And this week’s Random Mystery Genre Is, “Fictional Female British Sleuths From the World War I and World War II Eras”.
1. Amelia Peabody created by Elizabeth Peters
Amelia Peabody is the sharp, pulls-no-punches protagonist created by Elizabeth Peters. Her story begins in the late 1880’s when she comes into a rather large inheritance and decides to go tour the world, despite being a single woman. She, unsurprisingly, receives a number of proposals of marriage, one of which she declined with the following explanation:
“I disapprove of matrimony as a matter of principle.” Mr. Fletcher’s pepper-and-salt eyebrows lifted. I added, “For myself, that is. I suppose it is well enough for some women; what else can the poor things do? But why should any independent, intelligent female choose to subject herself to the whims and tyrannies of a husband? I assure you, I have yet to meet a man as sensible as myself.”
Eventually she makes her way to Egypt, determined to see the pyramids. Upon arrival she makes the acquaintance of the Emerson brothers, Walter and Radcliffe, who are both archaeologists and Egyptologists. Happening upon them in the middle of a minor crisis, she decides to move into their excavation site and take charge of things.
I directed Walter to pick out a nice tomb for us.
He was staring at me in the most peculiar fashion. He did not speak, but he kept opening and closing his mouth. If he had not been such a handsome fellow, he would have reminded me of a frog.
“There is a nice tomb close by, I trust,” I repeated, resisting the desire to poke at him with my parasol. “Go along Walter, we musn’t waste time; I want the place all swept and tidy by the time our luggage arrives….”
“Nice tomb,” Walter repeated stupidly. “Yes. Yes, Miss Peabody, there are several other tombs nearby. I don’t know whether you would call them nice…”
“Walter, you are incoherent,” I said. “This is no time to lose your head. I understand your concern, but there is no need for it now. I am here.”
And so she was. And so she has continued to take charge of things through seventeen more books. You can find out more about the series here.
2. Maisie Dobbs
Maisie Dobbs is the creation of author Jacqueline Winspear, and we meet her in 1929 as she is opening her new detective agency.
Just a few pages in it becomes obvious that Maisie Dobbs is not your average, run-of-the-mill detective.
The tricky thing was going to be the nameplate. She still hadn’t solved the problem of the nameplate.
As Lady Rowan had asked, “So, my dear, what will you call yourself? I mean, we all know what you do, but what will be your trade name? You can hardly state the obvious. ‘Finds missing people, dead or alive, even when it’s themselves they are looking for’ really doesn’t cut the mustard. We have to think of something succinct, something that draws upon your unique talents.”
I was thinking of ‘Discreet Investigations,’ Lady Rowan. What do you think?”
“But that doesn’t tell anyone about how you use your mind my dear-what you actually do.”
“It’s not really my mind I’m using, it’s other people’s. I just ask the questions.”
As Maisie begins to work on her first case, sprinkled throughout the story are references to her mentor, Maurice, and the methods he taught her to use. For example,
“Truth walks toward us on the paths of our questions.” Maurice’s voice once again echoed in her mind. “As soon as you think you have the answer, you have closed the path and may miss vital new information. Wait awhile in the stillness, and do not rush to conclusions, no matter how uncomfortable the unknowing.”
And then later, once she has received a critical piece of information during her investigations:
Maurice had counseled her, in the early days of her apprenticeship, when she was the silent observer as he listened to a story, gently prodding with a question, a comment, a sigh, or a smile, “The story takes up space as a knot in a piece of wood. If the knot is removed, a hole remains. We must ask ourselves, how will the hole that we have opened be filled? The hole, Maisie, is our responsibility.”
Happily, the case is as intriguing as the detective. And even more happily, Maisie has appeared in five more books so far. You can learn more about the series here.
3. Phryne Fisher
And now for something light. Phryne Fisher is the protagonist featured in a mystery series written by Kerry Greenwood. Due to the death of various relatives in World War I her father has recently come into a large inheritance and joined the ranks of the British upper crust. His daughter, Phryne, is now quite rich, in addition to being quite beautiful and quite smart, but she is also despretately bored.
“I wonder what I want to do?” Phryne asked of herself. “It has all been quite interesting up until now, but I can’t dance and game my life away. I suppose I could try for the air race record in the new Avro-or join Miss May Cunliffe in the road trails of the new Lagonda-or learn Abyssininan-or take to gin-or breed horses-I don’t know, it all seems very flat.
…She was at a loose end. She did not want to stay in her father’s house and arrange flowers. She had tried social work, but she was sick of the stews and sluts and starvation of London, and the company of the Charitable Ladies was not good for her temper. She had often thought of travelling back to Australia, where she had been born in extreme poverty, and here was an excellent excuse for putting off decisions about her future for half a year.
“Well, I shall try being a perfect Lady Detective in Melbourne-that ought to be difficult enough-and perhaps something will suggest itself. If not, I can still catch the ski season. It may prove amusing after all.”
So she decides to take herself, her money, and her flapper lifestyle to Australia and set up shop as a private detective. You can find out more about the series here.
OK, your turn. Do you have any new detectives for me to meet?
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Square Peg Guy says
“But why should any independent, intelligent female choose to subject herself to the whims and tyrannies of a husband?”
Because if you do, Amelia, you’ll always have someone to kill spiders for you and dispose of the mutilated mice that the cats leave on your mat.
I’ve read a couple of the “Amelia Peabody” books. Pleasant; maybeso too much so for a steady fare for me. Missed the other two you mention. Need to correct that. Our local library has some of the Winspear books, but lacks the Greenwood books.
Cranky Fibro Girl says
@David-Yeah, I could only take so much of Amelia, Emerson, and Ramses before I needed a break.
SPG-That is a REALLY good point.