Four Women Who Forever Changed the Gilded Age Mystery Genre

Join New York Times bestselling author Shelley Noble for a look back at four iconic women and their equally memorable sleuths who would change the Gilded Age mystery genre forever and inspired her new novel!

Plus, make sure to comment on the post for a chance to win a copy of Shelley Noble’s new mystery Tell Me No Lies!

Anna Katharine Green

Sometimes called the mother of the detective story, Anna Katharine Green published her first mystery in 1878. The Leavenworth Case introduces Detective Ebenezer Gryce, a middle-aged detective looking forward to retirement. While it was an instant success, it wasn’t until 1897 that she introduced her female sleuth, Miss Amelia Butterworth, in the seventh Gryce mystery, That Affair Next Door.

Miss Butterworth is:

Well-bred and Intelligent: “of Colonial ancestry and no inconsiderable importance in the social world.”

Resourceful: “I noticed some few facts in connection with it from which conclusions might be drawn. I amused myself with jotting them down on the back of a disputed grocer’s bill I happened to find in my pocket.

Passionate: “I found that this affair, at first glance so simple, and at the next so complicated, had aroused in me a fever of investigation which no reasoning could allay.”

Observant: “There is but one prick of a hat-pin in it,” I observed. “If you have been in the habit of looking into young women’s hats, you will appreciate the force of my remark.”

Upon which Gryce exclaims, “Women’s eyes for women’s matters, I am greatly indebted to you ma’am. You have solved a very important problem for us.”

Prepossessed: “It would never do for me to lose my wits in the presence of a man who had none too many of his own.”

 

The Verdict: A clever logical, intelligent, passionate detective. Who could resist her? I certainly couldn’t.

 

Catherine Louisa Pirkis

By the time That Affair Next Door was published, Loveday Brooke had made her debut in Pirkis’s “The Black Bag Left on a Door-Step” (1883) and seven subsequent stories. And since Conan Doyle had (at least temporarily) killed off Sherlock Holmes, Loveday was more than ready to take his place.

A Londoner born in the upper class—but through fate has become nearly destitute—Loveday defies convention and her friends to seek employment with Ebenezer Dyer.

Loveday is not a helpless female stereotype. Far from it, she was at first considered by readers to be in an unsuitable job for a lady, if in fact she could still be considered a lady at all since she dealt with spurious characters from the lower regions of society.

But as Mr. Dyer points out at the beginning of “The Redhill Sisterhood,” “The idea seems to gain ground in manly quarters that in cases of mere suspicion, women detectives are more satisfactory than men, for they are less likely to attract attention.”

Loveday Brooke is:

According to Her Boss: “Loveday Brooke at this period of her career was a little over thirty years of age and could best be described in a series of negations, she was not tall, she was not short; she was not dark, she was not fair, she was neither handsome nor ugly… But smart, with so much common sense, that it amounts to genius.”

Logical: “Loveday explained the whole thing, easily, naturally, step by step in her usual methodical manner.”

Resourceful: “I haven’t the least idea on the matter,” answered Loveday. “I start on my work without theory of any sort–in fact, I may say, with my mind a perfect blank.”

Willing to Take Risks: “Loveday steadied her nerves with difficulty. Locked in with this lunatic, her only chance lay in gaining time for the detectives to reach the house and enter through the window.”

 

Mary Roberts Rinehart

Often credited as the originator of “the butler did it” and the “had she but known” style of mystery writing, Mary Roberts Rinehart wrote stories with a variety of protagonists mixing adventure with detection, managing to introduce humor and love while keeping the suspense at the forefront. She attempted to portray realistic “modern” life with diverse characters from all walks of life and intelligent, strong willed heroines.

And importantly, she emphasized the relationships between the characters, setting the structure for the post-golden age of mystery trend we see in current amateur sleuth stories.

See More: Mary Roberts Rinehart—The American Agatha Christie

Susan Glaspell

Playwright, novelist, and journalist, Susan Glaspell is considered a feminist writer and worked a bit later that the others here, but her 1917 story “A Jury Of Her Peers,” while not a mystery in the classic sense, presents us with the key to understanding what makes women good sleuths.

Most of us know the story. Martha Hale is arrested for the murder of her husband. The local police, though they search the house, can find no evidence against her. But they have brought their wives, who are afraid to stay home alone. The men look into the kitchen and dismiss the things inside as “kitchen things,” but while they search the house to no avail, the women notice the dirty towels and the mess, and knowing that Mrs. Hale was a conscientious housekeeper they suspect something is amiss. And when they find her beloved canary, dead in a box, they know that her husband must have killed it and understand that she must have killed him and why. They have found their evidence in kitchen things.

* * *

These are all female sleuths of their time, who use their intellect and commitment to do what is right. They are unafraid to put themselves and their beliefs on the line in order to solve crimes. And they manage it in a uniquely feminine way.

Each of these authors has given us characters who are intelligent, resourceful, passionate, insightful, loyal, compassionate, humorous, and clever.  Traits inherent in female sleuths yet to come.

Add suspense, murder, jealousy. Blackmail, betrayals, revenge. Missing keys, missing servants, missing heirs. Red herrings, disguises, adventure, and most of all, kitchen things.

These early sleuths, though women of their time, embody the characteristics of amateur sleuths we enjoy today, and everything I love about writing mysteries.


About Tell Me No Lies:

Rise and shine, Countess, you’re about to have a visitor.

Lady Dunbridge was not about to let a little thing like the death of her husband ruin her social life. She’s come to New York City, ready to take the dazzling world of Gilded Age Manhattan by storm. The social events of the summer have been amusing but Lady Phil is searching for more excitement—and she finds it, when an early morning visitor arrives, begging for her help. After all, Lady Phil has been known to be useful in a crisis. Especially when the crisis involves the untimely death of a handsome young business tycoon.

His death could send another financial panic through Wall Street and beyond.

With the elegant Plaza Hotel, Metropolitan Museum of Art and the opulent mansions of Long Island’s Gold Coast as the backdrop, romance, murder, and scandals abound. Someone simply must do something. And Lady Dunbridge is happy to oblige.

Comment below for a chance to win a copy of Tell Me No Lies!

To enter, make sure you’re a registered member of the site and simply leave a comment below.

Tell Me No Lies Comment Sweepstakes: NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN. A purchase does not improve your chances of winning.  Sweepstakes open to legal residents of 50 United States, D.C., and Canada (excluding Quebec), who are 18 years or older as of the date of entry.  To enter, complete the “Post a Comment” entry at http://criminalelement.com/four-women-who-changed-gilded-age-mysteries beginning at 4:30 p.m. Eastern Time (ET) November 6, 2019. Sweepstakes ends at 4:29 p.m. ET December 2, 2019. Void outside the United States and Canada and where prohibited by law. Please see full details and official rules here. Sponsor: Macmillan, 120 Broadway, New York, NY 10271.

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Comments

  1. lasvegasnv

    interesting post

  2. Sally Schmidt

    Interesting post about the women who started things off, and intriguing excerpt. Thanks.

  3. John Smith

    “A Jury Of Her Peers” sounds intriguing!

  4. L

    I was not familiar with these women. Very interesting and informative!

  5. Terrie Farley Moran

    Not entering the contest but I had to stop by to say thank you for introducing me to Catherine Louisa Pirkis! How did I not know about her? Now I am off to hunt down Catherine and Loveday (what a perfect name!!) Shelley, I wish you great success with the new book!!

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  7. DanielM

    sounds like a fun one

  8. Marybeth Nichols

    Would love to win

  9. Marybeth Nichols

    Sounds like a great book

  10. Nancy

    Sounds fascinating.

  11. Dorothy Minor

    Sounds like the kind of book I enjoy!

  12. Susan Meek

    Right up my alley!

  13. Richard Derus

    How lovely to learn of Loveday! Thank you for the introduction.

  14. Miriam Kahn

    I’m intrigued to read these notable women who write about Gilded Age Female sleuths. I’m particularly want to check out Green’s series. I’d love to win a copy of “Tell Me No Lies.”

  15. Noreen G. Brown

    As an ex-New Yorker I’d like to read about how things were in the ‘olden days’.

  16. Rose MacLeod

    I am excited to meet these new to me authors. Thank you for the opportunity of an introduction.

  17. Lori P

    Fascinating; glad these women were able to direct their formidable imaginations in this direction!

  18. Michael Carter

    Great!
    Yes, please enter me in this sweepstakes.
    Thanks —

  19. Michael Carter

    Please enter me in this sweepstakes.
    Thanks!

  20. Andrew Beck

    What a great history! I recall seeing Susan Glaispell’s historic house somewhere–perhaps Provincetown?

    • Linda Marean

      Sounds like this is something I will enjoy!

  21. Tina deBellegarde

    This is all new to me! Would love to read Tell Me No Lies.

  22. Zeta Blankenship

    The Gilded Age!
    A favorite and turbulent time in history. I love this period where women came out into worlds never allowed before. We owe so much to them for fighting to give us the freedom we now enjoy in the world! Definitely adding to my Read list!

  23. Dori Elliott

    The Only 1 I’ve read is Mary Roberts Rinehart not heard of the other 3 at all.

  24. Patricia Nicklas

    Thanks for the interesting review

  25. Susan Wilkinson

    My mom read mysteries and I read her books-Mary R Rinehart, Phoebe A Taylor, Leslie Ford etc. Your book is on my list. Thank you.

  26. Kerry Kleiber

    Regarding Tell Me No Lies, I’m not certain of the period of time, but the cover looks like maybe late 1800s or early 1920s. Either way, I love mysteries in these eras. What adds even more for me is that it takes place in New York. I love New York, any era.

    • chris gibson

      It’s Edwardian, kind of fish out of water. British widow comes to NY to reinvent herself. I read the first book a few weeks ago – very good!

  27. Ivy

    I was aware of Green & Rinehart, but not the others. Look forward to reading them. Thank you.

  28. Sharon Zimmerman

    My mystery book club is always looking for authors to read.

  29. Rose Jones

    I have just been introduced to a whole new genre of mystery…Thanks.

  30. Desmond Warzel

    Count me in, please!

  31. Linda Farabaugh

    Never heard of these gilded age mystery writers. I love to read about the Gilded Age and mysteries too. I love being intoduced to these women. What a genre I love to lose myself in. It would fabulous to win a copy of Tell Me No Lies. I need to read the first book in this series. How did I miss these books. Thanks for introducing me to Shelly Noble on Criminal Element.

  32. Monica Cruthis

    I never heard of these women writers. I am going to check into getting their books. Thank you for introducing me to them. They sound like very interesting writers with stories I think I will enjoy reading.

  33. Deb Philippon

    I have read a couple of these authors, and I’d really enjoy learning more about them and their times. This has always been an interesting time period for me.

  34. Phyllis McGuire

    Would love to win!

  35. ANNE HARRIS

    I have read Anna Katherine Green, and Mary Roberts Rinehart! I’ve read the others also, especially the short story about the women in the kitchen. I have a book of stories by Rinehart featuring Susan Dare. I enjoy them.

  36. Lida Bushloper

    I love Rinehart and look forward to reading the others.

  37. Rita Anderson

    Thank you for bringing these trail blazing women into the forefront once again. I had read Rinehart but the others were unknown to me. My to be read stack just got taller!

  38. chris gibson

    Always exciting to find new (old) authors. Will have to check into Pirkis and Green – they are new to me!

  39. Rebecca Gatzlaff

    I really like a good mystery!

  40. Patricia Ann

    I am always searching book sales and used book stores for vintage mysteries. These will be added to my lists.

  41. Joyce Benzing

    Interesting.

  42. Charlie Ferrazzi

    Thank you for giving me 3 authors to add to my ‘keep an eye out for’ list! It will be interesting to read their style of writing. Rinehart I am familiar with, but Green, Pirkis and Glaspell I hadn’t heard of! Will also check out Noble.

  43. Teresa Sopher

    I love to go back and read the oldies.

  44. Diane Furst

    Just read my first Mary Roberts Rinehart this year and have picked up a copy of the Leavenworth Case, so now I just need to research the other two. Thanks for letting us know about them. Also, sounds like I need to check out your series as well.

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