Sunday, September 26, 2010

The First Amateur Female Detective in Print

Since I love reading about female-sleuths, I found myself wondering about the first female-sleuth ever to appear in a book solely devoted to her. Who was she?

I thought back to my own reading experiences and guessed that it would be Nancy Drew or Miss Marple. So I did a little research on both (from Wikipedia):

Nancy Drew: “The character was conceived by Edward Stratemeyer, founder of the Stratemeyer Syndicate. Stratemeyer had created the Hardy Boys series in 1926 (although the first volumes were not published until 1927). The series had been such a success that he decided to create a similar series for girls, with an amateur girl detective as the heroine. While Stratemeyer believed that a woman's place was in the home, he was aware that the Hardy Boys books were popular with girl readers and wished to capitalize on girls' interest in mysteries with a strong female heroine. The first four titles were published in 1930 and were an immediate success”.

Miss Marple: Agatha Christie’s famous sleuth made her first appearance in a full-length novel named “The Murder in the Vicarage”. This book was also published in 1930.

Hollywood capitalized on the success of both characters and put them in the movies: Miss Marple’s first appearance was in the early 1960’s film “Murder, She Said”, and Nancy Drew showed up in “Nancy Drew - Detective” from the late 1930’s. I’ve seen both films and they are enjoyable.

In a strange coincidence, four films were made from each book series.

They are:
Nancy Drew - Detective - 1938;
Nancy Drew - Reporter - 1939;
Nancy Drew - Trouble Shooter - 1939;
Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase - 1939

and Miss Marple in:

Murder She Said - 1961;
Murder at the Gallop - 1963;
Murder Ahoy - 1964;
Murder Most Foul - 1964.

Does anyone know of a book about a female-sleuth pre-dating 1930? Again, one that would have a book solely devoted to her, and not just be a character in another book.

If so, post a comment and share your knowledge please!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

“This Pen for Hire” by Laura Levine

I opened up the paperback version of this book to find the inner cover listing several quotations praising the book from various sources: authors, famous people and the media, including Garrison Keillor, Publishers Weekly, author Carolyn Hart, author Leslie Meier, a writer from the old “I Love Lucy” TV show and even the executive producer for “The Simpsons” TV show.

So I read the book with high hopes. It wasn’t until I was almost done that I opened up the back cover to read about the author, Laura Levine. She is a comedy writer who has written for several classic TV shows including “The Bob Newhart Show”, “Laverne & Shirley”, “The Love Boat”, “The Jeffersons”, “Three’s Company” and “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman”.

That explained like I was reading a script for a Bob Hope movie. It’s almost like a comedy with a mystery thrown in for good measure.

“This Pen for Hire” is the first in the series featuring female-sleuth Jaine Austen - first name pronounced “Jane”. Her mother liked author Jane Austen, but couldn’t spell.

Jaine is 36, divorced, and works as a freelance writer who will write just about anything for money. Her business is called “This Pen for Hire”. Jaine used to work in advertising. She is working on a slogan to further promote her business: “Jaine Austen, Discreet Inquiries: Work Done with Pride, Not Prejudice”.


So one day a guy named Howard Murdoch contacts her for help. He has not been blessed in the looks department, and doesn’t seem to have much going for him. He asks Jaine to write a personal love note to an attractive aerobics instructor named Stacy. At first Jaine says no, but when Howard triples her fee she accepts.

Jaine goes on about her business until one day when she is shocked to see the news on TV: Stacy has been murdered and the police think Howard killed her. Jaine just knows that Howard couldn’t have done it, and sets out to prove the smug police detective wrong. And she does.

If you like your mysteries sprinkled with lots of jokes (mostly one-liners), this is the book for you. I enjoyed it but I wish the mystery had more depth to it.

You can buy the book here: