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The Female Sherlock Holmes: C. L. Pirkis’ Loveday Brooke

In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle applauds the 1890s short stories featuring an early female detective

The name Catherine Louisa Pirkis is relatively unknown now, but Pirkis left two legacies of interest. The first arose out of her animal charity work: with her husband, Pirkis was one of the founders of the National Canine Defence League in 1891. This is undoubtedly a worthwhile legacy in itself, but it’s the second legacy of C. L. Pirkis which concerns us here: her small but nonetheless notable contribution to detective fiction.

In 1893, C. L. Pirkis (1841-1910) wrote a series of short stories featuring a character who has been dubbed ‘the female Sherlock Holmes’, the lady detective Loveday Brooke. It was an opportune, if not out-and-out opportunistic, time to create a new fictional detective: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had just killed off his popular sleuth Sherlock Holmes, much to the nation’s outrage, although a huge financial incentive would persuade him to bring Holmes back a decade later. Read the rest of this entry

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Flaxman Low: The First Psychic Detective

In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle investigates the Victorian world of a neglected ‘psychic detective’

The popularity of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, published in The Strand magazine from 1891 until the 1920s, led to many imitators. As well as such creations as Ernest Bramah’s Max Carrados, the blind detective, and the psychological detective, Dr John Dollar (created by Doyle’s own brother-in-law, Raffles creator E. W. Hornung), a mini sub-genre of fictional detective also emerged: the psychic detective or paranormal investigator. Flaxman Low was not the most successful of these, but he is one of the most satisfying and enjoyable.

Although numerous scholars of the ghost story and psychic detective tale have traced the fictional paranormal investigator back to Dr Martin Hesselius, the creation of the Irish author Sheridan Le Fanu (whose 1869 story ‘Green Tea’ remains popular), it was not until the turn of the century, and in the first few years of the twentieth century, that the fictional psychic detective really took off. This was partly, as I explore in my academic study Bewilderments of Vision, a result of Read the rest of this entry

Max Carrados, the Blind Sherlock Holmes

In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle enjoys the once-popular but now largely forgotten detective stories of Ernest Bramah

The name Ernest Bramah may be largely forgotten now, but he created a detective whose popularity rivalled that of Sherlock Holmes (at least so it is rather improbably claimed). Bramah (1868-1942) created Max Carrados, a popular sleuth whose adventures appeared in The Strand magazine, which also published Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories. But there is one important difference between Max Carrados and Sherlock Holmes: Carrados is blind.

The complete adventures of Max Carrados, a blind detective who can nevertheless solve crimes thanks to his extraordinary skills at reading things with his fingers and paying attention to the sounds that other people overlook, have recently been reprinted as The Eyes of Max Carrados (Tales of Mystery & The Supernatural). Carrados first appeared in 1914 and over the next decade his short stories had many readers in Britain gripped. They still stand up well now. George Orwell was also a fan, claiming that, along with R. Austin Freeman’s Dr Thorndyke stories and Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes tales, the Max Carrados stories are the only detective stories since Edgar Allan Poe that are worth rereading. Read the rest of this entry