Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Book Review: The Penguin Book of Victorian Women in Crime

There was a time when my passion was reading about Victorian culture and history. My favorite author in high school and college was Charles Dickens. I wrote an endless number of papers for various classes using Charles Dickens' life and books as the main topic. One of my favorite memories from graduate school was the time spent doing fascinating research for a paper on five Victorian crime cases. But, in the past ten years, my reading tastes have shifted and I tend to look for books that are currently popular.

I don't think I would have sought out this particular book, but when I saw it on the shelf of recent acquisitions at our library, I felt compelled to dip my toes back into the kind of reading that used to thrill me. Although, I don't want to shift back to my old reading tendencies, it was fun to read stories of Victorian crime again.

In The Penguin Book of Victorian Women in Crime, Michael Sims has edited a small collection of stories featuring fictional crime-solving females. A few of the stories felt incomplete (they were mere portions and this made it difficult to fully absorb the story), but most were fairly riveting and satisfying.

In the first story, by W.S. Hayward, I was reminded of how seldom modern fiction tends to stretch my vocabulary. Hayward's story was full of beautiful words I know but seldom encounter (like: sanguine, sagacity, pernicious and fallacious) and other words that were entirely new (like: relict, epicier, ingots, sinacurists, culverin and the phrase "musipular abortion"- whatever that means).

I think my favorite was "The Long Arm," written by Mary E. Wilkins. This tale followed a woman who was suspected of murdering her own father. She unravels the mystery one clue at a time. "That Affair Next Door," by Anna Katherine Green, was entertaining but it left off without really coming close to solving the crime.

Although this book might not be every reader's "cup of tea," I found it fun to try an old flavor again.

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