I think at one time all of us have read at least one Agatha Christie book. She was lucky enough an author to be very popular during her own lifetime. She joked once that she was leaving on a long railway trip and stopped at a newstand at the station to pick up a paperback to read. All that was available were her own books.
Her success of course inspired copy cats, or perhaps she started out copying another author.
Today we have a plethora of vampires. In the past there was a plethora of elderly female detectives, based partly on Christie’s Miss Marple. As a soon to be elderly female myself I’m happy at one time the detective of choice was the wise older woman.
Kindle now has available many of these well written detective stories featuring senior spinsters with a sleuthing as their hobby.
Mitchell wrote 66 books featuring Dame Bradley. Bradley was a psychiatrist, and would use her knowledge of human behavior (both deviant and normal) to help her solve a case. Bradley was also a widow, having been married twice. She is well to do, and often helped by her very modern young secretary Laura. Bradley is a tough time, and carries a gun which she is not afraid to use. The books are uneven in quality, so pay attention to the ratings. One I recommend is “Watson’s Choice”. The book is about a dinner party where everyone has to come dressed as a character from the Sherlock Holmes stories. While the guests weren’t too pleased in the book, I found the idea and the story delightful.
Wentworth has the stereotypical spinster retired nanny, Miss Silver, as her detective. Silver is eternally knitting (“in the continental style”), and we follow along as she knits yet another pair of leggings or jumper for her niece, nephew or friends child. She seems to only knit for young children. Her retirement is supplemented by her private inquiry work and she is one of those gentle souls that solves crime by observing what others do not. She cooperates with the police and her taste in clothing is questionable. Her books written during the WWII years are especially good at including what life was like on the “home front”.
I have to admit my favorite is Stuart’s Hildegarde Withers. The early books have Withers as a school teacher in New York City. Her knowledge of being able to tell when someone is lying, from so many years of teaching children, helps her solve many a murder. Her long suffering partner is Inspector Oscar Piper. He does not always appreciate the help of the school teacher. The books are a pleasure to read as gangsters and bootleggers give the books a real American feel. Piper and Withers have a friendship/romance, having almost been married after their first case together. Start with “The Penguin Pool Murder”, though my favorite is “Murder at the Blackboard” that takes place at the school where Withers teaches. These books have the most comedy, and you can’t help but enjoy Withers, Piper and in later books an extremely large poodle Withers ends up adopting.
All of these authors are quite different from Christie, but also feature strong women at a time when women were supposed to stay at home raising children. The spinster/widow was necessary as no married woman would run around risking her life solving mysteries.
This reminded me of a time in New England when there was an “epidemic” of women choosing not to marry. Marriage meant a loss of freedom. Education for girls was more common in New England than other parts of the United States, and once educated many woman chose careers over family and motherhood. At a time when death in childbirth was common and housework was hard, spinsterhood was seen as a reasonable alternative.
I highly recommend these books for all mystery lovers, but especially hope readers will enjoy the Hildegarde Withers books. Also, the “Penguin Pool Murder” is available in a rather rough version as an enchanting movie, featuring penguins as well as murder.
Categories: book review
Thanks for the book reviews. I’m always looking for some good mysteries to read. I particularly like ones with some humor so the Hildegarde Withers books sound great.
I have to say I’m getting rather tired of reading the same plot lines again and again in much of what gets written these days with a woman as the sleuth. I find the following really annoying:
1) A woman owns a bookstore, or a bakery, or whatever.
2) At least one murder occurs.
3) This woman dates a cop who tells her to keep her nose out of the investigation.
4) This woman gets pissed off that her professional investigator boyfriend is telling her what to do.
5) This woman does her own investigating, withholds evidence from her cop boyfriend, and ends up having a close encounter with the killer, who despite having killed before (often multiple times), manages to not kill this nosy woman.
Of course, the author writes the same book again and again with all of the above transpiring in every new incarnation of Amateur Super Sleuth Woman, Volumes 1 thru Infinity. So you’re supposed to think these woman sleuths are smart yet they always manage to end up almost dead. How smart is that?
YES! THere is one series that takes place where the women owns an antique shops, sort of dates a cop (I can’t see WHY, he doesn’t approve of her) and she has a goofy friend that owns a book store. Fun things happen supposedly. Withers is terrific. Also Bradley, as she’s a psychiatrist and carries a gun, and uses it if needed. Also, the whole “love interest” part….forget it! Withers and Piper have a relationship that is one of friendship, best friends really. Bradley has her secretary, who is engaged to a police detective but not in any hurry to marry him and even after marriage continues to work for Bradley. Her opinion of her son in the later stories is she’s happiest dumping him on someone to babysit. One favorite was a line about how shocked she is that the local ministers wife seems to enjoy the company of the ever getting into trouble Hamish. (Gladys Mitchell is very uneven, being that she wrote probably far longer than she should have, and also she didn’t particularly like Jews. This makes for difficult reading in some of the books)
OK, Kitty, I’ve just ordered a couple of the Hildegard Withers books on your recommendation. They sound like our kind of mystery stories!