Dressing up as a man

the book:

The Poisonous Seed by Linda Stratmann

published 2011  chapter 3 set in Victorian times

She reassured herself that it was not disrespectful to her brother’s memory to use his clothes for a masquerade to save the business from ruin. He would, she knew, have heartily approved… The trousers were… a little short in the leg, but no worse than Frances had observed worn by young men who had seen a good thing in the pawnshop and wanted to wear it no matter what.

[She asks the maid how she looks] ‘Well you ain’t got the collar right for a start. Let me see what I can do. I got eight brothers, Miss and none of them could dress like a gent.’ Sarah put down the cleaning tools and began to work on Frances’ costume in earnest, tugging here, adjusting there, and finally stepping back to survey her work. ‘That looks more like it. Now you need to stand and walk right, or it’ll never do. And let your voice go lower.’ Some minutes of practice ensued…

That morning, a passer-by on Westbourne Grove who saw a young man emerging cautiously from the private door beside William Doughty’s chemist’s shop might have thought him a queer sort of person... He was perhaps less than twenty, and must have grown too fast for his suit which was a little short in the leg. Setting off, he began at first with odd, short, almost girlish steps, which he lengthened to a self-conscious stride, moving up the Grove in the direction of Queen’s Road.

observations: Yet another historical detective story, this one featuring a woman detective who has a background in pharmacy. This is the first of a series, and Frances Doughty, the sleuth, is a fine character with a lot of possibilities. Linda Stratmann seems to have written extensively about historical true crime, and it really shows – this is a well-researched and very convincing (if that’s the right word) book. The Poisonous Seed resembles a Golden Age detective classic in these respects: a) it is full of clues in a rather good, old-fashioned way, b) there is a lot of plot, c) it gets a bit bogged down in court hearings and interviews in the middle and d) by the end, most of the characters have been revealed as impostors of one kind or another – bringing to mind the finale of Agatha Christie’s A Murder is Announced of blessed memory.

It is nice to think LS must have lots of plot in her head if she used up so many ideas in this one book…

Links up with: More female sleuths
here and here, and another Victorian detective here.

The picture is of Vesta Tilley, a hugely successful male impersonator, who lived from 1864 to 1952 and was a top music-hall star for more than 30 years. The picture is on
Wikimedia Commons.


  1. Moira - Oh, this sounds like a fascinating story. I like the protagonist already. :-). And thanks for the information about Vesta Tilley too. I always learn when I visit you...


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