Editor Michael Sims
Things You Might Like
- Authors you didn’t know existed
- Seeing the evolution of the mystery genre
- Very colorful characters
- Yes, Sherlock Holmes makes an appearance
- Thinking about women’s role in literature
Things You Might Not Like
- Is not The Dark Knight Rises
- Wordiness of the Victorians
- D’Artagnan only makes a brief appearance
The Dead Witness can be seen as a primer of the origins of the detective genre. It contains some unknown gems and classic favorites. Check it out!
5 out of 5 Locked Rooms
I’m going to try and write a good review of this book, but it’s going to be incredibly difficult, since I saw The Dark Knight Rises and oh my God oh my God I’ve got a movie poster and Bane is glaring at me and “Do you really think you’re in charge?” oh God.
I like anthologies. They’re easy to read – most of the time – for the sole reason that you can feel like you’re being an incredibly smart individual by holding a large tome, but they’re just lots of stories.
So, with that said, The Dead Witness, a collection of Victorian detective novels, is edited by Michael Sims and is a real eye opener. You see, for many people – myself included – Victorian detective literature exists in the persona of one Sherlock Holmes. (Not counting the many contemporary incarnations of the character, mind you.) However, it turns out that people other than Arthur Conan Doyle wrote detective stories! Who knew?!
Okay, jokes aside, the anthology’s stated purpose is to provide a primer, a glimpse into the chronology of the development of mystery and detective literature as a genre. It begins with stories that feature intrigue as kind of a side-bonus to the story, then moves to the establishment of mystery as the focus, and then, finally, we get what we come for with an excerpt from A Study In Scarlet.
But, Dear Reader, there’s so much more to the history of the genre then Holmes and Poe’s “Murders In The Rue Morgue.” Sims, who is obviously a tremendous fan of the mystery genre, provides a cultural, economic, and sociological background for the rise of the detective genre in the author biographies that precede each story.
In addition to that, you, as the reader, get the added bonus of learning the growth of the woman author in not just mystery, but literature as a whole. As time progresses, women shed male noms des plumes. They begin to be accepted into the literary establishment, and with that, there comes a breed of woman detective that, in some cases, outclasses their male counterparts.
Of course, that’s all the background of the stories. I could argue that those are just as important as the stories themselves, but considering the small proportion of the book they actually take place, I won’t.
Instead: Sims chooses readable stories for the modern reader – for the most part. We’re, by and large, conditioned to expect a very straightforward method of storytelling. Ornateness is not the focal point of writing anymore, and while it’s debatable whether that’s a good or a bad thing, you just don’t see page-long descriptions of a person’s face anymore.
And so, while many of these stories are easily read by the modern reader (especially Poe’s, Conan Doyle’s, and a few of the more lesser-known ones), there are several that take unraveling, much in the same way that one spends time navigating a maze.
That, of course, is the style of the times, though, and while I’d love to have a long talk with you about how much Victorian literature is despicable, now is not quite the time.
So, overall, Sims succeeds in providing an outline of Victorian detective fiction, as well as giving newbies like myself a nice bibliography of new authors to check out.
Cause that’s exactly what I need.
Buy, Rent, or Pirate? Buy this book from Amazon now! [NOTE: Bullet Reviews does not condone piracy. If you pirate books, you’ll end up on the wrong side of a locked room mystery.]
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