Madeline's Reviews > Great Short Stories Of Detection, Mystery And Horror

Great Short Stories Of Detection, Mystery And Horror by Dorothy L. Sayers
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Jul 10, 12

bookshelves: detective-fiction
Read in July, 2012

"But the detective story proper and the pure tales of horror are very ancient in origin. All native folk-lore has its ghost tales, while the first four detective-stories in this book hail respectively from the Jewish Apocrypha, Herodotus, and the Aeneid. But, whereas the tale of horror has flourished in practically every age and country, the detective-story has had a spasmodic history, appearing here and there in faint, tentative sketches and episodes, until it suddenly burst into magnificent flower in the middle of the last century."

I love Dorothy Sayers, and I love detective stories. So when I found this (just volume one, unfortunately) in a bookshop a few months ago and learned that Dorothy Sayers once put together an anthology of significant detective stories, I was mildly ecstatic and purchased it immediately. (on that note, if you ever find yourself in Mobile, Alabama, I highly recommend stopping at Bienville Books, because it is lovely and you should support independent bookstores in any case)

The stories included in this volume are all pretty good (okay, some are boring and not terribly suspenseful, but not many) and are by a wide variety of mystery writers. Like Sayers writes in the introduction, the first few stories are from ancient times, and then she skips ahead to the 1800s, and ends by including stories written as late as 1925. The authors are varied, and the ones I recognized were Arthur Conan Doyle, Edgar Allen Poe, Baroness Orczy, GK Chesterton, and Aldous Huxley. It's a good collection, but that's not what I'm here to talk about. I'm here to talk about how thoroughly and severely I geeked out at every word of Sayers' introduction to the collection. Because oh my god, you guys, I would give my left foot to travel back in time and take a detective story class taught by Dorothy Sayers.

She divides modern detective stories into groups: stories of sensation, stories of pure analysis, stories that are a mixture of the two (for the curious, she puts Conan Doyle's "The Adventure of the Priory School" in this category). And then she classifies the detectives themselves: the journalism detective, the police detective, the scientific and medical detective, specialists, the intuitive detective, and the comic detective. If you aren't understanding why this book would be fascinating, then it's not going to be your cup of tea.

The best part of the introduction (or one of them) was when Sayers is discussing female detectives. Miss Marple and Nancy Drew didn't exist when this book was published, so when Sayers writes, "But the really brilliant woman detective has yet to be created," you wonder what she would have thought of Miss Marple. Her future opinions of Nancy Drew, however, become pretty clear in this paragraph discussing why female detectives have been less successful so far:

"In order to justify their choice of sex, they are obliged to be so irritatingly intuitive as to destroy that quiet enjoyment of the logical which we look for in our detective reading. Or else they are active and courageous, and insist on walking into physical danger and hampering the men engaged on the job. Marriage, also, looms too large in their view of life; which is not surprising, for they are all young and beautiful. Why these charming creatures should be able to tackle abstruse problems at the age of twenty-one or thereabouts, while the male detectives are usually content to wait till their thirties or forties before setting up as experts, it is hard to say. Where do they pick up their worldly knowledge? Not from personal experience, for they are always immaculate as the driven snow. Presumably it is all intuition."

Have I mentioned how much I love Dorothy Sayers? Because seriously, that woman was awesome.
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