Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Maud West, Lady Detective

We did a quick run to Donegal Town today to drop off and pick up at the library. I was overjoyed to see that the there were some clumps of fireweed along the roadside that have already gone to seed. Some leaves were changing colour, too. I remember from last year that things change a tad sooner there than here, even though it's not that far between here and there. Still, I am thrilled to see any sign that autumn is heading this way!

One of the books I returned to the library was this one:

The Adventures of Maud West, Lady Detective: A Remarkable True Story by Susannah Stapleton
I heard of this book while listening to an episode of the Shedunnit podcast, which I love. What a great book it is! I was pulled in from the start, as the author explains how she began this project. She writes that she takes a couple of weeks off every winter, makes a nest by the fire, and reads Golden Age mysteries—a woman after my own heart! One year, she just couldn’t get into the pile of books and after starting and stopping a few times, she finally gave up, set Mrs Bradley aside, and started wondering whether there were any actual lady detectives around over a century ago. She started clicking around and came across a newspaper blurb about a talk Dorothy L. Sayers gave at the Efficiency Club, which, on that particular night, was being chaired by Maud West, a real-life detective. The hunt was on. 

The book is really well written and intertwines different things around the story of Maud’s life and work as a 'lady detective.' She began doing such work sometime during the years of 1905 and 1909. The author tells Maud’s story, but also gives readers a sense of how she managed to track down information about Maud, which was scarce. As she gained more understanding, the author sometimes had to revise her opinion of Maud’s life, personality, and character. She provides a social history when she describes the times, places and culture in which Maud worked . Many of the things she described were familiar from some of the mysteries written in that era and I can see where some authors got their plot ideas! The chapters are named after Golden Age mystery book titles and in between each chapter is one of the stories written by Maud for various periodicals. These were probably sensationalised, but also possibly contained grains of truth about certain cases and her work.

I’m so glad I heard about this book. I loved it. If you're at all interested in the culture of London at that time, Golden Age detective fiction, or women's history, this would be an informative and entertaining book to spend some time with.
cover pictures showing Maud at her desk in the centre and in disguise in the corners

one of Maud's ads
Here's hoping your reading pile is filled with excellent reads, too!


Vicki said...

Sounds really interesting, and different. I think I'd like it. Love the photos of her in the corners of the cover!

Shari Burke said...

I should have mentioned that there are photos scattered throughout the book, too. It was a fun read. :-)