#653: In GAD We Trust – Episode 1: Female Sleuths [w’ Kate @ CrossExaminingCrime]

In GAD We Trust

You’re stuck at home, you’re bored, you could really do with a new, Golden Age Detection-focussed podcast to help pass the time, eh?

Let’s hope so, because today you’re getting the first episode of my latest undertaking: a Golden Age Detection-focussed podcast called In GAD We Trust.Β  With so many people being at home, and with so many of us seeking solace in books, I thought I’d take the opportunity to rustle up some GAD-based discussion with my fellow bloggers and enthusiasts and record the results for your listening pleasure.

Gamely stepping up to the plate is Kate of CrossExaminingCrime, who wanted to discuss the female sleuth in fiction and so — in accordance with governmental guidelines on social distancing — we met up via Zoom and you can listen to the edited highlights below (I think I’ve taken out all the wonderful mispronunciation of names, Kate 😁).Β  There’s no real structure or larger point, it’s mainly just very enjoyable getting people to talk on their own enthusiasms; and so, since there’s really no more to say, here you go…

I hope you enjoy the above and find it gives you something to think about (or, at the very least, disagree with).Β  A second episode — with another collaborator — should follow next week, after which the plan is to put out a new episode every two weeks.Β  My thanks again to Kate for taking the time to talk with me, and to the omni-talented Jonny Berliner for writing the music.

And, hey, if you have a burning desire to talk about a GAD-related topic, get in touch — the next star of the show could be you (though, just to be clear, I’m very much the actual star of the show…).

28 thoughts on “#653: In GAD We Trust – Episode 1: Female Sleuths [w’ Kate @ CrossExaminingCrime]

  1. One thing that occurs to me about the shift towards more female heroes in the fifties and beyond was that the readership of mystery novels was shown to be changing. I just read a book by the Radfords in which they note with surprise that women make up the majority of the readership of mystery novels.
    I think there are some excellent points here and a ton of titles you both mention that I really need to get to. The title Kate didn’t remember about the invalid who witnessed a murder is Composition for Four Hands from Duet of Death – it is right up near the top of my TBR pile!

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    • Thanks for remembering that title for me! My mind went completely blank.
      I could be wrong but vague memories of something I read at uni, make me think the shift to a more female focused readership occurred earlier in the 1930s with the rise of lending libraries.
      Though maybe there was a more clear divide between the type of or subgenre of crime novels men and women read? Could be barking up the wrong tree here though.

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    • It was in the back of my mind when Kate was talking about romance to mention how authors like Ellery Queen freely admitted that they were upping the romance quotient of their plots on account of being serialised in women’s magazine…but, alas, my magpie of a brain dropped it and we started talking about alcohol (which ended up being appropriately too incoherent to include). So thanks for raising it, because I do think there’s a fair amount of truth in the shifting demographic.

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      • I might be entirely off in my thinking but I tend to think publishers are fairly risk-averse. I do think it is true though that it takes a while for female detectives to get repeat titles.

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  2. Yes, the more GAD podcasts out there the better!
    It seems that you are going to discuss broader topics here than on The Men Who Explain Miracles, and it will be great to have both. Hope this one will have a little bit more consistent schedule πŸ˜›

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    • Yeah, the plan with this one is certainly to branch out, because there’s so much to talk about and so many well-informed people to talk with. Though expect impossible crimes to crop up at some point, because I have a feeling TMWEM has run its course — as you say, the scheduling for that ended up being a bit too occasional. With any luck, IGWT will be both more regular and more reliable!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks JJ! Though I am sure you could have had quite a hysterical bloopers section with me trying to pronounce author and character names. You don’t realise you have no idea how to say a name until after you’ve just said it. I think my best mispronunciation involved calling a character a brand of coffee.
    Thumbs up for the intro music also.

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    • The fourteen minutes of chicken-based discussion is still ready to drop at a moment’s notice, too, if you want it publicised πŸ˜†

      The music is great, isn’t it? I’m very lucky to know such talented people.

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      • Wow 14 minutes! Didn’t know I had gone on so long. But I think we can draw two lessons from that conversation:
        1. You shouldn’t let Kate start talking about her chickens.
        2. It’s not a good idea to name your chickens after fictional sleuths.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. It was like sitting in the corner of your sitting room with a nice cuppa, listening to two old friends chat away. If I had truly been there – six feet away from both of you – I might have chimed in:

    * I think the rise of romance, helpful wives, even more plucky female detectives in crime fiction had to do with publication in more female-centered magazines. I know this was true of the Queens. Christie was serialized; as early as 1906, Mary Roberts Rinehart (very female centered) was serialized. Men read the pulps, women read the slicks.
    * I love the point about “domestic awareness” – even though there are many detective heroines, they seldom, if ever, play the game as men do. (I don’t know much at all about Mrs. Bradley, but she may be an exception here.) Rex Stout created Dol Bonner, who like Bertha Cool, ran her own detective agency in the 1930’s. I think maybe we plucky Americans have the lead on the female private eye who didn’t need a man to guide/save/love her. But they were few and far between in the Golden Age.
    * Tuppence, Tuppence, Tuppence . . . she’s the light in that couple. Tommy’s smart, but he’s a plodder. Tuppence, like Ariadne Oliver, uses her nose for trouble more than her brain. Even in N or M, she utters “Goosey goosey gander” out of the blue, not out of any deductive ability, and cracks the case.
    * The first two Drury Lane novels are depressingly male. There’s one admirable woman trapped in the York family, but all the other female characters in both books are horrible. The last two books introduce Patience Thumm, a female adventurer and the daughter of the police chief. I think that was calculated to enlarge the audience for these books.

    Great fun, you guys. When do I get to play?????

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    • Well, naturally, there is quite a waiting list to get on to JJ’s select podcast. However, if you had at least 15 minutes of material which involved zany anecdotes involving your ragdoll cats, I’m sure you would get bumped up the list.

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    • Mrs. Bradley doesn’t play the game like anyone else does. Part of my impatience with those books is the wilful disregard of things like logic in the hasty stapling of explanations onto actions…

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  5. Love the music! I’m brushing up on my author name pronunciations right now to alleviate any possible editing when I’m up at bat.

    This was informative and enlightening. I didn’t like the one Delano Ames book I’ve read and never returned so I like hearing more of those books. I’ve read none of Lenore Glen Offord’s novels (though I have many of them of course) but know her mystery novel criticism. Like Dorothy B. Hughes she became one of the leading mystery book reviewers and a champion for new crime fiction writers.

    My favorite quotes:
    “Come on! The least you could do is behave like a vaguely sensible captured person”
    “…haggard, looking like she’s been through the Apocalypse. She’s only 42. You don’t have to be that harsh.”
    “…there must be tons of them and I can’t think of any of them…”
    ” It’s not HIBK –Had I But Known — it’s EIRF, Everything is Rather Frightening.” (Never heard that term! NEVER!)
    About the Littles’ novels: “I can’t remember the tile of it but it’s The Black Something, right?”

    Other thoughts on topics raised:

    1. There were a lot of tough female leads in Edwardian short stories and novels. Richard Marsh had some excellent female protagonists, maybe not exactly detectives that could be added to this discussion, but it goes against some of the ideas JJ posited. The concept of the New Woman entered popular culture (books, plays, and later movies of the silent era) during the 1900s. I’m always surprised when I encounter these women because we think too little of that era when it comes to talking about vintage mystery and genre fiction.
    2. Besides Bertha Cool there were other tough female private eyes of American pulp magazines. There were lots of them led by Cleve Adams’ Violet McDade, the supposed inspiration for Bertha Cool because of her large size and style of speech. In novels we have Madame Storey created by Hulbert Footner, Gale Gallagher created by Margaret Scott & Will Oursler, Amy Brewster (another plus sized private eye) created by Sam Merwin, and several others I can’t list because my memory is failing me.
    3. Rufus King has books filled with stately attractive older women who have both brains and beauty. But he does lay it on heavy when it comes to male beauty, especially when they’re disrobing or completely naked. which happens at least twice in the books I’ve read.

    I did enjoy this. Got my wheels spinning. Congrats on this inaugural podcast!

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    • Glad you enjoyed it John! Which Delano Ames novel did you try? I’ve read 9 of the Brown novels and 3 of the Spanish set series, so I might be able to recommend another one for you to try. I tried an early non-series one of his but didn’t think it was very good. I think he hit his stride when he got into the Brown series.
      I think Offord’s work might be up your street. The non-series titles are the strongest of the three I have read. I haven’t read any of her mystery fiction criticism. Has it been collected anywhere?

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    • Thanks, John!

      Yeah, Jonny did a wonderful job with the music — I gave him an astoundingly vague brief (since I didn’t really know what I wanted myself) and he came through with the good superbly. I imagine he’s up for more commissions if anyone wants their own personalised themes…

      The 1900s is, rather like the 1960s onwards, outside of my meaningful reading experience to date, so I can’t comment, but it doesn’t surprise me to learn that something I’ve said can be contradicted by hard evidence elsewhere πŸ™‚ And, again, I have a vague coverage of some Pulp Dames, but certainly not enough to reel off names with your assurance — interesting that so many of them seem to fall into the “plus size” category, reinforcing Kate’s point about competence and looks apparently being anathema to each other.

      I wrote a little bit about the Littles and the EIRF school here — sadly the blog that piece links to seems to be out of commission, because I remember that piece of EIRF (which I’d not heard before then) being very good. Alas, the temporary nature of the internet has stolen it from us.

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    • Thank-you, it was a lot of fun to record (well, it was for me — Kate might disagree). Here’s hoping future episode live up to this one, eh?

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  6. Great start for a new series, but —
    a discussion of Golden Age female sleuths with no mention of Nancy Drew ?!?!

    Oh — you are saving her for a future episode about ‘Young Adult’ mystery fiction …
    Of course! πŸ™‚

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    • I certainly hope to do this (or some permutation of it) on juvenile sleuths at some point. For now, I’ll plead a dearth of Nancy Drew reading as the reason for my oversight πŸ™‚

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  7. Loved the interview/podcast. Looking forward to more. One point early in the podcast reference was made to Amelia Butterworth….A K Green’s 19th Century sleuth….she was not a professional investigtor….she “assisted” police detective Gryce but she received no compensation…she was a very affluent New Yorker and likely would have been insulted to be paid for her busybody type intrusions into murder/mystery investigations.

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    • Thanks, Bob.

      I think enthusiastic amateurs count just as well, though, hey? Maybe there’s an episode in the paid (Poirot, any professional policeman) vs. unpaid (Fell, Wimsey, etc) ranks of fictional detectives

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  8. Amateur Sleuths vs Private Investigators vs Official Police would be a good podcast topic. Sometimes it’s hard to remember who was who. Ex. some people consider Sherlock Holmes an Amateur Sleuth. I believe he was a Professional Investigator, meaning his income was almost entirely derived from his criminal investigations even though he seemed not to have charged or collected fees in many cases. I’ve started an essay on my SpeedyMystery site on this subject.

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  9. I loved listening to this. Kate was great, and JJ has an excellent voice for podcasts. Would definitely like to participate.

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