And here goes with my first excursion into the “Dead Witness” anthology! The stories are chronological and this, the first to be featured, dates from 1837 – which puts it well ahead of Poe’s ground-breaking “The Murders in the Rue Morgue”! According to editor Sims, this is definitely the first proper detective story, and fascinatingly enough Burton published a journal called “The Gentleman’s Magazine” for which Poe wrote. “The Secret Cell” hasn’t been republished since 1837, so kudos to Sims for digging it out and getting it back to readers!

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TSC is a classic in many ways – it features a missing heiress, the early police force, fake asylums, criminal gangs, and an unnamed but intelligent police detective. There’s dry wit from our narrator, coach chases, fights, secret hiding places – the works, basically. And what’s fascinating is that so many of these elements appeared in much more well-known works by authors like Poe, Collins, Dickens et al, but this predated them considerably.

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It’s an exciting, gripping tale with all you could want from a vintage crime story. Sims’ introduction puts the story in context and gives it the credit it’s due – although I agree with his assessment that although it’s an earlier story than Poe’s, it doesn’t have quite the greatness of that tale. Additionally, the detective is not really the dominant, main character in the story – it would take the arrival of C. Auguste Dupin to start the trend for the unusual, individual detective who was the centre of the action. And that’s where I’ll be going with the second story in the anthology…

Nevertheless, this was a great read and I think I’ll enjoy interspersing my heavier books (Dostoevsky’s “The Idiot” at the moment) with some wonderful classic crime!