Friday, July 13, 2012

The Leavenworth Case

The Leavenworth Case, by Anna Katherina Green

Here we have another tremendously popular and influential early mystery story--and again, it isn't British.  It's an American story--and here I'd been under the impression that Victorian mysteries were mostly an English phenomenon!  The Leavenworth Case was Anna Katherina Green's first mystery, published in 1878 (she turned to popular fiction after her poetry didn't sell too well).  Wikipedia says that Green was the first to come up with the idea of a detective that appeared in a whole series of stories.  She also invented the girl detective, paving the way for Nancy Drew, and the nosy, intelligent  lady amateur.   Although Green was a prominent woman in a field dominated by men, she appears to have disliked the feminist movement and was against women's suffrage.

The Leavenworth Case is interesting for its lack of sensationalism.  In an age when mysteries were practically always penny-dreadful-type stories filled with wildly improbable incidents, Green wrote a story that is reasonably plausible and which sometimes turns on fine points of law.

The action is narrated by a young lawyer assisting the series detective Mr. Gryce (who hardly appears).  It's a locked-room mystery; Mr. Leavenworth is found shot dead in his library, and clues point all over the place.  Two cousins are the main suspects--could it be the beautiful, self-controlled Eleanore, or the slightly less beautiful, materialistic Mary?

Mr. Young Lawyer is absolutely convinced that Eleanore is innocent despite all appearances that point to her guilt, but his main reason for his belief seems to be Eleanore's noble beauty, nothing else.  It's a little weird, though he does at least realize that it's weird.  The story is quite interesting, with several twists and turns.  If you enjoy early mysteries, this is an important part of the development of the mystery novel and is well worth a read.


PS: this book was read for the Victorian Celebration, not to mention the Classic Bribe 2012!

5 comments:

Brian Joseph said...

I had never heard of Anna Katherina Green before but based upon your commentary she sounds like she was an incredibly innovative writer. To have created the first reoccurring detective who was female to boot! I often look for such originality when deciding what to read. I also like the idea that the story is not characterized by silly coincidences and plot twists.

Christine Harding said...

Haven't read this yet, but I downloaded it to my Kindle some weeks back, along with one or two other early detective fiction because I'm interested to see the development of fictional female detectives.

Aarti said...

I admit I didn't really love this one. I blame this on my general dislike of Victorian writing, though- I just thought there was too much drama and fainting.

Faith said...

This sounds so interesting! Thanks for the review.

Tasha B. said...

I've been wanting to read this for awhile just because it's the first mystery written by a woman. I read some of Green's short stories, and I have to say they were pretty bizarre.