I wanted this book after reading ‘Red Pottage’ – I was hankering after more New Women and Victorian lushness and thought it would hit the spot. Naturally therefore I didn’t pick it up for at least a month by which time the mood had gone. ‘Red Pottage’ is a seasonal sort of book, a lot of the action takes place in autumn against a backdrop of golden leaves and crisp evenings finishing up in a snow flurry. It was very evocative back in October but that mood has passed now, fortunately I’m all about the short story at the moment so haven’t abandoned ‘The Penguin Book of Victorian Women in Crime’ to take its chance on a shelf somewhere.
I regularly read that short stories don’t sell which just as regularly surprises me. I love short stories and have numberless collections and anthologies (by which I mean I can’t be bothered to count them but they may well run into the hundreds by now); I particularly like anthologies finding them the perfect travel companions. They’re also just the ticket for this time of year. Christmas is happening in retail – this is the last pay weekend before the big day, I’ll find out on Monday if my predictions for an exhaustingly busy day came true (I have the weekend off and am not sorry to put back the inevitable cuts, bruises, and frayed temper a few more days).
I find this time of year hard going, it’s physically demanding in a way which leaves me with very little energy to concentrate on anything much, and then even when not working there seems so much to prepare, or finish, or generally take care of before the imaginary full stop that is Christmas day. Reading fiction is a blessed escape from the (mostly reasonable but numerous) demands of customers but giving a book the attention it deserves – well it doesn’t always happen. Shorts are a different matter, a good anthology is a great way of finding new writers, and if one story in my chosen theme doesn’t hit the mark I can be pretty sure the next one will.
‘Women in Crime’ is mostly short stories but there is also an isolated chapter from an Anna Katherine Green novel which makes me long to read the rest of the book. (Sims has edited an earlier Anna Katherine Green for penguin; ‘The Leavenworth Case’, it’s on my wish list and I’m hoping someone takes the hint). Grant Allen’s ‘The Adventure of the Cantankerous Old Lady’ was very funny (looks like penguin are releasing one of his novels next year – also on my wish list...). The list of happy discoveries hasn’t ended there.
The other thing I really enjoyed about ‘Women in Crime’ is how many of them there were, mostly as detectives sometimes as villains. Despite protestations that the lady detectives (and villains) are still the very models of femininity it’s somehow encouraging to see the Victorian mind admitting that women could be more than the angel in the house.