While some of these stories were published earlier, the massive success of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes’ adventures kicked off a bumper crop of authors trying to match his success. In the Big Book, we see such literary luminaries as Charles Dickens, WilkieCollins, Thomas Hardy, Oscar Wilde, and Guy de Maupassant trying their hands at the detective short story, to greater or lesser success. Most of the other authors were not so familiar, at least to me. Many are unknown to today’s reader.
Otto Penzler has written a brief introduction to each story with helpful background on the story and author. I was delighted to find the first mystery stories featuring the female detective, much different from today’s market! It’s impossible to pinpoint a favorite story in such a massive collection, but these display the panoply of British society from high to low and a considerable degree of inventiveness.
It struck me that the authors and the British reading public must have had a fascination with all things “exotic,” from fine jewels (usually from foreign lands) and unusual detectives with unusual methods. One even used an Indian snake-charmer to aid him in his investigations. I expect this fascination can be attributed to the immense expansion of the British Empire in the era.
The Big Book of Victorian Mysteries is an invaluable addition to the shelf of the scholar, collector, and readers of detective stories. I highly recommend it as a “bedtime” book as well.
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