Plucky Girls and Female Gentlemen:

The Amateur Sleuth in Historical Mysteries


Kelly Gardiner

La Trobe University


"What are girls coming to, I wonder?"

The Adventure of the Cantankerous Old Lady (Allen 1898, p. 324)



The Honourable Phryne Fisher is not just a very good detective and an unflappable flapper: she is the epitome of one of two key archetypes in crime and mystery writing. The ‘Female Gentleman’ arose in some of the earliest crime stories as one expression of the New Woman – she had independent means, a good education, possibly a title, and she could outwit any criminal. The ‘Plucky Heroine’, on the other hand, is a classic Victorian character first seen in sensation novels and early detective stories. Brave, outspoken, intelligent, curious and independent, Plucky Heroines faced danger as well as male scorn. They solved mysteries with courage and intellect as well as "the deepest feminine gift – intuition" (Allen 1899, p. 327).

Both the suave Female Gentleman and the Plucky Heroine are equally popular in historical crime writing today, especially as amateur sleuths solving mysteries that affect them and the people they love, but their origins are inextricably linked to the evolution of the detective story.

The sensation novels of the 1850s and 1860s were not framed as historical fiction, but they were, like their Gothic predecessors, often set in an uncanny, out-of-time misty moment where the past – and the secrets of the past – influenced the present. The detective stories of the 1880s and 1890s were intentionally modern. Both genres combined elements of the Gothic novel with contemporary realism, presented new approaches to their female characters, and have been enormously influential in mystery, thriller and historical fiction ever since.

We can trace conscious and perhaps subconscious lines of descent from the early fictional female sleuths through some of the twentieth century’s most popular characters, to striking and even transgressive amateur sleuths found in recent mystery writing. At first glance, ladies leading isolated rural lives in Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White  (1859) and Sarah Waters’ Fingersmith (2002) appear to be similar creatures. But are they? (Cue melodramatic music.)

First let’s look briefly at these two forms of story and the women in them.

Sensation novels and early detective stories have elements in common – some can be read as both (Pittard 2007, p. 39). We all now recognise the structure of a crime being discovered, and then both back-story and clues slowly leading reader and detective – not necessarily in that order – to the perpetrator. Early mysteries often unfold so slowly that the crime itself is not committed until well into the plot, and in some cases revenge rather than detection is the goal after discovery. "The mystery," Patrick Brantlinger suggests, "acts like a story which the narrator refuses or has forgotten how to tell" (1982, p. 18). The stories are often told through the eyes of someone other than the protagonist – Doctor Watson being the most famous. Sensation novels such as The Woman in White feature a constantly changing narrative voice, as legal advisors, butlers and housekeepers, apparently objective or clearly biased observers, even the sleuth herself, take on the role of unravelling or bearing witness to a complex web of clues and disasters.

There is a crime or scandal of some kind, and often several layers of secrets which threaten or act as motive – a stolen letter or jewel, a confusion of identities, someone incarcerated or kidnapped or thought missing but returned. The secret or scandal motif is particularly common in the sensation novel, a phenomenon that flourished briefly in the late nineteenth century, and drove millions of readers crazy waiting for the next serialised episode or melodramatic chapter – for Australian readers, books like Bleak House (1853) were "despatched at intervals from England, arriving on faraway docks with the expectation that they would be seized by feverish readers, burning with curiosity about the fate of their favourite characters" (Martin & Mirmohamadi 2011, p. 37 ).

Even today, the experience of reading a sensation novel can be excruciating, providing the full Gothic experience: entrapment, menace, isolation in a country house, dark secrets to be uncovered, the possibility of the supernatural or the uncanny (usually proven to be quite human and explicable), the irrational, the sublime, the subversive. There’s that sense that familiar boundaries – of humanity, of the law, of fiction, of the psyche – are being transgressed, that what is hidden and possibly unmentionable is about to be revealed. But not quite yet.

We fear for the innocence or the safety of the heroine – she will survive, we feel fairly sure, but at what cost? The mystery eludes us. The characters appal. The first time a reader encounters Sarah Waters' historical novel Fingersmith, although it's widely know that it's a reimagining of The Woman in White, there is still a gasp at the fiendish twists that await, and happy revelling in its neo-Victorian ventriloquism until the shock of its unexpected turn.

The early detective story was written for affect, but not in the same heightened sense – the sensation was the dramatic arrest or announcement of the name and motive of the criminal. But the subject matter and characters in the stories were sensational enough. For these novels, like those of Dickens, were set in the London of the unsolved crimes of Jack the Ripper, where pickpockets and burglars threatened every household and murder most foul seemed to lurk around every dark corner. These are stories of deception, of adultery, of theft and fraud and poisoning and blackmail. They may not be shocking to our eyes, but they were sensational when first published.

Among those characters was the sensational concept of the female detective.

Woman as archetype

A number of the archetypes that developed in these early stories, whether in sensation novels or detective fiction, come through in historical crime and mystery writing to this day. There is the virtuous ‘Angel in the House’ (Woolf 1995), such as the heiress Laura Fairlie wafting through The Woman in White. Angels are never the ones who solve the crimes. They are more often the victims – quite often, in the Gothic tradition, they are not just in the house but imprisoned in the house – the original damsel in distress.

Other women have more agency, and it is these characters that recur in early mystery novels and develop into more complex creatures later in historical fiction – archetypes representing changing social attitudes to gender as well as increasingly complex characterisation, psychological insight, and realism.

There are the Fallen Women who help with the investigation or are keys to the mystery, and again their origins lie in the great nineteenth-century novels, whether they die gasping out a final clue or take their secrets to the grave. Once these women were doomed, like Lady Dedlock in Bleak House (1853), because after all one could not live after having fallen, or at least after exposure. Whether protagonist or crime victim, she is the tainted Angel at the mercy of a male world, often misled or deceived, sometimes left to suffer the consequences of her own decisions – usually an unwise choice of man.

Happily, the Fallen Angel can be seen to survive, if not thrive, in recent historical fiction. We see her in betrayed innocents such as Anna Wetherall in Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries (2013) who is the Sun and Moon around which all of the story’s luminaries rotate.

The Scheming Crone featured in the very first crime novels, with the appearance of the dastardly and pathetic Mother Guttersnipe in Fergus Hume’s The Mystery of a Hansom Cab (1886) and Madame Fosco in The Woman in White. Their slightly more honourable sister is Mrs Clennam in Little Dorrit (1857) – she’s not evil, but her intransigence and deceit drive both the plot and her son away. One of Mother Guttersnipe’s most vivid descendants in historical fiction is Mrs Sucksby in Waters’ Fingersmith, a gloriously Dickensian creation: more scheming than Miss Havisham, as ruthless as Madame Defarge (or Fagin, for that matter), but more fleshed out than either. Waters even has Mrs Sucksby read Oliver Twist (1838) to her young charges, assuring the child Sue that her favourite character Nancy was not dead at all, but "had come to her senses at last, and left Bill Sykes entirely; that she had met a nice chap from Wapping who had set her up in a little shop selling sugar mice and tobacco" (2002, p. 6).

The "meddlesome old maid" (Green 2011, p. 10) tradition began with the character Miss Butterworth’s opening words in Anna Katherine Green’s 1878 story, The Affair Next Door: "I am not an inquisitive woman, but…" (2011, p. 2), a fabulous line which would fit in any Miss Marple mystery.

Ancient archetypes, the angel, the crone and the spinster as characters – or perhaps caricatures – reached an inglorious zenith in the Victorian era, and we see them in the sensational crime journalism of the day, with headlines such as ‘The Violation of Virgins.’ In some cases, these articles were written by the same authors or published in the same newspapers and journals as mystery and crime fiction, and true crimes of false imprisonment or bigamy certainly influenced writers such as Wilkie Collins. Waters presents a macabre meta-joke about this in Fingersmith: ‘Her hands were crimson, from fingertip to wrist. She looked like the picture of a murderess from one of the penny papers’ (2002, p. 508).

There are others, of course – suffering servants and wronged wives and femmes fatale created then and positioned in a range of historical settings in fiction now.

But let’s focus on two of the most common and dynamic character types who become sleuths in historical mysteries: the Plucky Heroine and the Female Gentleman.

Female Gentlemen

Feminist scholars have identified a clear archetype, the Female Gentleman, which developed in the late nineteenth-century sensation and detective novels, and then into the early part of the twentieth century. Writers of the first detective stories were working at the same time as authors such as George Eliot were defining the New Woman in literature, divorce and property laws were changing, a powerful Queen was on the British throne, and barriers to women’s education, employment and legal recognition were gradually being dismantled. The New Woman might be from any class, and work in any of the professions opening up to women – as nurses, typists, factory workers, or detectives.

Grant Allen, whose 1895 New Woman novel The Woman Who Did met with uproar over its anti-marriage subject matter, was also the creator of two of the earliest female detectives in fiction, one of whom was an original Female Gentleman – Hilda Wade, of whom more shortly.

Melissa Schaub has traced the development of the Female Gentleman, which she defines thus:

"The core of the ideal is a woman who is competent, courageous, and self-reliant in practical situations, capable of subordinating her emotions to reason and the personal good to the social good, and possessed of ‘honor’ in the oldest sense of the term. These are personality traits, corresponding with the moral aspect of Victorian gentlemanliness" (2013, p. 8).

Dagni Bredesen, however, notes how several of the early female professional detectives in fiction are widows and cautions against seeing them as "honorary men" (2006, p. 30), because their gendered status places them in a unique position outside family structures but with honourable social status. Perhaps they are, as Jane Eyre says of governesses, "a race apart" (Young 2008).

Female Gentlemen, especially the amateur sleuths, were often situated in Bohemian settings, had independent means and refined taste in art, smoked, travelled widely, walked out in public places, and were, above all, as rational as their contemporary, Sherlock Holmes – or even more so. Hilda Wade, for example, has Holmes-like "analytical accuracy" (Allen 1899, p. 693) and a similar relationship with an admiring doctor, who tells her, just as Watson might: "Explain. We know your powers" (1899, p. 697). "At the same time," Bredesen claims, "intuition is also stereotypically feminine and, therefore, appropriately found in a lady detective’s arsenal of abilities and skills" (2006, p. 27).

Female Gentlemen are often educated, born into a privileged society and while they enjoy its benefits they are also marginalised and sometimes excluded from it. We see that later in the Phryne Fisher books. Although born into poverty, she is now the Honourable Miss Fisher. But in spite of her many advantages and impeccable connections, Miss Fisher is always slightly beyond the Pale. Not that she cares.

The Female Gentleman also transgresses class; as the concept of the gentleman changed from that of landed gentry to any man who was well-spoken, properly clad, and could uphold a sense of honour. Again, Waters laughs at this in Fingersmith with her posh character called Gentleman, who turns out to be merely Frederick Bunt, a draper’s son from "a street off the Holloway Road" (2002, p. 517).

Like Sherlock Holmes, Female Gentlemen are very good at disguising themselves. Mrs Paschall, in Revelations of a Lady Detective (1864), says of her disguises: "For the parts I had to play, it was necessary to have nerve and strength, cunning and confidence, resources unlimited, and numerous other qualities" (Bredesen 2006, p. 26). She, like several of her other literary sisters including, much later, Phryne Fisher, perform the role of detective, and specifically a gendered detective, as well as the convincing parts they play to solve crimes.

Schaub identifies Rachel Verinder in Wilkie Collins’s 1868 sensational locked-room mystery The Moonstone as one of the first, if "ultimately unrealised" (2013, p. 34), Female Gentlemen: while acting to conceal rather than uncover the theft of a diamond, Rachel’s silence is driven by her sense of honour, and she prefers to be thought the perpetrator or to be considered unstable, than reveal what she knows. Poor, hilarious Miss Clack observes that Rachel speaks "in the off-hand manner of one young man talking to another" (Collins 2009, p. 206) and her independence, spirit and sensibility affect every other character and narrator. Dorothy L. Sayers described Rachel Verinder as "virtuous, a gentlewoman, and really interesting […] so little spectacular that we fail to realise what a singularly fine and truthful piece of work she is" (1983, p. 90).

One might even suggest t[CB4] hat Sherlock Holmes' enigmatic adversary Irene Adler, "the well-known adventuress", was one of the first successful Female Gentlemen. "You do not know her," the King of Bohemia tells Holmes, "but she has a soul of steel. She has the face of the most beautiful of women, and the mind of the most resolute of men" (Conan Doyle 2005, p. 18) . Some Female Gentlemen, of course, from Irene Adler to Phryne Fisher, outwit their colleagues as well as their adversaries. In A Scandal in Bohemia (1891), Irene Adler not only solves her own mystery of the identity of Holmes but she outwits the King several times, and then Holmes as well, so that he calls her, forever after, The Woman:

"To Sherlock Holmes she is always the woman. I have seldom heard him mention her under any other name. In his eyes she eclipses and predominates the whole of her sex" (2005, p. 5).

Irene, like other Female Gentlemen, is seen as an exceptional woman in a world of men. She is "quick and resolute", says the King, and "her word is inviolate" (Conan Doyle 2005, p. 38), her actions driven by a code of honour which the nineteenth century attributed only to men – the female code of honour was defined by the domestic sphere and often tied to the Angel’s purity.

Marion Halcombe, in The Woman in White, knows all along that something is not right and tells the far less dynamic hero, Walter Hartright, "This is a matter for curiosity; and you have got a woman for your ally. Under such conditions, success is certain" (Collins 1974, p. 74). "You shall not regret, Walter," she says later, "that you have only a woman to help you" (1974, p. 459). But in fact it is Marion who hesitates in hallways to overhear hints of conspiracy, writes letters to lawyers, puts herself in danger by listening (on a rooftop in the pouring rain) to the plotters, and perceives the true intentions of others. It is only because Marion falls ill that the evil machinations of her brother-in-law and Count Fosco are able to take shape, and it is Marion who unravels the secrets and clues, keeps the forces of good aligned, and finally rescues the angelic Laura. Even her nemesis, Fosco, knows she is the person most dangerous to his plans and adores her, and especially her intellectual powers, in a perverse obsession (seen in reverse and more benignly later in the Holmes/Adler relationship).

Grant Allen’s Hilda Wade stories, published in series from March 1899, present a more middle-class and practical version of the Female Gentleman. Nurse Wade, says her antagonist in The Episode of the Patient Who Disappointed Her Doctor, "stands intermediate mentally between the two sexes" (Allen 1899, p. 328). Her friend Mrs Mallett explains that Hilda "is independent, quiet; has a tidy little income of her own – six or seven hundred a year – and she could choose her own society [...] She didn’t intend to marry, she said, so she would like to have some work to do in life. Girls suffer like that nowadays" (1899, p. 329).

In the 1920s and 30s, after the dramatic changes in gender roles brought about by women’s participation in the workforce during and after World War One, a newer New Woman and the Female Gentleman came together in popular crime fiction. This was most consciously wrought in the form of Harriet Vane, a sleuth in her own right and eventually partner of Dorothy L. Sayers’ hero Lord Peter Wimsey. As Sayers has written:

"I had landed my two chief puppets in a situation where, according to all the conventional rules of detective fiction, they should have had nothing to do but fall into each others’ arms. When I looked at the situation I saw that it was in every respect false and degrading" (1983, p. 211).

Sayers’ solution was not to re-create Harriet, who "had been a human being from the start" (1983, p. 212), but rather to re-make Peter so that he became worthy of the New Woman (Young 2005). This development, in one of the world’s most beloved and well-crafted detective series, not only brought together the politics of feminism with the act of creating realist characters, but helped establish a tradition within detective fiction generally, and historical crime fiction specifically, of the female detective who operates on the same level as her male counterparts. The twentieth-century Female Gentlemen, Melissa Schaub argues, are profoundly influenced by Georgette Heyer’s Regency novels, and are a conscious leap from the earlier incarnation:

"Self-consciously intellectual, rationalist, and comic. They eschew sentimentality of all kinds, and characters who lack emotional self-control are always the villains or comic butts, never the protagonists" (Schaub 2013, p. 15).

Harriet Vane demonstrated to a wide reading public that female sleuths could be rational and effective – and equal in intellect to their male counterparts. Her most adventurous, effective, ironic, and impeccably dressed descendant is, of course, Phryne Fisher. She smokes, drives, enchants, rescues damsels in distress (and herself), follows her own code of honour, and banters with artists as well as sportsmen and police officers. But without Harriet, without Irene Adler and Marion Halcombe and Hilda Wade and so many others, would Phryne ever have been created?

That Plucky Girl

The other dominant female character in Victorian fiction, and genre fiction ever since, is the Plucky Heroine. They are young women, originally with that innocence that the Female Gentleman lacks, but combined with self-awareness that grows through the story. They have confidence in their own ability, and the sense that a mystery exists and can be solved. Courage. Feistiness. They rescue people, like the revered Victorian heroine Grace Darling. They stand up for the downtrodden like one of the Misses Pankhursts, sort out the untameable ... and even ride bicycles.

The Plucky Heroine in detective fiction began early, with Madge in The Mystery of the Hansom Cab (1886). Madge doesn't solve the mystery but she certainly gives the solution a shove along, and it is her tenacity that propels the early investigation in this, one of the first and most sensational crime stories. A typical early Plucky Heroine was, like Madge, often concerned with saving someone's reputation or marriage, her own relationship or good name, or quite often her man from the impact of a crime or scandal.

Again, Grant Allen was one of the originators here. The 1898 series Miss Cayley’s Adventures introduced us to the bicycling, adventurous, forthright narrator Lois Cayley, who graduates from Girton, embarks on foreign travel, solves mysteries, prevents a jewel theft and other machinations, rescues gentlemen from mountainsides, and describes herself as "a bit of a rebel" (1898, p. 320).

Structurally, the Cayley stories were presented as adventure mysteries (Kestner 2003, p. 122), and quite different to their famous contemporary Sherlock Holmes in voice, structure and approach to detection. In The Adventure of the Impromptu Mountaineer, however, Miss Cayley accomplishes an astonishing feat of tracking and detection, instinctively knowing how to identify a lost man’s boot print, faint traces of his progress over rocks and eventually a cliff from which, naturally, she hauls him bodily – her strength due to her rowing career at Cambridge. But her decisions, she claims, are those of the New Woman. "The old-fashioned girl, the medieval girl, would have held that because she saved your life […] she was bound to marry you. But I am modern, and I see things differently" (Allen 1898, p. 74). Like Harriet Vane forty years later, she refuses to marry the man she loves until she is sure they can exist as equals.

From the early days of Miss Cayley using her female intuition, sharp eyes and intellect as detecting tools, the Plucky Heroine has become a familiar presence in historical fiction. She is the character who doesn’t accept police findings, will not stay home safe after dark, who argues with the bad guys, sniffs out evil-doers, and frees herself from every predicament. She is intelligent and resourceful and observant; characteristics we see in later girl sleuths (Zani 2009) and lampooned by Buffy the Vampire Slayer. But she seems more vulnerable than the Female Gentleman – more trusting, perhaps, initially more innocent, certainly unarmed, and in greater danger in those shadowy laneways or spooky houses.

In Daphne Du Maurier's 1938 historical novel, Jamaica Inn, Mary Yellan is forced to go live with her aunt in an isolated inn among Cornish smugglers. She resolves to save her aunt from a violent marriage and investigates – alone, and at great peril – the mysteries of the inn and her vile uncle. Like many a Plucky Heroine, she decides to get to the bottom of things, not sure at first what crimes are being committed. She pokes her nose in where it might get bashed, listens at cracks in doors and overhears a murder plot, follows shadowy figures through dark and lonely places, trusts the untrustworthy, risks her life for those she loves, sneaks out under moonlight, has faith only in her instincts and brain and British justice, and makes several very wrong decisions, prompting the reader to shout "Don't go in there!"

Unlike many mystery novels of the 1930s, in which Female Gentlemen solve modern mysteries set in fine country estates, university colleges or small villages, in Jamaica Inn there are instead mists and swamps and windswept moors familiar to readers of Wuthering Heights (1847), there is the handsome brooding horse thief, there's a cast of crude local characters, and there is, rising darkly above it all, the sinister bulk of Jamaica Inn. This is not a world of privilege and threat of scandal – this is a gloomy combination of Gothic sensibility and historical realism. While Mary doesn't question prescriptive gender roles in any revolutionary sense, and happily cleans the horse thief's filthy kitchen, she does so in her own way: she envisages an independent life for herself, tries to get her aunt away from Jamaica Inn, questions her uncle's authority, and continues her quest in spite of the direst threat – "There’s no escape for you now" (Du Maurier 1992, p. 174). With her unreliable and unlikely hero, wild landscape, and seemingly shy and intellectual clergyman, Du Maurier’s "pot boiler" (Bassnett 2007, p. 138) makes connections for the reader with that earlier heroine, Jane Eyre, as she was to do even more clearly two years later with Rebecca (Wisker 2003). But Mary is not hidden steel like Jane – she is fiery and a little random, altogether more plucky and, like Marion Halcombe, earns the grudging respect of her enemies.

Blanche in Emma Donoghue’s recent Frog Music (2014) is far from the virtuous heroine of those earlier novels. She’s an erotic dancer in San Francisco in 1876 who loves sex and doesn't mind earning a living from it either. Blanche is the world's worst mother, and she's not much better as a detective, following red herrings all over the city, operating on fatefully incorrect assumptions and instincts, and blowing her big moment in court. She could not be further from the relatively one-dimensional Miss Cayley.

But Blanche is brave in spite of her very real fears, is driven to solve the mysteries of her friend Jenny's murder and her son's disappearance, and she is, like many young women, vulnerable and seemingly ruled by the men in her life. She tries to deduce her way to the truth, turning possibilities and clues over in her mind, gathering information about Jenny, the men she suspects of the crime, and the whereabouts of her baby. "The case," she decides at one point, "is goddamn unsolvable" (2014, p. 318). Her only friend, Jenny, is an enigma in death and in life, and in some ways the embodiment of the Female Gentleman, even down to the trousers she wears in spite of constantly being arrested for crossdressing.

Maud and Sue in Waters’ Fingersmith, too, are courageous and fearful in turns, painfully innocent but also worldly in their own ways. They are at the mercy of villainous menfolk and a scheming crone, the dread of scandal, dispossession and poverty – both orphaned, both trapped albeit in very different situations, both transgressing boundaries around class, gender, sexuality and criminality. Maud is the apparently urbane Female Gentleman, surrounded by exquisite art works and rare books in her country estate. Sue sees her almost as an innocent Angel. But nothing is as it seems in Fingersmith. The mystery that engulfs them is not of their making – like nineteenth century Plucky Heroines, they are driven to action by circumstance and ill-treatment, and are oblivious to the machinations of others. They play in turns the roles of Plucky Heroine, desperate victim, manipulative plotter, and at some points doubt their own names and parentage, just as they switch between poor and wealthy, knowledge and ignorance, sexual innocent and initiator, maid and mistress, criminal and victim. The character of Maud, in particular, turns the ideas of both the Plucky Heroine and the Female Gentleman on their heads: her fine taste in art, her upstanding character, her status in society, even her virginal family name – Lilly – turn out to be pivotal points in the narrative.

In both of these examples, there are two female protagonists (although one is dead and seen only in flashback). In many senses, they are all, like many Plucky Heroines and Female Gentlemen, alone in the world. They have, but also do not have, each other, and both pairs are partly propelled by an erotic charge. All four characters – Jenny and Blanche, Sue and Maud – can be seen as performances of gender and identity subversion: outwardly, they are all bound by or marked by specific and gendered items of clothing.

In Fingersmith, Maud is required to wear gloves at all times and her uncle insists she dresses like a much younger girl. At a critical point in the plot, the fact that Sue is wearing one of Maud's gowns leads her into desperate circumstances, while Maud is later coerced into wearing Sue's clothes. In Frog Music, Blanche's bootlace, her costumes and outfits preoccupy and define her, until at the end she is left with nothing at all to wear. On stage, Blanche performs the version of femininity and desire demanded by the male audience and yet another scheming crone (Madame Johanna), while Jenny is prosecuted and tormented for wearing men's clothes in the street.

In some cases these new heroines combine and subvert some of the archetypes mentioned earlier – Maud is a sleuth but also a schemer, Blanche and Sue are plucky but hardly pure. These young women break rules, flaunt convention, cause havoc in other people's lives, and even commit crimes, but that doesn't make them any less plucky. Mary Yellan and Blanche both defiantly position themselves as sleuths – they decide to solve a mystery alone and plot their own often mistaken paths. 

But Jamaica Inn, and the later novels Fingersmith and Frog Music, are not about upper-class lasses heroically riding bicycles and using their female wiles or intuition to defend someone's honour or marriage. The stakes are much higher, the people somewhat dirtier, the deceptions and crimes more murky.

Unlike the cosy ending of a Phryne Fisher novel, there is no comfort for any of these Plucky Heroines and Female Gentlemen, even after the mystery has been solved. They live with guilt, with grief, with more uncertainty. They are not rewarded with a sensational exercise of justice, and redemption, when it comes, is tentative.

Nevertheless, let’s allow Miss Fisher to have the last word, as always. "Heroic," she says at the conclusion of Death Before Wicket, "The scene was positively ill with happy endings" (Greenwood, p. 224).



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Kelly Gardiner's latest novel is Goddess, based on the life of the seventeenth century French swordswoman, cross-dresser and opera singer, Mademoiselle de Maupin. Kelly’s historical novels for young adults include Act of Faith and The Sultan’s Eyes. Both were shortlisted for the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards and The Sultan’s Eyes was selected by the International Youth Library as one of the world’s most important YA novels of 2014. She is a Lecturer in Creative and Professional Writing at La Trobe University, and also works as the Learning Design Manager at the State Library of Victoria.


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The Australian Journal of Crime Fiction
Vol 1 No 2 2015
Editors: Rachel Franks and Wendy J. Dunn