Monday, 18 December 2017

The Leavenworth Case

Don't be fooled by the cover! While it's a reproduction of an old jazz age edition (it's from the same series as The Wychford Poisoning Case and The Silk Stocking Murders, which I reviewed earlier this year), the story within these pages is decades older still. The Leavenworth Case is a very early detective novel indeed, first published in 1878.

The story is a classic sort - or perhaps I should say, the sort that went on to be a classic. A rich man is found dead in his house; the house was locked which leaves the pool of suspects limited to his two nieces (one of whom was going to inherit everything, way to go to create a motive, Mr Leavenworth!), his male secretary, the butler, cook, and maid. The story is told mostly from the perspective of a young lawyer brought in to protect the interests of the family; detective Ebenezer Gryce (the first recurring detective in fiction, as Green went on to feature him in a number of novels) appearing less often, though still crucial to the eventual uncovering of the murderer.


While The Leavenworth Case has its faults, most notably the way the two upper-class women are portrayed as the epitome of beauty, delicacy, untouchability and so on - the cook and maid are never granted the same considerations as Eleanore and Mary Leavenworth - I enjoyed this much, much more than the other two novels in The Detective Club editions that I read. There are a few points where it seems to drag a little, and it can feel over-wordy at times, but on the whole it's a pretty good read. It was massively popular in its day, yet has been forgotten. The only thing that would put me off recommending it is that it is a tad wordy in that Victorian way, so if you prefer your crime faster-paced and more colloquial, stick to the 20th century. I like Victorian writing, so it wasn't a problem for me.

I've got a copy of The Mystery of a Hansom Cab, an Australian novel from about the same time (1886) which was also popular, but has been forgotten. It'd be nice to see some of these neglected Victorian crime novels made into films, as the small casts of characters and clear plots would translate well to the big screen.

13 comments :

  1. I don't like the pacing of most detective stories so perhaps a Victorian one would be more to my tastes.

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    1. They tend to be slower, and occasionally to meander off into bizarre romantic tangents.

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  2. Sounds interesting! I quite like Victorian writing too, and like Goody, I'm not a fan of fast pacing modern detective stories. The cover did have me fooled, though ... xxx

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    1. This is a facsimile of an earlier edition; clearly the publishers of the 1920s thought their readers would have no appetite for Victoriana.

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  3. I love a detective story from any era. I really enjoyed The Moonstone and have downloaded it so I can read it on my travels. this looks good. x

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    1. Have you read The Woman In White? That's very good.

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    2. No, I haven't. Thank you. i'll see if I can hunt down a free download. x

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  4. This sounds interesting and I love the cover - even though it isn't of the period!

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    1. The cover is accurate insofar as that scene happens in the book - it's just 40 years earlier. I guess 1920s readers wanted 1920s covers.

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  5. I'm good with Victorian novels so I'll add this one to the list :)

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  6. This sounds good and I love the cover art. I don't think that I have ever read a Victorian detective novel, apart from the obvious. I love the genre but am sort of stuck in either the James Ellroy/Elmore Leonard or Ian Ranking rut. Rebus makes me feel a bit homesick for Edinburgh past. Thank you for the recommendation. Xx

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    1. I keep thinking I need to have a Rebus re-read. This one definitely won't leave you homesick for Edinburgh - in fact, even its New york doesn't feel New York-y to the modern mind.

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