In the last ten years, the Deadly Dames have had some wonderful times together, followed by some very sad ones with the deaths of two of our number, Eileen Robertson and Nicola Slade. Happily, Joan Moules (or Dizzy Dame as she styles herself) is still with us, although too frail to join us, having recently celebrated her
As part of Portsmouth Bookfest, the remaining Dames
decided to hold a Deadly Dames Zoom panel to discuss the subject of
Forgotten Female Fictional Detectives.
They each invited a guest to join them: Charlie invited
|J.L. Merrow |
|M.K. Graff |
to join the fun from America and to become our first international Deadly Dame.
Everybody chose a different detective to talk about, followed by a general discussion and audience questions.
The order of the presentations was decided by the date of publication and Charlie Cochrane started the proceedings with a talk about Mrs Gladden, whom she described as the first female fictional detective. Mrs Gladden was created by Andrew Forrester in the short stories that later became the book The Female Detective (1864), which has been republished by The British Library. Forrester brought to life a strong-minded young woman who was capable of doing everything her male counterparts could achieve, despite the disadvantages of
Victorian female garb.
Jamie Merrow talked about Maud West, a real-life female detective who founded her own detective agency in 1905. Maud West was a determined self-publicist who wrote accounts of her adventures that were published in Pearson’s Weekly and in regional and tabloid newspapers. While Maud West was not a fictional detective, it cannot be disputed that her accounts of her adventures were embellished to the point where they were fictional, and very lively fiction at that. Her story was brought up to date in 2019 when Susannah Stapleton published The Adventures of Maud West, Lady Detective: Secrets and Lies in the Golden Age of Crime.
Carol Westron described a Private Investigator who was very different in character to the two previous detectives. In contrast to their flamboyance, Miss Maud Silver was prim, old-fashioned in dress and manner, as befitted a former governess, but at the same time she had a formidable intelligence and an unswerving belief that Justice should prevail. Patricia Wentworth published the first Miss Silver novel, Grey Mask, in 1928 and it was followed by another thirty-one books featuring her, in which she not only solved murders but also thwarted international criminals and unmasked German spies.
The final presentation was by Marni Graff who spoke about Gladys Mitchell’s eccentric sleuth Mrs Beatrice Adela Lestrange Bradley, psychoanalyst, author and investigator. Mitchell wrote sixty-six books featuring Mrs Bradley, although the conclusion of the first book Speedy Death (1929) made it clear that she had intended it as a stand-alone. Unlike the previous sleuths, Mrs Bradley has been immortalised in a television series. This has made her better known and, at the same time, obscured the Mrs Bradley of the books. Mitchell’s Mrs Bradley is described as remarkably ugly, with an eccentric taste in clothes, her one beauty being her speaking voice. She is a formidable, indeed terrifying woman and extremely ruthless. On television, Mrs Bradley is portrayed by Diana Rigg, who is undeniably beautiful and elegant, although her lovely voice accorded with the Mrs Bradley of the books. It is interesting to note that, despite being the protagonist of so many books, the original Mrs Bradley has been generally forgotten in comparison to the Mrs Bradley of five television mysteries.
The evening concluded with a brief discussion amongst the four Deadly Dames and a long question and answer session involving a wonderfully engaged audience, in which everybody discovered new books that they wished to read.