In the Shadow of Agatha Christie

Classic Crime Fiction by Forgotten Female Authors: 1850-1917

Agatha Christie is undoubtedly the world’s best-selling mystery author, hailed as the “Queen of Crime,” with worldwide sales in the billions. Christie burst onto the literary scene in 1920, with The Mysterious Affair at Styles; her last novel was published in 1976, a career longer than even Conan Doyle’s forty-year span.

The truth is that it was due to the success of writers like Anna Katherine Green in America; L. T. Meade, C. L. Pirkis, the Baroness Orczy, and Elizabeth Corbett in England; and Mary Fortune in Australia that the doors were finally opened for women crime-writers. Authors who followed them, such as Patricia Wentworth, Dorothy Sayers, and, of course, Agatha Christie would not have thrived without the bold, fearless work of their predecessors—and the genre would be much poorer for their absence.

So while Agatha Christie may still reign supreme, it is important to remember that she did not ascend that throne except on the shoulders of the women who came before her—and inspired her—and who are now removed from her shadow once and for all by this superb new anthology by Leslie S. Klinger. Featuring: Mary Fortune, Harriet Prescott Spofford, Ellen Wood, Elizabeth Corbett, C. L. Pirkis, Geraldine Bonner, Ellen Glasgow, L. T. Meade, Baroness Orczy, Augusta Großer, M. E. Graddon, Anna Katherine Green, Carolyn Wells, Susan Glashell.

For my 500th Review of 2017 I wanted something special to mark the occasion. With an upcoming movie based on one of Agatha Christie’s books and being a staunch supporter of female writers this seemed like the perfect way to celebrate. Recently I reviewed a short story collection from the mystery genre that covered stories across 150 years yet only around 5% of the book was devoted to female writers despite the fact they have made their own mark on the publication industry. Having a book devoted to those missing voices, showcasing the women who opened doors for Christie and so many others, is empowering.

Leslie Klinger starts off with a history of the huge impact Agatha Christie had over an astounding career that was longer than even the most famous, esteemed Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. We learn that though Sherlock Holmes made the crime/mystery genre popular in the late 19th century, female writers had already been providing their own literary creations long before he embarked upon the world. Yet they were not given the same recognition for their equally talented efforts.

Even hardcore mystery fans may not recognize the names of the authors presented in this anthology or know how long back the female voice stretches but thanks to Mr. Klinger they are no longer lost in the dust of the past. The irony that it took a man to settle that wrong against my fellow gender has not been lost on me.

The first female detective was Mrs. G. in the apropos named story The Female Detective published in the mid 1800s but the first female crime-writer came much earlier from the British culture. The history lessons continue as we bounce around the western hemisphere from France to England to the States learning how the various cultures influenced authors, publications and notoriety.

After the highly detailed and meticulously researched history lessons conclude, the fun starts with stories by some of the strongest women to grace the world’s literary stage. Klinger did a wonderful job reminding us that women have had a voice much longer than most know and we owe it to them to remember their hard work in a time when men were the dominant force.

These stories provide a window into the past, into a time when women couldn’t be on bestseller lists or given the same recognition as men. Their stories are the product of the time, places, people and culture they were created in so it’s important to remember that before passing judgement. You may like some, love some, hate some or be indifferent but in the end you should respect them because each in her own way was leaving a mark upon a world that didn’t care what they had to say simply because of their gender.

The Advocate’s Wedding Day by Catherine Crowe

The Squire’s Story by Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell

Traces of Crime by Mary Fortune

Mr. Furbush by Harriet Prescott Spofford

Mrs. Todhetley’s Earrings by Ellen Wood

Catching a Burglar by Elizabeth Corbett

The Ghost of Fountain Lane by C. L. Pirkis

The Statement of Jared Johnson by Geraldine Bonner

Point in Morals by Ellen Glasgow

The Blood-Red Cross by L. T. Meade and Robert Eustace

The Regent’s Park Murder by Baroness Orczy

The Case of the Registered Letter by Augusta Groner

The Winning Sequence by M. E. Braddon

Missing; Page Thirteen by Anna Katherine Green

The Adventure of the Clothes-Line by Carolyn Wells

Jury of Her Peers by Susan Glaspell

Thank you to Netgalley and Pegasus Books for allowing me to review this!

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