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The Dead Witness: A Connoisseur's Collection of Victorian Detective Stories Paperback – December 20, 2011

4.6 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

Praise for Dracula's Guest:'This creepy conoisseur's collection of Victorian vampire stories is PACKED with pointy-toothed blood-suckers and gruesome ghastliness ... Think Christopher Lee in his coffin, red eyes snapping open, dust off your wooden stake and garlic necklace, and blame the 18th century Eastern Europeans whose peasant superstitions spawned the whole gory vampire genre' --This text refers to the Unknown Binding edition.

About the Author

Michael Sims is the author of acclaimed nonfiction books such as The Story of Charlotte's Web, Apollo's Fire: A Day on Earth in Nature and Imagination, and Adam's Navel: A Natural and Cultural History of the Human Form. His anthologies include The Penguin Book of Victorian Women in Crime and Dracula's Guest: A Connoisseur's Collection of Victorian Vampire Stories. He lives in western Pennsylvania.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 608 pages
  • Publisher: Walker Books; 1 edition (December 20, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780802779182
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802779182
  • ASIN: 0802779182
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.6 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #733,824 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback
Collections of short stories are often a "mixed bag". In many ways, that's because not all of us have the same taste, so it's great to have stories that cater to many types of readers. In others, it's because the editor wants to get fans of certain authors interested, so the editor gets a few "big names" and then some lesser known or even new authors. And, even though sometimes that leads to misunderstanding, it also can be good for the reader, as we then get to find a new favorite author.

Here, none of the authors can really be counted as "new" as most of them wrote back in the time of Queen Victoria. Of course we have the seminal Victorian detective (in fact, perhaps The Great Detective), Sherlock Holmes, but we also have Dupin, Mark Twain, and other favorites.

Of course, every editor has a slant- and here Michael Sims wants to show us that women also wrote mysteries and there were also plenty of tales back then of woman detectives, something many of us weren't familiar. Of course, when you introduce lesser known writers, sometimes the writer isn't up to par (but then, who can really compare to Mark Twain and A. Conan Doyle). Still, I enjoyed many of these stories quite a bit. "The Murder at Troyte's Hill" by Catherine Louisa Pirkis was quite interesting as it featured a woman as a known respected PROFESSIONAL detective.

It starts out with the editors own well written intro to detective fiction, especially the history of said stories:

"In the long view of history, detectives are a recent phenomenon. Crime is not. As archaeologists often demonstrate, deception, theft, and violence haunted society even before we left caves or invented agriculture.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I don't think this book should be read as just another collection of Victorian detective stories. It's really a history of the genre told through stories. Each selection is introduced by a short essay about the author and the significance of the piece. Most selections are short stories, but there are also extracts from books, and even an example of sensational crime reporting on a murder by Jack the Ripper. Each piece illustrates some aspect of the amazing development of the literature of detection.

And so the whole is greater than the parts - even though the parts are quite fascinating in themselves.

The stories include many firsts: first fictional detective, first locked-room mystery, first known detective story written by a woman, first woman detective. The selections date from 1837 through 1915 (when the Victorian sensibility was still very much alive). So we really get a feeling of a rich and evolving literary tradition. We who read detective stories for the sheer fun of it can now feel smart about our addiction!

Sims presents us with a wonderful array of detectives arising from the Victorian imagination (or the Victorian influence) - a clever seamstress determined to find the murderer of her friend, the puffed up Frenchman who probably inspired Poirot, a blind consulting detective with hyperacute senses, a Canadian half-native backwoods guide with Holmes-like deductive powers, a young socialite who hides her keen intellect beneath a flow of frivolous chatter - and many others.

Pivotal selections from Edgar Allan Poe and Arthur Conan Doyle are also included. I had read both long ago but really enjoyed a more observant second reading following Sims's analysis.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
A fun read. Just about all the stories were interesting. A good collection of detective stories and mysteries. A great evening or bedtime read. I was not aware of all those authors and the stories they told. If you are looking for something to take a break from long book and read something short and interesting these stories fit the bill.
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Editorial selections are the result of detailed knowledge & critical perception. General introduction & introductions to each story are usefully informative & astute. The book as a whole presents a wide array of stories indicative of the era's interests in, limitations of, and gradual productive enhancement of criminal investigation.
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