Time for a little more vintage crime – because I must confess that I have several book hangovers at the moment and can’t really settle to anything of substance! However, murder mysteries are always good as mental palate cleansers!! I’m gradually reading my way through the lovely “Dead Witness” collection and this time round there were two tales – Arrested on Suspicion by Andrew Forrester Jr. (1864), and the title story, The Dead Witness: or, The Bush Waterhole – W.W. (Mary Fortune) (1866).

These stories were very different from each other and of the two, I definitely preferred the second. Forrester’s tale is narrated by John Pendrath, who lives with his sister Annie. After a new lodger moves into their building, with a slightly dubious air about her, John and Annie notice she has a visitor (her daughter?) who might be mistaken for Annie. Then his sister is arrested for apparently being a thief and it is left to John to investigate. To be honest, I found the story somewhat plodding, with our very precise and pedantic detective constantly reminding us he was following in the footsteps of Poe. Much of the plot was taken up with him trying to recreate the methods employed in The Purloined Letter to find a missing communication and the rest was about decrypting cyphers, and honestly just a little dull. It was enjoyable but one of the weakest entries so far.

The_Purloined_Letter

However, the title story was much, much better and had a fascinating background. Mary Fortune was the first woman to write detective stories, and her is set in the Australian outback. A young photographer has gone missing and the narrator, a detective called Brooke, goes off to the bush to investigate. Here he runs across traces of foul play and sets about tracking down the murderer and his prey. The story was quite innovative, with excellent scene-setting and good descriptions. Fortune captured the strangeness of the outback well, and the story is atmospheric and quite shocking at some points. Fortune by all accounts had quite a lively life, ending up in jail for vagrancy and alcoholism – but she certainly made a large contribution to the detective genre!

I’m enjoying reading my way through these early tales of crime and investigation – highly recommended for any classic crime fan!

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