Stuff and Nonsense: Mystery Stories of Violet Strange


3.22.2016

Mystery Stories of Violet Strange


Fell down the rabbit hole that is the Internet again one afternoon and, in a long and roundabout way, eventually came to an old article, “Invisible Ink: No 216 - Anna Katharine Green,” from The Independent. Anna Katharine Green, American poet and novelist who may be called the mother of the detective novel. Her most famous novel, The Leavenworth Case, was published in 1876 which snuggles in quite nicely between Wilkie Collins’ 1860 detection novel, The Woman in White, and the first print appearance of Sherlock Holmes in 1887. The Leavenworth Case is a classic locked room (Manhattan mansion, in this case) murder mystery focusing on the death of a wealthy, prominent New York merchant. Suspicion falls on his two nieces, one of who stands to inherit a pretty packet.

Alas, I could not immediately find a copy of The Leavenworth Case in my library system. I do have a copy on hold, but delivery being as it is right now, I do not expect it before May. I could read the Project Gutenberg copy, but I want to hold a proper book. Ridiculous as it sounds, I prefer to read books written before 1920 in a physical format. It just feels more “right.” It as an affectation, I know, and a weird one at that.

Anyway, I did find a collection of Green’s Violent Strange stories on CD. Produced by Tantor Media and read by Shelly Frasier (my most favorite audiobook reader of all time), Mystery Stories of Violet Strange includes all nine Violent Strange stories -- "The Golden Slipper," "The Second Bullet," "The Intangible Clue," "The Grotto Spectre," "The Dreaming Lady," "The House of Clocks," "The Doctor, His Wife, and the Clock," "Missing: Page Thirteen," and "Violet's Own."

So who is this Violet Strange? Violet, in addition to have the best name ever for a detective, is a pretty, young New York debutante who has to keep her detective work on the down low, because much of her skill at detection is based upon her intimate knowledge of behind-the-scenes upper-class New York and her ability to innocently be welcomed into places and situations a male (detective or otherwise) could not so innocuously enter. Yes, so Violet plays her gender and class cards pretty hard ... but in a way I found deliciously subversive. To the greater world she seems inconsequential -- a “silly little chit” and “that airy little being.” But in truth, Violet is cunning, poised, and entirely sure of herself. Violet isn’t detecting merely for detecting’s sake -- although it’s clear she enjoys her work -- she has a clear goal in mind and that goal is to support her sister, whom their father has disowned, through her own agency and enterprise. Unsurprisingly, I was complete smitten with Violet.

The stories themselves are very much products of their time, but I think if you enjoy Edith Wharton’s short stories or Wilkie Collins’ more thrilling pieces, you’ll find some pleasure in Mystery Stories of Violet Strange. My favorite was probably the second story “The Second Bullet,” in which Violet is hired by a widow whose husband and child were killed in what the insurance company calls a suicide, but what the widow is sure was a murder ... and she really needs it to have been a murder, because she’ll be left absolutely destitute otherwise. It’s a classic locked room mystery with a very realistic look at marriage and the strain an infant can add, as well as the precarious financial/class position a single woman (widowed or otherwise) occupies.

Mystery Stories of Violet Strange written by Anna Katharine Green & read by Shelly Frasier (Tantor Media, 2009)

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