Mon 29 Mar 2010
CATHERINE LOUISA PIRKIS – The Experiences of Loveday Brooke, Lady Detective. Hutchinson, UK. hardcover, 1894. Dover, US, trade paperback, 1986.
This collection of stories appeared in the early 1890s and features Miss Loveday Brooke, who works for Ebenezer Dyer, head of a detective agency in Lynch Court, off London’s Fleet Street.
Miss Brooke is in her thirties and began detecting as the result of an event (not described) by which she was “thrown upon the world penniless and all but friendless”.
With no way to earn a living she chose this particular line of work, which had the effect of cutting her off from her friends and original position in society.
By this we can safely deduce she is well bred, the more so as she has rooms in Gower Street and employs a maid. Miss Brooke is nondescript in appearance, making her occasional impersonation of, for example, a nursery governess seeking work or a lady house decorator easily carried off.
A few words about her various adventures:
“The Black Bag Left on a Door-Step”
Craigen Court is burgled, Lady Cathrow’s jewels stolen, and her French maid suspected of having a hand in the job. Is there a connection between the theft and a bag whose contents include clerical trappings and a suicide note found on a doorstep not far away?
“The Murder at Troyte’s Hill”
Highly unpopular Alexander Henderson, lodgekeeper at Troyte’s Hill, is found murdered in his bedroom, which has been turned not so much topsy turvey as completely rearranged in a bizarre fashion, with bed-clothes up the chimney, mantelpiece ornaments arranged in a line on the floor, the clock on its head, and so on. Yet nothing has been stolen.
“The Redhill Sisterhood”
Sister Monica has rented a house in fever-haunted Paved Court in Redhill, probably not the best location for the Sisterbood’s home for crippled orphans. The Sisters take children begging around local villages each day and strange to relate, burglaries seem to follow in their tracks.
“A Princess’s Vengeance”
Major Druce is engaged to the Turkish Princess Dullah-Veih, but his gaze has been wandering to his mother’s amanuensis Mlle Cunier. Now the latter has disappeared, taking only her coat and hat …
Miss Monroe, staying with the Revd and Mrs Hawkes, has lost a valuable diamond necklace but she and Mrs Hawkes wish the matter to be hushed up. Now Mr Hawke is receiving anonymous drawings of daggers, and with his wife conveniently away, he engages Loveday to look into the matter.
“The Ghost of Fountain Lane”
On holiday in Brighton, Miss Brooke investigates the matter of a blank cheque stolen from Revd Charles Turner, cashed for £600, and returned with the mysterious annotation 144,000 on its reverse. Then there’s the ghost….
Miss Irene Golding of Langford Hall, Leicestershire, has disappeared and £500 is offered for aid in finding her. Her Italian maid may know more than she is willing to reveal. The final plot twist will be too weak for many to accept.
My verdict: The collection is not terribly sparkling and occasionally does not play fair with the reader, although its explanations of Miss Brooke’s chain of deductions are reasonable and demonstrate one of her main traits: common sense.
The stories will however certainly be an interesting read when viewed as an early example of the female detective, although sometimes too slowly paced for most modern readers.
Illustrated etext: http://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/pirkis/brooke/brooke.html
Editorial Comment: For more on the author and her Loveday Brooke stories, see Mike Grost’s Classic Mystery and Detection website.