or she is peculiarly objectionable.
The world would very soon discover the loss of the detective system, and yet if such a loss were to take place, if the certain bad results which would be sure to follow its abolition were made most evident, the world would still avoid the detective as a social companion, from the next moment he or she resumed office.
I have said I do not complain of this treatment, for as I have remarked, I am quite aware that society looks upon the companionship of a spy as repulsive; but, nevertheless, we detectives are necessary, as scavengers are called for, and I therefore write this book to help to show, by my experience, that the detective has some demand upon the gratitude of society.
I am aware that the female detective may be regarded with even more aversion than her brother in profession. But still it cannot be disproved that if there is a demand for men detectives there must also be one for female detective police spies. Criminals are both masculine and feminine — indeed, my experience tells me that when a woman becomes a criminal she is far worse than the average of her male companions, and therefore it follows that the necessary detectives should be of both sexes.
Let it suffice, once for all, that I know my trade is a despised one, but that being a necessary calling I am not ashamed of it. I know I have done good during my career, I have yet to learn that I have achieved much harm, and I therefore think that the balance of the work of my life is in my favour.
In putting the following narratives on paper, I shall take great care to avoid mentioning myself as much as possible. I determine upon this rule, not from any personal modesty, though I would remark in passing that your detective can be a modest man or woman, but simply to avoid the use of the great I, which, to my thinking, disfigures so many books. To gain this end, the avoidance of the use of this letter, I shall, as much as possible, tell the tales in what I believe is called the third person, and in what I will call the plainest fashion.
I may also point out, while engaged upon these opening lines, that in a very great many cases women detectives are those who can only be used to arrive at certain discoveries. The nature of these discoveries I need here only hint at, many of them being of too marked a character to admit of their being referred to in detail in a work of this character, and in a book published in the present age. But without going into particulars, the reader will comprehend that the woman detective has far greater opportunities than a man of intimate watching, and of keeping her eyes upon matters near which a man could not conveniently play the eavesdropper.
I am aware that the idea of family spies must be an unpleasant subject for contemplation; that to reflect that a female detective may be in one's own family is a disagreeable operation. But, on the other hand, it may be urged that only the man who has secrets to hide need fear a watcher, the inference standing that he who fears may justifiably be watched.
Be all this as it may, it is certain that man and woman detectives are necessities of daily English life, that I am a female detective, and that I think fit to make some of my experiences known to the world.
What will their value be?
I cannot guess — I will not say — I do not care to learn. But I hope these narratives of mine will show that granted much crime passes undetected, much of the most obscure and well-planned evil-doing is brought to the light, and easily, by the operation of the detective. Furthermore, I hope it will be ascertained that there is much of good to be found, even amongst criminals, and that it does not follow because a man breaks the law that he is therefore heartless.
Now — to my work.CHAPTER 2
Tenant For Life
It often happens to us detectives — and when I say us detectives, of course, I mean both men and women operatives — that we are the first movers in matters of great ultimate importance to individuals in particular, and the public at large.
For instance, a case in point only came under my notice a few weeks since.
A lady of somewhat solitary and reserved life, residing alone, but for a housekeeper, died suddenly. Strangely enough, her son arrived at the house two hours before the lady breathed her last. The house in which the death took place being far from a town, and it being necessary that the son should almost immediately return to London, the house was left for some time in the care, or it were more consistent to say under the control, of the housekeeper already mentioned — a woman who bore a far from spotless character in the neighbourhood of her late mistress's dwelling.
To curtail that portion of this instance of the but poorly comprehended efficacy of the detective police which does not immediately bear upon the argument under consideration, it may be said in a few words that in the time which elapsed between the departure and arrival of the son, the house was very effectively stripped.
The son, of course, was put almost immediately in possession of the suspicions of several neighbours as to the felony which they felt sure had been committed, and this gentleman was very quickly in a position to convince himself that a robbery had been effected.
The housekeeper was spoken to, told of her crime, which insolently she denied, and was at once dismissed. She foolishly threatening law proceedings, on the score of defamation of character.
The son of the deceased lady refused to take any action in the matter of the robbery, urging that he could not have his mother's name and death mixed up with police-court proceedings, and he allowed the affair, as he supposed, to blow over, though it should be here observed that he suffered very considerable inconvenience by the absence of certain papers which were associated with the death of his mother.
Four months pass, and now the police appear upon the scene, and with an efficiency which is an instance of the value of the detective force. The police had, of course, in the ordinary way of business, heard of the robbery referred to, but could not move in it while no prosecutor gave them the word to move. But if the police had not moved in the case, they had not forgotten it.
A robbery takes place in the neighbourhood, and a search-warrant is granted. A search is prosecuted, and in a shed beyond a small house, belonging to a couple whom the housekeeper already mentioned knew, and who had been up at the house while the housekeeper was left in sole charge of it, was found a japanned cash-box.
The detective who made this discovery almost immediately identified the box with the robbery at the house of the late lady, and upon finding, after a close examination, the initial of her surname scratched upon the lid, he became so convinced his conjecture was right, that, upon his own responsibility, he took the tenant of the house in question into custody.
The case went clear against the unhappy man. The police, by a wonderful series of fortunate guesses and industrious inquiries, found out the son, and this latter was enabled to produce a key, one of a household bunch belonging to his late mother, that opened the cash-box in question, which had been forced in such a manner that the cash-box had not been broken.
This gentleman, however, refused to prosecute, and the prisoner got off with the fright of his arrest and an examination.
Which of the two, the gentleman or the detective, did his duty to society, is a question I leave to be answered by my readers. My aim in quoting this instance of the operation of the detective system is to show how valuable it may become, even where should-be prosecutors make the mistake of supposing that leniency and patience form a much better course of conduct than one of justice and fair retribution.
The detective police frequently start cases and discover prosecutors in people who have had no idea of filling any such position.
Many cases of this character, several of them really important, have come under my own direction. Perhaps the most important is that which I am about to relate, and to which I have given the title of "Tenant for Life."
This case, as it frequently happens, came upon me when I was least expecting business, and when, indeed, I had "put the shutters up for the day," as an old detective companion of mine — a fellow long since dead (he was killed by a most gentlemanly banker who had left town for good, and who, after flooring John Hemmings, left England for good also) — would say.
It was on a Sunday when I got the first inkling of one of the most extraordinary cases which has come under my observation. It is on Sundays that I always put the shutters up. Even when I am engaged hot in a case, I am afraid I relax on a Sunday. I will not work if I can help it on a Sunday. I swim through the week, so to speak, for Sunday, and then I have twenty-four hours' rest before I plunge into my sea of detections once more.
I am what is called a talking companion, and I am bound to admit that women are in the habit of talking scandal, with me for a hearer, within three hours of my making their acquaintance.
Amongst others that I knew some years ago was a Mrs. Flemps. I think I first made her acquaintance because her name struck me as out of the common — it was out of the common, for I had not known her twenty-four hours before I learnt that she was married to a cabman, who on his father's side was a Dutchman who had been in the eel trade at Billingsgate market.
It was this acquaintance, it was the mere notice of the name of Flemps, which led to the extraordinary chain of events which I shall now place before the reader exactly as I linked them together — premising only that I shall sink my part in the narrative as fully as I shall be able.
As I have said above, I make Sunday a holiday, and coming to know the Flempses, and ascertaining that the cabman — perhaps with some knowledge of that cheerful way of spending the Sunday which I have heard distinguishes foreigners — was in the habit of using his cab as a private vehicle on a Sunday, and driving his wife out, I found my seventh days even more cheerful than I had yet discovered them to be. In plain English, during the summer through which I knew the Flempses, I frequently drove out of London with them a few miles into the country.
Flemps used to drive, of course, and I and his wife were inside, with all the windows down, in order that we might get as much of the country air as possible.
I find, by reference to the diary I have kept since I entered the service, and at which I work equally for pleasure, and to relieve my mind of particulars which would overweight it, for I may add that in this diary, which would be intolerable printed, I fix down every word of a case I hear, as closely as I can remember it, and every particular as near as I can shape it — I say I find, by reference to my diary, that it was the fourth Sunday I rode out with the Flempses, and the sixth week of my acquaintance with those people, whom upon the whole I found very respectable, that I got the first inkling of one of the best, even if one of the most dissatisfactory, cases in which I was ever engaged.
The conversation which called up my curiosity I am enabled to reproduce almost as it was spoken, for by the time the ride was over I had got so good a thread of the case in my head, that I thought it necessary to book what I had already learnt.
Mrs. Flemps was a worthy woman, who loved to hear herself talk, a failing it is said with her sex. From the hour in which I made her familiar with me, I ceased to talk much to the good woman; I listened only, and rarely opened my mouth except to ask a question.
By the way, I should add here that I in no way spunged upon the Flempses; I always contributed more than one-third to the eatables and drinkables we took with us in the cab, and thereby I think I paid my share of the cab, which would have taken them whether I had been in London or Jericho.
The first words used by the couple in reference to the case attracted my attention.
We had got into the cab, she and I, and he was looking in at the window as he smoothened his old hat round and round.
"Jemmy," he said, her name being Jemima, "where shall us drive to-day?"
"Well, Jan," said she — he had been christened after his Dutch father — "we aint been Little Fourpenny Number Two way this blessed summer."
"That's it," said Jan, with a triumphant, crowing tone. "Little Fourpenny Number Two."
And mounting his box, he drove out of the yard so briskly that for a moment, as we went over the kerbstone, I thought the only road we were about to take was that of destruction.
The extraordinary highway we were about to take naturally led me to make some inquiries; for it can readily be understood by the public that if there is one thing a detective — whether female or male — is less able to endure than another, it is a mystery.
"That's a queer road we're going, Mrs. Flemps," said I; and speaking after the manner of her class — for I may say that half the success of a detective depends upon his or her sympathy with the people from whom either is endeavouring to pick up information.
"Yes," said Mrs. Flemps; and as she sighed I knew that there was more in the remark than would have appeared to an ordinary listener. I do not use the words "ordinary listener" at all in a vain sense, but simply with a business meaning.
"Is it a secret?"
"What, Little Fourpenny?" she called out, as we bumped over the London stones.
"Number Two," I added, with a smile.
She shook her head.
"There was no number two," she replied, "though there ought to have been."
Now this answer was puzzling. Both husband and wife felt mutual sympathy in the affair of "Little Fourpenny Number Two;" and yet it appeared no Little Fourpenny Number Two had ever existed.
"Tell me all about it, Mrs. Flemps," said I, "if it's no secret."
She answered in these words — "Which I will, my dear, when we reach the gardings, but can't a jolting over the stones."
We drove six miles out of London, and got on the level country road. There is no need to say whither we went, because places are of no value in this narrative.
It is enough to say it was six miles out of London, and on a level country.
Excerpted from The Female Detective by Andrew Forrester. Copyright © 2016 Poisoned Pen Press. Excerpted by permission of Poisoned Pen Press.
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Table of Contents
ContentsForeword by Alexander McCall Smith, vii,
Introduction by Mike Ashley, ix,
The Female Detective: Introduction, 1,
Tenant for Life, 13,
The Unraveled Mystery, 102,
The Judgment of Conscience, 121,
A Child Found Dead: Murder or No Murder, 153,
The Unknown Weapon, 177,
The Mystery, 260,