The Tuesday Night Club is back, in a slightly different form.
We are Golden Age Crime fiction fans, who in the past have done some joint blogging, and we are reviving our meme to mark the publication of a book called The 100 greatest Literary Detectives, edited by Eric Sandberg: many different writers – including our own Kate Jackson - are contributing sections on the chosen characters.
So we decided to come up with our own list, and after considerable back and forth (‘I’ll give you X if you let me have Y.’ ‘SOMEONE has to do Z’) and some very dodgy maths, we each have our lists. Theoretically, this might be 10 each, but that seems very unlikely. We will each blog on as many sleuths as we can, and perhaps someone will add them all up at the end – Bev at My Readers Block, who created the excellent logo above, is of the opinion there will be 50-ish...
We are playing fast and loose with time periods (this is by no means solely Golden Age anymore), definitions and numbers, and have in the end made up our own rules.
***You can now find links to all this week's posts on the subject here at the Invisible Event: thank you.
Some of us are planning themed posts, gathering together a few detectives with something in common…
For Week 1 I am boldly going with
MARRIAGEBLE SINGLE WOMEN DETECTIVES
Anne Beddingfeldis one of the finest females in the entire Christie oeuvre – she appears just once, in The Man in the Brown Suit, published in 1924. There is no series detective, and she is not a professional investigator, but she is an absolutely splendid independent woman. This is what I said about Anne in a post on Christie Women in Love:
I love this book, love this heroine, and have done since the first time I read it as an impressionable and romantic teenager. Her relationship with the eponymous Man, Harry, was terrific then, and I still like it now. She falls in love with him, and is determined to prove his innocence: she sets off for adventures and is brave and resourceful. And in the end gets what she wants. She is a wonderful heroine – and the book is very clever as well as being hilariously funny.
It has a secret which I can’t mention for spoilers.
Anne takes off on her adventures, looks for clues and villains, and because of helping her father with his studies of early man, she can judge the proportions of a man’s skull. You never know when that might be useful. She’s apparently never scared, and also never silly. She is a lot less annoying than Christie’s other young woman sleuth, Tuppence Beresford: sometimes I think it’s a shame Christie didn’t bring her back, but then I also like to think of her in our final glimpse of her: maybe the Blessed Agatha did the right thing.
Harriet D Vane
So not much detection by her there. But in Have His Carcase she goes off alone on a walking holiday, and naturally discovers a corpse on a rock on a lonely beach. She and Lord Peter end up in a nearby resort, investigating the crime, and she is apparently an equal partner in that.
After a couple of Harriet-free books comes the very divisive Gaudy Night (1935)– beloved by some Sayers fans, hated by others. At the end of this one, Peter and Harriet get engaged. Busman’s Honeymoon (1937) follows them through the wedding and the honeymoon (guess what? Murdered body when they arrive at the
When I wrote about the love affair in an earlier Tuesday Night Club, I said
I see the romance as being an important and intrinsic part of the series of books, and wouldn’t be without it. But, it is still at times excruciating.
In Strong Poison, Wimsey imagines his potential married life:
‘one wouldn’t be dull – one would wake up and there’d be a whole day for jolly things to happen in – and then one would come home and go to bed – that would be jolly, too - ’
I don’t know about you, but I find that just plain embarrassing. It would make Lord Peter completely hideous, except that it is totally unconvincing as a set of thoughts going through any real head ever, anywhere.
But Harriet herself is a splendid character, an interesting woman with thoughts in her head and strong opinions and views. I think it’s a shame that she gives in to Lord Peter so totally in her final appearances – she seems to think she is inferior to him. I don’t think her legions of fans would agree…
The two pictures above show my idea of Anne Beddingfeld and Harriet Vane – in fact I have by now quite convinced myself that they are actually pictures of the women, they are how I visualize both of them. (Many people think that Harriet goes hiking in trousers, but it is made clear that she wears a skirt.)
Both these pictures are by William Orpen, a great favourite on the blog. His portraits of women, in particular, often inspire me to match them with book heroines of the last century, from Iris Storm to Milly Theale to Julia Lambert.
MISS PYM DISPOSES BY JOSEPHINE TEY
So… thinking about this piece I realized with great surprise that I had no picture in mind for my third woman detective, Lucy Pym: no image in my head, no lovely Orpen lady, no black and white photo or amazing fashion illo to match her. Miss Pym Disposes by Josephine Tey is one of my top 10 favourite ever detective stories, but Lucy Pym (another one-off, appearing only in this 1946 book) is an unknown…the entire book is seen through her eyes, but she is still something of an enigma by the end. Unlike Harriet and Anne, her chosen male companion is obviously dull and uninspiring: she learns about extreme love during the course of the book. (I think she is like the narrator of Wuthering Heights, who thinks he knows what love is, but finds out he has no idea about the Cathy and Heathcliffs of the world.)
We know from the book that she wears fashionable hats, and that her slippers are fluffy and impractical. And that’s about it. Although, looking at my various entries on this book, I was tremendously pleased with some of the other images I found: you can see them in these posts, and two of them are above – the young woman on the right is not meant to be Miss Pym, but Theresa, the ‘nut tart’ in flowered silk.
But with all this, Miss Pym is an immensely memorable detective. Mind you, we also know from the book that she is a very bad detective – ‘What did she know about psychology anyhow? As a psychologist she was a first-rate teacher of French.’
One of my frequently-voiced opinions on the book is that it is set in no real time at all, and that the training college is wholly a fantasy. And yet, Miss Tey and Miss Pym create a world that draws us in, and convinces us of the importance of whatever they choose. It’s a small masterpiece, and that is why Miss Pym’s failure still wins her a place as a great detective.
So it seemed important to try to work out what Miss Pym looks like, fill out that empty face. And in amongst the pictures of William Orpen I found this lady, Mrs Charles Carstairs:
And I think she works as Miss Pym.
All these books authors and series are all over the blog – click on labels below for links.
Next week, all being well, my chosen detectives will be spinster sleuths.
I wrote a chapter about Miss Pym Disposes in a marvellous book edited by Curtis Evans: Murder in the Closet. The book looks at hidden gay themes in pre-Stonewall crime fiction, and I was proud to be one of the contributors. And all of us are even more proud that the book has been shortlisted for an Edgar (the extremely prestigious awards from the Mystery Writers of America).