By Leslie Shortlidge
Pennsylvania politics took a back seat to mystery one day in 1878. Who, asked the state’s legislators, was the real author of the taut, gritty mystery novel The Leavenworth Case? Surely “Anna Katharine Green” was a pen name for someone of the male persuasion. since the story of murder and subsequent detection was considered “manifestly beyond a woman’s powers.”*
She also introduces the reader to perhaps the most important trope, and that is the canny but eccentric sleuth in the personage of Mr. Gryce, who confounds our expectations from the get-go, as the novel’s narrator explains:
“And here let me say that Mr. Gryce, the detective, was not the thin, wiry individual with the piercing eye you are doubtless expecting to see. On the contrary, Mr. Gryce was a portly, comfortable personage with an eye that never pierced, that did not even rest on you. If it rested anywhere, it was always on some insignificant object in the vicinity, some vase, inkstand, book, or button.”
The dialogue is sharp – no excessive tag lines clutter up the rapid back-and-forth of these post-bellum Brooklynites. Human nature is on display in the personages of the household staff and the jurors at the inquest. Love shows up right away, unbidden and unhelpful. Secrets are choked back by those unwilling to reveal them. Glances are exchanged.
Judge for yourself the importance of Green’s work: The first ten people to comment on this blog will be entered to win the just-issued Penguin edition of The Leavenworth Case.
Leslie Shortlidge is a Guppie and lives in Columbus, Ohio. You can follow her on Twitter, where her handle is Bookorama. Most of her posts are exciting updates on her word count, using the #amwriting hash tag.