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The Dead Witness: A Connoisseur's Collection of Victorian Detective Stories

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3.7  ·  Rating Details ·  193 Ratings  ·  37 Reviews
Gathering the finest adventures among private and police detectives from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries-including a wide range of overlooked gems-Michael Sims showcases the writers who ever since have inspired the field of detective fiction.

From luminaries Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, Bret Harte, Wilkie Collins, and Arthur Conan Doyle to the forgotten author
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Paperback, 576 pages
Published December 20th 2011 by Walker Books (first published October 1st 2011)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Leah
Apr 09, 2016 Leah rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: crime, short-stories, 2016
A mixed bag...

Michael Sims begins his anthology of Victorian detective stories with an interesting introduction where he gives a potted history of the detective in literature, going back as far as Daniel in the Bible! Much of this is ground that has been covered many times, of course, but Sims doesn't only stick to British detectives, as many of these anthologies tend to, so some of the information about early writings from America was unfamiliar to me. And he ranges more widely than usual in hi
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Bettie☯
Here is my lens. 
You know my methods.

—Sherlock Holmes

Description: The greatest ever anthology of Victorian detective stories, The Dead Witness gathers the finest police and private detective adventure stories from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, including a wide range of overlooked gems.

'The Dead Witness', the 1866 title story by Australian writer Mary Fortune, is the first known detective story by a woman, a suspenseful clue-strewn manhunt in the Outback. This forgotten treasure s
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Jason Pettus
(Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography [cclapcenter.com]. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted illegally.)

This fascinating new anthology, by an academe who has made a career out of putting together such anthologies, is a lively and unexpected guide to the early history of the detective story, whose invention is largely credited to Edgar Allen Poe's "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" and which really flowered into
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Bev
May 06, 2012 Bev rated it really liked it
The Dead Witness: A Connoisseur's Collection of Victorian Detective Stories by Michael Sims (ed) jumped right off the library "New Arrivals" shelf and into my hands. Like I needed another book to read right now. Like I don't have two-thirds of a Mount TBR pile of my own books to read for challenges this year. Like I could really resist this combination: Victorian (Vintage!)--Mysteries! The collection gathers some of the best stories about private investigators and police detectives from the mid- ...more
Alison
Jan 02, 2013 Alison rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, non-fiction
I have one rule with my Goodreads tags - everything gets either fiction or non-fiction, so I can track the relative balance in what I read. This is the first book to give me serious trouble with that designation. That's because while this works as a collection of detective fiction, it works even better as an overview of the emergence of the genre, and it is as the latter that I would strongly recommend it.
The introductions to each story, like the introduction to the book, are excellent (marred o
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Yibbie
Nov 18, 2015 Yibbie rated it liked it
Shelves: mysteries
The Dead Witness: A Connoisseurs Collection of Victorian Detective Stories by Michael Sims
It’s a wonderful assortment of stories from some of the best authors of the inventors of detective fiction. Are you new to this genre? This is the book to start with. I’m not new and had read many of the stories before, but there were enough new stories and authors to keep my interest. One of my favorite things to do is find free, public domain, mystery books and most of these authors works are out there
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Benjamin Thomas
Literary historians often argue about what was the first detective fiction story ever written but most agree it was either Edgar Allen Poe's The Murders in the Rue Morgue or Wilkie Collins' The Moonstone, both of which I have read recently. It doesn't matter, in my opinion which one gets the credit, but reading both of them has led me to further explore the early days of detective fiction, my previous exposure largely limited to all things Sherlock.

And so it was that my eye was drawn to this boo
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MrsRK
Jun 20, 2016 MrsRK rated it liked it
Interesting mismatched collection of Victorian/Edwardian mystery short stories. Some are very good, some are a bit predictable, others simply unreadable. My favorite was the last story, An Intangible Clue, by Anna Katharine Green. Through her femininity and fragility, the main character, Violet Strange, gets men to help her—very unlike the masculine Loveday Brooke created by Catherine Louisa Pirkis (The Murder at Troyte’s Hill) and modern women. She is the typical Victorian woman: feminine, deli ...more
M
Dec 27, 2015 M rated it really liked it
Shelves: anthology, mystery
This is a pretty cool collection of early detective stories. There are a bunch of good stories here, and I also really enjoyed reading Sims' intro and notes and learning how the detective genre evolved. There are some important classics here, such as Murder in the Rue Morgue (which I'd actually never read before) and an excerpt from A Study in Scarlet. There are also some more obscure stories, including one that predates Poe's, and a few others that are clear inspirations for Arthur Conan Doyle' ...more
Kate  K. F.
Dec 11, 2012 Kate K. F. rated it it was amazing
As an avid reader of mysteries and literature, this collection was an amazing find. Sims has collected well known and little known mystery stories from the 1890s and put them all together in one place as well as writing a thoughtful introduction. Every story was a good read, some were scary and a few were even funny. I would recommend this book to someone who's read all of Doyle and Poe and is wondering what to read next. This provides a history lesson as well as chance to meet new authors.
Katrina
Jun 21, 2016 Katrina rated it liked it
A worthwhile read for its historical record, if not necessarily for the quality of the content itself. Michael Sims collected 22 stories that he claims trace the development of the detective genre through the Victorian era (1837-1915). While I don't doubt the extensiveness of his research, I do wonder at the limitations of the excerpts he chose. He does make clear attempts to include both female detectives and female authors, but I can't help questioning what types of mystery/investigative liter ...more
Katarina
Feb 18, 2015 Katarina rated it really liked it
On the whole, The Dead Witness was an excellent read. Michael Sims did a lovely job introducing the stories and, even more interestingly, the authors behind them. The writings were well-chosen, reflecting influential writers, and their contributions. "Influential" could mean original or landmark writers, such as various female writers that achieved success in a time when women weren't supposed to associate with crime, or it could also mean writers that really inspired the genre, most obviously P ...more
Fiona
This was an excellent read. I was afraid that I'd find the stories hard going - after all, even the best of the Sherlock Holmes stories can feel slow and contrived compared to modern crime (well, they are!), and some in this collection are from very obscure authors, or are the lesser-known works of popular authors.

But not at all. I enjoyed every story in the collection. What makes this book a winner is the introduction to each story, which places it in its historical context, gives some relevant
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Jule
Nov 25, 2014 Jule rated it really liked it
Subtitled “A Connoisseur’s Collection of Victorian Detective Stories" is exactly what it says on the tin. Crime, detectives, mystery in the 19th century - and a wide variety of short stories to portray the genre and the time accurately.

There are the obvious authors (Conan Doyle), the known authors who you didn’t know wrote detective stories (Dickens, Alexandre Dumas, Mark Twain) and some unknown authors. There are male and female detectives, hobby-detectives, detective teams, and the only consu
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Mary Rose
Well, after hemming and hawwing over it for a while, I decided to give up on this book. I've been picking it up and putting it down since we used it for one of my classes but I really just can't bring myself to finish it. The reason being that while there are a bunch of great stories, there are way too many stories total and many of them are complete garbage. So, a "connoisseur's collection"? Probably not, more like just collecting every detective story ever written and putting them into the boo ...more
John  Bellamy
Jan 14, 2013 John Bellamy rated it really liked it
This is an excellent anthology of Victorian/Edwardian detective tales and Sims' informed introductions and sensible editing add much to the reader's enjoyment and instruction. I find it curious, however, that he did not include any stories by Baroness Orczy. Better known for her Scarlet Pimpernel novels, Orczy also wrote two series of detective stories, one concerning the detections of "The Old Man in the Corner" and the other dealing with "Lady Molly of Scotland Yard." All the more odd, too, as ...more
Terri
A selection of stories from Victorian Crime Fiction, some of popular authors (Poe, Dickens, Conan Doyle, Collins) and some of ones I never heard of but was surprised by like 'The Secret Cell' by William E Burton. Other favorites were 'The Assassin's Natal Autograph' by Mark Twain and 'The Stolen Cigar Case' by Bret Harte (A Sherlock Holmes parody of the time. Even had a nice piece of yellow journalism from the papers of the time of the Ripper Murders - The Whitechapel Mystery' by Anonymous. The ...more
Lisa Ramey
Sep 18, 2012 Lisa Ramey rated it really liked it
This is an interesting anthology for anyone who likes detective stories and literary history. There is a short profile of famous authors of detective stories through the early history of this type of writing, then a selected example/story from the writer. They are all tied together well with relationships explained between the various authors and links to more recent detective stories/authors. Enjoyed it and learned a lot!
Lucas Johnson
Jan 22, 2016 Lucas Johnson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Uncommonly for collections like this, the female contributors were stellar. (To be fair, the men were well represented as well.) It should be the great hope of readers, and perhaps the salvation of the printed word, for editors to regain their wits and publish more work that is clever and humane instead of promoting weak performers who possess a bit of charisma. Read and enjoy!
Erin Stuhlsatz
Apr 10, 2012 Erin Stuhlsatz rated it it was amazing
Shelves: mystery
This was super interesting! I love short story anthologies, and I love mystery stories!

Since this anthology consists of the first few detective stories ever written (gasp!), it's really interesting to see the genre develop, through police drama (snooze), the first women detective (scandalous), to Sherlock Holmes, to parodies of Sherlock Holmes (falling on the floor laughing).
Erin
Dec 22, 2011 Erin rated it really liked it
Some of the stories were a bit hard to understand in the beginning of the book, there are some words from the early 1800s that we just don't use anymore, but I really enjoyed all of the stories, it was a good read...
Tats
Nov 26, 2014 Tats rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I love Victorian detective stories so this book is a great way of finding some authors I did not know before. Also, each author is introduced briefly before the story starts giving an interesting backdrop of the writers.
Lydia Taylor
Excellent. Very enjoyable, particularly with the short introductions to each author explaining a little about them and why they have been included. It introduced me to some new mystery writers that I am now really enjoying.
Katherine
Apr 17, 2012 Katherine rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2016
This obviously took me forever to read/listen to, but I've jumped around with it quite a bit. The book has some fantastic stories and gives a good overview of the history of the genre. The audio voice actor is NOT my favorite, but I survived.
Rebecca
Jan 14, 2016 Rebecca rated it liked it
I enjoyed I'd say about 80% of the stories within this book, however the last one was so unenjoyable that I had to give it 3 1/2 stars
Most of the stories were hard to get through at first, but became more enjoyable as it went on. All in all very interesting Victorian short stories and excerpts.
Michele
May 02, 2012 Michele rated it liked it
I wish there was a way to give a book 3.5 stars.

Every once in a while there comes a book that's tailor-made for curling up on the couch with a cup of hot tea. This is it. The stories, among them some fabulous rare gems of the genre, are great.
Margaret
Jun 15, 2016 Margaret rated it it was amazing
Shelves: victorians
It's always fun to visit the Victorians and to find authors I've not read before. The Bret Harte parody of Sherlock Holmes is worth the price of the book, but it's not the only gem.
Deanne
Mar 25, 2015 Deanne rated it really liked it
Stories written in the Victorian era, set in the UK, USA and Australia. There are private detectives, police procedurals and a mix of murder, robbery and damsels in distress.
Katharine Holden
Feb 12, 2013 Katharine Holden rated it really liked it
Fun. Good reading on a cold winter's night.
Jessica
Aug 13, 2012 Jessica rated it liked it
A really cool insight into the history and development of the detective stories we know and watch today. Loved the history, but the language made it a slow read.
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2017 Reading Chal...: 'The Dead Witness' by Michael Sims 1 10 Feb 01, 2015 10:06AM  
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Michael Sims is the author of the acclaimed "The Story of Charlotte's Web, Apollo's Fire: A Day on Earth in Nature and Imagination," "Adam's Navel: A Natural and Cultural History of the Human Form," and editor of "Dracula's Guest: A Connoisseur's Collection of Victorian Vampire Stories" and "The Dead Witness: A Connoisseur's Collection of Victorian Detective Stories." He lives in western Pennsylva ...more
More about Michael Sims...

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