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The Penguin Book of Victorian Women in Crime: The Great Female Detectives, Crooks, and Villainesses (Penguin Classics) [Paperback]

Michael Sims

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Book Description

3 Feb 2011 Penguin Classics

It is the late Victorian era and society is fascinated by - and worried about - that suspicious character known as the New Woman. She rides bicycles and drives those newfangled automobiles and doesn't like to be told what to do. In crime fiction as everywhere else, such women are breaking all the rules. Instead of attending tea parties and chatting about fashion, these pioneer women detectives are out shadowing suspects through London fog, crawling through secret passages, fingerprinting corpses - and sometimes committing a lesser cime in order to solve a murder.

The first-ever anthology devoted strictly to the pioneer female characters in crime fiction, the direct ancestors of everyone from Miss Marple to V I Warshawski, as well as the great female criminal masterminds. Smart, funny, and wildly adventurous tales of women who refused to sit politely in the parlor and chat about fashion.

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Frequently Bought Together

The Penguin Book of Victorian Women in Crime: The Great Female Detectives, Crooks, and Villainesses (Penguin Classics) + The Penguin Book of Gaslight Crime: Con Artists, Burglars, Rogues, and Scoundrels from the Time of Sherlock Holmes (Penguin Classics) + The Dead Witness: A Connoisseur's Collection of Victorian Detective Stories
Price For All Three: £31.77

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About the Author

Michael Sims has edited two other collections for Penguin Classics: The Annotated Archy and Mehitable and Arsene Lupin, Gentleman-Thief. His research for the latter inspired The Penguin Book of Gaslight Crime. His most recent non-fiction book is Apollo's Fire: A Journey through the Extraordinary Wonders of an Ordinary Day, which National Public Radio chose as one of the Best Science Books of 2007. He is also the author of Adam's Navel: A Natural and Cultural History of the Human Form, which was a New York Times Notable Book and a Library Journal Best Science Book; and Darwin's Orchestra: An Almanac of Nature in History and the Arts. His writing has appeared in New Statesman, Gourmet, Orion, the Washington Post, and many other periodicals in the United States and abroad. Learn more at

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.8 out of 5 stars  12 reviews
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful history of female detectives 11 Jun 2011
By M. Campio - Published on
I am so glad I decided to give this book a try. Excellent, excellent history of the beginnings of the female detective in novellas and short stories, dating from 1864 to 1915. As the other reviewer who actually read the book, stated...with the exception of one mystery, I thoroughly enjoyed them all. Mr. Sims did his homework in giving not only the history of each detective, but a short bio of the author as well that gave us good background material. Don't skip over the Introduction! What a wealth of information I would have missed by not reading it. This is my first Penguin Classic but definetly not my last. My actual rating would have been a 4.5 stars if available. I love history so what could be better than reading the history of one of my favorite genres?
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Great Complilation 5 May 2011
By KathyZ - Published on
This collection is full of very well-thought-out choices and I love that the stories are presented chronologically (by their publication date; the stories span between 1864 and 1915). I especially appreciated Sim's introduction, which put you into the mind frame of exactly the social and political position women were placed in during the Victorian era in Britain.

The compilation consists of either short stories that were one-offs, shorts that were part of a series, or a chapter from a larger story. Either way, Sims set-up each one very well so you didn't feel lost and you understood where in the Victorian time line this story fell. He also includes a nice intro background to the authors that are included in this title.

Each time I finished a story I thought to myself, "Man, that was really good. I hope the next one isn't a let down." And the next one would be even better than the last. The only story I was kind of "meh" about is the second one, "The Unknown Weapon" by Andrew Forrester. It also happens to be the longest story in the collection, but it was good to read for context and historical purposes.

This collection is equal, if not better, than its companion, The Penguin Book of Gaslight Crime.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Sample First Chapters, Not Complete Stories 16 May 2012
By Tiger Lily - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Be aware this slim book contains sample FIRST CHAPTERS of books by various authors. They are not complete stories! The idea of the book is to give you a taste of certain forgotten authors so that you'll go track down the actual books themselves.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A treasure trove of "new" vintage detectives 8 Mar 2012
By Patto - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I'm beginning to think of Michael Sims as my personal literary advisor, even though I don't know him. His collection of Victorian detective stories, The Dead Witness, introduced me to several delightful writers I'd never heard of. Now he's expanded my horizons again with this collection of Victorian Women in Crime.

I was thrilled to learn, for example, that one of my favorite fin de siècle authors, Richard Marsh (The Beetle), wrote a whole series of stories with a feisty female detective whose special talent is lip reading. I immediately ordered a collection of these Judith Lee stories. I loved the story by Grant Allen featuring Lois Cayley, penniless Girton graduate, and plan to follow up on her adventures. Another find was the New England writer Mary E. Wilkins. I think I'll try her ghost stories.

So if you're in search of forgotten writers of vintage fiction, which I always am, Sims's Victorian collections are a great resource.

In his lively introduction to Victorian Women in Crime, Sims points out that fictional female detectives appeared on the scene decades before they became a reality. Women sleuths were a kind of fantasy that appealed greatly to the reading public. Some of the women investigators in this book are Sherlock Holmes types in skirts, complete with their own Watsons. One is a master of disguise, another claims simply to be a hard worker, and another boasts of "corkscrew-like qualities" as an interrogator.

Every story is exceptionally well written and engaging. This is remarkable, considering the obscurity of the authors overall. Anna Katherine Green is the most famous writer in the collection, but even she may be a new discovery for some readers.

I enjoyed every minute of this book and recommend it with enthusiasm.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Perfect Victorian Reference Book 9 July 2011
By BookManBookWoman TV REVIEWS - Published on
We love The Penguin Book of Victorian Women in Crime. How refreshing to get this new insight about cool women crime solvers.
Michael Sims is one of today's best writers. His works are always a joy to read.
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