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Pistols and Petticoats: 175 Years of Lady Detectives in Fact and Fiction

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A lively exploration of the struggles faced by women in law enforcement and mystery fiction for the past 175 years

In 1910, Alice Wells took the oath to join the all-male Los Angeles Police Department. She wore no uniform, carried no weapon, and kept her badge stuffed in her pocketbook. She wasn’t the first or only policewoman, but she became the movement’s most visible voice.

Police work from its very beginning was considered a male domain, far too dangerous and rough for a respectable woman to even contemplate doing, much less take on as a profession. A policewoman worked outside the home, walking dangerous city streets late at night to confront burglars, drunks, scam artists, and prostitutes. To solve crimes, she observed, collected evidence, and used reason and logic—traits typically associated with men. And most controversially of all, she had a purpose separate from her husband, children, and home. Women who donned the badge faced harassment and discrimination. It would take more than seventy years for women to enter the force as full-fledged officers.

Yet within the covers of popular fiction, women not only wrote mysteries but also created female characters that handily solved crimes. Smart, independent, and courageous, these nineteenth- and early twentieth-century female sleuths (including a healthy number created by male writers) set the stage for Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple, Sara Paretsky’s V. I. Warshawski, Patricia Cornwell’s Kay Scarpetta, and Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone, as well as TV detectives such as Prime Suspect ’s Jane Tennison and Law and Order ’s Olivia Benson. The authors were not amateurs dabbling in detection but professional writers who helped define the genre and competed with men, often to greater success.

Pistols and Petticoats tells the story of women’s very early place in crime fiction and their public crusade to transform policing. Whether real or fictional, investigating women were nearly always at odds with society. Most women refused to let that stop them, paving the way to a modern professional life for women on the force and in popular culture.

238 pages, Hardcover

First published April 26, 2016

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About the author

Erika Janik

9 books30 followers
Erika Janik is a freelance writer and a radio producer at Wisconsin Public Radio. She is the author of Apple: A Global History, Madison: A History of a Model City, A Short History of Wisconsin, and Odd Wisconsin: Amusing, Perplexing and Unlikely Stories from Wisconsin’s Past.

Interested in nearly everything, Erika writes on local food and drink, Wisconsin history, medical history, and green living, among other things. Her work has appeared on Smithsonian.com, Mental Floss, Midwest Living, Isthmus, the Wisconsin Magazine of History, the Wisconsin State Journal, The Onion, MyMidwest, Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine, and in the book Renewing the Countryside: Wisconsin (University of Wisconsin Press, 2007). Her essays have also been featured on Wisconsin Public Radio’s “Wisconsin Life.”

Originally from Redmond, Washington, Erika now knows more about Wisconsin history than she ever thought possible. She has a BA in history from Linfield College (2002), an MA in American history from the University of Wisconsin-Madison (2004), and an MA in journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Madison (2006).

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Displaying 1 - 25 of 25 reviews
Profile Image for Julie .
4,027 reviews58.9k followers
January 27, 2016
Pistols and Petticoats: 175 Years of Lady Detectives in Fact and Fiction by Ericka Janik is a 2016 Beacon Press publication. I was provided a copy of this book by the publisher and Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

The title of this book grabbed my attention and I simply couldn’t pass it up. With only 248 pages, you know this book is a quick overview, but it has enough information to peak your interest, hold it, and will have you looking up old movie clips, and female detectives in literature, especially those from the golden age of detection.

The book also explores the expectations of women in various time periods and what roles real life female detectives or policewomen played, what their jobs detailed and the challenges they faced.

The true stories were a nice touch and I gained a new found respect for these trailblazing women who dared to defy convention and bravely trespass into a male dominated profession, opening doors for careers in law enforcement for women of future generations. But, even in current times, it takes real grit and determination to make it in law enforcement if you are a woman.

But, it was the female sleuths in literature that was the focus and was so much fun to read about. Keep in mind that there are female authors, like Ngaio Marsh, who were fine mystery writers, but were not featured in this book, because the main goal is to call attention to female crime solvers in fiction, not just on women authors.

Naturally, way back in the 1800’s, women didn’t have careers at all, so they were amateur sleuths. For the first portion of the book one author seemed to stick out above all others: Anna Katharine Green.

Ms. Green wrote stories featuring a senior sleuth before Miss Marple was ever thought of, as well as a young adult mystery solver, who predated Nancy Drew. Ms. Green was a favorite of Agatha Christie, who was most certainly influenced by her.

I will admit I was not familiar with Anna Katharine Green, and out of curiosity, I looked her up on Amazon and was pleased to see some of her books are available in the Kindle store, and many are free reads.

Moving on into the future, we meet Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers, two women who wrote mysteries who featured male and female sleuths. One of the main problems these, and other authors encountered was that these characters would have to stay at an older age or a younger age, because a married lady would have given up any career as a detective in order to be a wife and mother. Sayers managed to sidestep this quite cleverly.

Still, this problem prevailed well into the hard-boiled detective age, but there were a few notable exceptions, such as the Glenda Farrell’s Torchy Blane B movies of the thirties and forties, and Honey West, who was certainly ahead of her time.

While the thirties and forties seemed to belong to the macho hard-boiled pulps, the ladies and their characters often had the last laugh.

One of the most intriguing facts explored was the London Detection Club and the odd rituals and rules they adhered to.. Or not. The club is still around today.

As we moved into the sixties and seventies, the roles of women continued to evolve and more women were featured as crime solvers without the aid of men, in movies, television and in novels. With these changes we were introduced to V.I. Warshawski, Kinsey Millhone, two notable characters who narrated the story from the female PI point of view, creating characters who are smart, savvy, street smart, and a little sassy or sarcastic at times, but also quite human and very likeable.

Later forensic detectives like Kay Scarpetta and Temperance Brennan hit the scene as well as several other top notch crime series by Marcia Muller, Amanda Cross and Elizabeth Peters.

Today we barely blink an eye at female detectives in any media format. These ladies marry, have children, and work in demanding careers, as reporters, forensic anthropologist, detectives, and policewomen. The amateur sleuth is still alive and well and thriving, but they are not doing so because they are shut out of law enforcement.

I really enjoyed this retrospective on women sleuths and how they have come into their own over the years and what role they have played in representing women in mostly positive ways and opened doors for women in real life while creating some of our favorite mystery novels and characters.

While women still have many battles to fight, they are slowly making progress, showing their mettle, proving they are capable and making their mark in law enforcement in reality, and not just within the pages of fiction, as well as ground- breaking roles on television and in film.

I have a few new books to read now, and enjoyed looking up YouTube videos featuring Torchy Blane and Honey West.

I enjoyed this short, but absorbing retrospective on the history of female detection. This book is meant to be a quick and enjoyable read, and should be viewed in that manner. The author did research and her notes are listed at the back of the book. However, this is not an in depth historical undertaking, although I did wish the author had taken more time in certain areas. There was a lot time spent in the distant past, but other periods of time were rushed through.

I think this book could whet the reader’s appetite for more information or further reading, and could spark a renewed interest in the golden age of detection. It’s often a good idea to revisit the past in order to appreciate the things we enjoy, and often take for granted today.

Thanks to Anna Katharine Green, Agatha Christie and many others, we have the pleasure of knowing Rizzoli and Isles, Temperance Brennan, Kinsey Millhone, or the female characters on television like Olivia Benson or Stephanie March, just to name a few. There are many popular female sleuths out there now with faithful followings, both professional and amateur., and we have these trailblazers from the past to thank for that.

So, if you love female authors who write strong, sly, savvy, and smart female sleuths, you will want to check this one out. In the process, you will come away with a new found respect for woman in law enforcement and will be thankful for these women, and their fictional counterparts.
4 stars

Profile Image for Melora.
575 reviews141 followers
April 20, 2016
An interesting combination of subjects which works well at some points and less well at others. The subtitle, “175 Years of Lady Detectives in Fact and Fiction” is a little misleading, as Janik also devotes much attention to women's advancement in non-detective areas of police and prison work.

Janik looks at the ways that the experiences and attitudes of fictional female detectives differ from and coincide with those of their real life counterparts. She points to ways in which fiction may have helped the public become more comfortable with the idea of female law enforcement officers, but also shows that real life equality, both in number of women employed and in the sorts of roles open to them, long lagged behind that enjoyed by fictional detectives/policewomen (Janik explains her use of the term “policewomen” in an introductory note). For the most part, chapters alternate between emphasizing real women detectives/policewomen or focusing on their fictional counterparts, but many chapters also include some intertwining of these strands. This occasionally becomes confusing, but does serve to point out the ways in which fiction reflects, challenges, and, sometimes, helps shift public perception.

Women's role as nurturers, guiding young women and children who may be straying from the path of righteousness, is early on seen as an appropriate role for them in police work, but the mothering role also serves as a powerful limiting factor, as women officers, police superiors, and the general public tend to see women as incapable of jobs requiring more forceful attitudes, and also to see more aggressive roles as inappropriate for women. This emphasis on limiting women to more traditional roles shifts with historical circumstances, and we see a gradual change in societal attitudes so that by the 1970's and 80's women are likely to be seen as equally competent as male police/detectives.

I had expected to find the fictional detectives most interesting, but actually these sections tended to feel like information dumps, with too many authors and fictional characters included, none of them in enough depth to lend much in the way of insight. It felt as though Janik was afraid to leave out any authors or characters who might relate to a particular aspect of her book. The historical police women tended to be presented with a little more detail, though here too there was an issue of too many examples described in too little depth.

Here's a quick survey of the chapters...

Ch. 1 opens with Alice Clement, a detective sergeant of the Chicago Police Department, making a dramatic arrest in 1922. We soon see, however, that her high profile career is the exception, not the rule. The rest of the chapter focuses primarily on early fictional women detectives, beginning with Loveday Brooke, created by Catherine Louisa Pirkis in 1893, an upper class private detective, and also looking back at the gothic novels of Ann Radcliffe (1790's), the sensation novels of Mary Elizabeth Braddon, including Lady Audley's Secret (1862) and Aurora Floyd, Wilkie Collins's The Moonstone, etc.

Ch. 2 We meet Kate Warne, a detective employed by Allan Pinkerton in 1856. As Pinkerton wrote as well as solved mysteries, this segues nicely into a study of the detective stories of Poe and Catherine Crowe, Anna Katherine Green, etc.

Ch. 3 looks at women working as prison matrons in the mid to late 1800's and early 1900's, whose job descriptions were rather fluid.

Ch. 4 surveys spinster sleuths in fiction.

Ch. 5 introduces us to “the first policewomen,” beginning in 1910 with Alice Stebbins Wells, hired by the Los Angeles Police Dept to work primarily with women and children. Unarmed, she was typical for her time in preferring her duties to be limited to “feminine roles” such as investigating fortune tellers, abortionists, and houses of ill repute.

Ch. 6 returns to fictional characters, this time focusing on “girl detectives,” including the daring and adventurous Violet Strange (1915), Dorothy Sayers's independent Harriet Vane (1923), and Nancy Drew (1930).

Ch. 7, titled “Breaking Through the Ranks” continues with stories of real women struggling for acceptance as police officers.

Ch. 8, “Hard-boiled Heroes” looks at tough, “loner,” fictional women detectives from the 1930's to today, including television characters.

Ch. 9 begins to wrap things up, looking at the shift “From Mothers to Crime Fighters.” Janik examines the changing roles of police women, from guiding and protecting vulnerable women and children to investigating crimes and fighting armed criminals alongside male officers. Despite the progress, she shows that they are still facing challenges to professional advancement due to administrative and, generally, societal qualms about their capabilities.

Ch. 10 again combines fictional and real women police officers/detectives. Janik looks at how they are being presented in current television and books, and at what their status and opportunities appear to be like in America today.

This was a quick read, and fairly enjoyable. As I said earlier, I felt like there was something of the “everything but the kitchen sink” aspect to it – in some sections there were too many particulars thrown in without a sufficiently clear point being made – but for the most part it was fun. 3 ½ stars.

I received this book from LibraryThing through their Early Reviewers program with the understanding that the content of my review would not affect my likelihood of receiving books through the program in the future. Many thanks to Beacon Press and LibraryThing! 
Profile Image for Katherine.
21 reviews9 followers
January 14, 2018
Great topic, but disappointingly executed. Material is poorly synthesised, with the author distracted by irrelevant details. It's a shame - but this really needs a revision as it just doesn't come together. A DNF for me.
Profile Image for Benjamin Thomas.
1,953 reviews272 followers
March 4, 2016
This book offers a unique perspective on the history of women in law enforcement, examining the subject from both a factual and fictional point of view. The two are inevitably tied together but the author does a good job of demonstrating how fictional female detectives and policewomen reflect the times they live in.

The book is broken into chapters by specific subject areas such as “The First Police Woman”, “Spinster Sleuth”, “Girl Detectives” and “Hard Boiled Heroes” but it also leads us through time, taking us from the mid 1800’s all the way up to the present day. Early chapters focus on how conditions were changing for women. “The formative years of detective writing coincided with the development of the women’s suffrage movement and women’s advancement into public life.” Several chapters provide thorough background material beyond policing duties, including one chapter devoted to what life was like behind bars for female criminals.

Being a fan of detective and mystery stories I was especially drawn to the summaries of many of the important milestone works involving female sleuths, and wish more time had been spent on these parts. I much preferred those sections to the actual history lessons which tended to read a little too “textbook” to me. I enjoyed reading about how today’s well-known fictional stars like Kinsey Millhone, V.I. Warshawski, Kay Scarpetta, Mary Russell, and Temperance Brennan, etc. grew from roots put down by characters nearly unheard of today such as Eleanor Vane, Amelia Butterworth, and Maud Silver. But readers need to beware that a couple of the examples provided in the text include spoilers on whodunit. It is necessary, however, to drive home the point the author is making at the time.

After completing the book I now have a much better appreciation for the challenges that women have had to overcome to gain entrance into the mostly male fraternity of police work. Despite the prevalence of TV shows and modern fiction featuring lady detectives, our society still has a long way to go before true equality is achieved.
Profile Image for Jennifer.
471 reviews9 followers
March 20, 2016
I was immediately captivated by the title of this book. It just seemed to roll off the tongue in such an intriguing way. Then I saw the subtitle, “175 Years of Lady Detectives in Fact and Fiction”, I knew I had to read this one. I was not disappointed. The author took me on a fascinating jaunt through a segment of women’s history I’d never considered before. This book highlights the struggles that women faced just to become police officers and how our society’s way of thinking also had to change in order for women to be included in the process of solving crime. The author points out the role that fictional female detectives played in spurring on some of these changes. In rounding up her account, the author points out the current state of women in policing. There is still a ways to go in fighting for equality between the sexes in policing.

As you can tell, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The author’s combinations of detection and history hit my sweet spot perfectly. One of my hopes is that my readers will broaden their reading horizons beyond just fiction and this book would be a great place to start.

Alinefromabook’s recommendation: TWO THUMBS-UP! For a well-researched piece of non-fiction that reads as easily as fiction.
Profile Image for J Earl.
1,934 reviews76 followers
March 2, 2018
Pistols and Petticoats from Erika Janik is an interesting overview of women in sleuthing, so to speak, in both fact and fiction. This includes police, private detectives and even the popular unofficial detectives who seem to always stumble into murder mysteries.

This is not meant to be an exhaustive detailed history, not sure one could be done in a single volume. This is meant more as a thematically structured look at the history of women in both real life and fiction who solve crimes. While the thematic structure seems to have thrown some, it makes perfect sense when showing how there was a play between what was transpiring in real life and in fiction.

If you're looking for a detailed account of each person, writer, or character not only will you be disappointed in this volume but you will never find that information in a single volume, sorry. If all you want is "facts" isolated from sociological context, you may be disappointed also. But if you want a nice overview of the topic and a perspective from which to understand the changing nature of both fictional "lady detectives" and real life women in law enforcement, you will likely find much to interest you. Because the net is cast so wide you may well find some people or characters you'd like to learn more about. Nothing is stopping you from doing so and this book can easily serve as a springboard into such interesting topics rather than expecting this to be some kind of all-inclusive tome which would have to extend to the thousands of pages to do so. In other words, I recommend this to those who want to perhaps pick up some perspective, learn some new names to explore, and aren't expecting the impossible from a book of about 250 pages.

Reviewed from a copy made available by the publisher via Edelweiss.
Profile Image for Melisende.
1,023 reviews114 followers
November 12, 2017
In effect, a timeline of the female sleuth / detective from the 1850s to the 1980s.

Interspersed with the stories of the real female detectives, is a narrative on the development of the fictions counterpart which came about through readers' enjoyment (for want of a better word) of true crime and sensationalist fiction, especially in the USA.

I guess this is what interested me the most - the development of the fictional female detective, and the first true detective story written by Melba Fuller Victor in 1864; the first "the butler did it" scenario of 1878 written by Anna Green (the mother of detective fiction), and her consequent introduction of the "spinster sleuth" - Amelia Butterworth - in the 1890s.

We are also treated to a few female firsts: Kate Warne (Pinkertons Detective Agency, 1850s); Alice Stebbins Wells (first policewoman in LAPD, 1910) followed by Georgina Robinson (first black policewoman in LAPD, 1916) then Mary Sullivan (first Hispanic, homicide detective 1917).

This is a fascinating look at the evolution of women's roles in law enforcement, and in the detective novel, which reflected the growing participation of women in this field.
Profile Image for Andrea Stoeckel.
2,608 reviews105 followers
May 8, 2017
[I received this trade paperback book from the publisher and voluntarily reviewed it]

" In 1952, Lilian Wyles,one of the first sergeants of the London Metropolitan Police Force wrote:' Prejudice dies hard in police circles: it has been dying these thirty years and is not quite dead today'. Wylie foresaw a day when the 'convulsive shudder' of opposition to police women would be dead and buried. More than half a century later, that day still has not come."

This book traces the history of women authors in crime fiction. It also follows the history of women in police departments. There is a major correlation in how women are seen both in reality and in fiction. Non-fiction that reads as it's own trophe,Erika Janik has written a thesis-worthy tome that should be on the shelf of every mystery writer and feminist historian in the country. Her premise of knowing the history of the genre should change authors and publishers alike. Highly recommended.

Profile Image for SB Senpai  Manga.
1,242 reviews
January 1, 2018
The first book of 2018, and it was not the best way to start out. It's not awful, but it definitely could've been better. A history of both fictional and true life examples women detectives. Sounds like a good read, but it was much drier than than it should've been. And despite the size, it goes much slower than you think.
Profile Image for Glenna.
134 reviews
July 18, 2016
Since I was very young I have enjoyed court dramas like Matlock and detective fiction like Nancy Drew, Agatha Christie's mysteries and Sherlock Holmes. I picked up this book on a whim vaguely wondering if it would spend most of it's time taking men over the coals and screaming for women to have more place in policing and fiction crime dramas. But Erika Janik had better things to do. She outlines some histories of detectives in general, how fiction shaped reality and vice verse. She also highlighted the importance of women in crime fiction from that starting point. While Janik's transitions between fact and fiction or even periods in history are a little choppy, I was interested in what she had to say. Achievements of women are given the prominence they deserve and, while she does highlight the difficulties of women finding equal place in a male dominated field, she does not spend her time railing at the system. In the chapter talking about fiction I found many titles I want to pick up by authors old and new. Janik shows a progression in these chapters from spinsters or widows taking on detecting to support themselves and any children to women of all marital statuses doing a job they love because it is what they want to do. Janik is supportive in tone toward the women who made a difference to detecting and of the men who believed in them and allowed them their place. History and fiction aspects were both fascinating and I found myself encouraged by the place women now hold in real-life policing, though there is still a way to go before total equality.
Profile Image for Jessi.
4,942 reviews18 followers
March 28, 2016
This is an interesting history but very broad and very shallow. I do enjoy histories like that but there was a lot of sacrificing of a deeper story in order to fit in more information. I really wish this had been two volumes of a hundred or so years each. More details would have made this book more compelling. Instead, it's just story, story, story with no deeper information. But a good book for that all the same.
Women have been detectives in fiction longer than they have IRL. In both streams, it took a long time for them to be more mainstream.
I do wish this had been more chronological as well. It jumped around a bit in time which got a bit confusing. The author marched through the fictional detectives up through the 1950s then jumped back to the nonfictional 1910s. With some fictional touches.
2,267 reviews131 followers
March 5, 2017
Very sprightly overview of the genre, interspersed with chapters about real historical policewomen/detectives, and a very interesting bit on the long, hard slog it took to get female matrons and officers into womens' prisons. There was actually a proposal in New York at some point to just send female criminals directly into brothels rather than house them in prison or attempt any kind of rehabilitation--once they're fallen, y'know. *facepalm* I was delighted to see the mention of my beloved Phryne Fisher, as well as graceful nods to female TV detectives like Olivia Benson and Jane Tennison. I could wish for a mention of Deanna Raybourn's clever Lady Julia, but then, Lady Julia isn't officially a private detective, she just tends to shoehorn her way into her husband's cases.
Profile Image for Sue.
85 reviews
November 18, 2016
There are some excellent reviews here which reflect my own views, so I won't repeat those points here.

At first, I thought it would have been better as two books, but nearer the end, I appreciated the compare and contrast of reality vs fiction. For me, not a quick read and somewhat dry in parts. However, I think it would make a good textbook in criminal justice and/or women's studies courses.

Do not miss: the story of Francis Glessner Lee (Chapter 9) and her dioramas!See the excellent documentary "Of Dolls and Murder."
56 reviews1 follower
May 1, 2016
A smart and engaging look at the evolution of women in the field of law enforcement - both fact and fiction - since policing began to take shape in the nineteenth century. We see the precursors for Miss Marple all the way up to Kinsey Millhone, and how fiction and reality informed each other. Really lovely book; glad I read it.

Full Disclosure: I received my copy of the book through Librarything's Early Reviewer program.
2,716 reviews31 followers
May 15, 2016
I won this book on Goodreads. This is a very well researched book on how women became police officers and detectives in real life and how fiction envolved from no female officers, to only single women to what we have currently. Interesting facts on how women first joined the police forces.
Profile Image for Amy  Eller Lewis.
140 reviews10 followers
May 25, 2016
I liked this book, which is full of things I didn't know about the history of women and detection. I would have liked it better had she drawn more conclusions, or had a stronger point of view, or a stronger voice. But it worked well for the research I was doing.
Profile Image for M.E. Logan.
Author 5 books19 followers
June 25, 2016
Wonderful, informative book whether you're interested in real women in law enforcement or a reader of mysteries.
Profile Image for Virginia Johnson.
121 reviews2 followers
November 7, 2016
Excellent source for historical facts on women police officers in reality, and detectives in fiction!
Profile Image for Jan P.
580 reviews1 follower
March 28, 2017
Erika Janik wrote a primer of women in law enforcement to include fictional figures as well as real-life women. By law enforcement, I mean private detectives and police as well as those who wrote about them. What I enjoyed most, being a mystery buff, was learning about all the female authors as early as the 1800's who were writing these wonderful tales. While I had read several of them, I look forward to the other ones. A large part of the book is taken up with the real-life woman in law enforcement, with most of the focus being in the U.S. I applaud Janik's aim in writing this book but it falls short as she tries to cover too much material in this brief book. I also found a lot of redundancy as she retells various stories in order to convey another point further on in the book. However, the book was interesting and I was surprised to learn that as early as 1913 the U.S. had 38 policewomen, though their actual roles spanned a variety of duties, some of them pretty mundane. What was disheartening was to learn that even though women have proven themselves equal to men in this field, perceptions and employment numbers do not reflect that.
Profile Image for Emily.
122 reviews38 followers
April 19, 2017
I received this book from Beacon Press via the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program, but all opinions are my own.

The book begins with the development of police forces as a whole--it shows how developing a formal force was seen as a way to civilize and modernize a city. You then see how women were included first as prison matrons and then as "good influences" in the prostitution and runaway children units. Policewomen weren't so much meant to solve crimes as deter them. They gradually (very gradually) worked their way up the ranks of police departments to become detectives.

In contrast, the book shows that fictional female detectives seemed to do very well from the start. We once again see the development of detective fiction--C. Auguste Dupin and Sherlock Holmes are highlighted. Then we see how female detectives emerged in fiction--first wealthy women with families and traditional values doing detection as a lark. We then progress through hardened single women detectives (basically taking the characteristics of popular male detectives and adding a skirt) and now the trope of the single woman detective with an active sex life and tons of friends.

I found the scope of the topic chosen to be too broad for 238-page book (with the last 40 pages being notes). At the same time, I almost felt there was too much information--too many names and dates and not much of a story to connect everything. I wished Janik had stuck to one of the topics: history of female detectives or female detectives in mysteries. I mean comparing fiction to real life just made you feel depressed that progress for real female detectives has been so slow.

I also feel like I didn't have enough knowledge starting out to appreciate the book--I had read very few of the novels she mentioned. I think this book would be great for a person who really LOVES mysteries. I did find the notes section extremely interesting--some of the sources sounded like things I would like to read. I think I would enjoy a book about real-life female detectives where I got more of a connection with a few detectives rather reading short paragraphs about a bunch of them.
Profile Image for Blythe.
69 reviews7 followers
April 7, 2017
I'd always thought that female detectives were relatively recent: that women only really became involved in the police force around the 1970s; that they had a longer history as private detectives, but probably not by much; and that women detectives in fiction pretty much began with Nancy Drew. To say I learned a lot from this book is an understatement: I had no idea the history was so long and complex, or just how much the field had evolved on and off the page.

"Pistols and Petticoats" isn't going to be the most gripping read of all time. One of Janik's weaknesses as a writer is that sometimes it can take her a while to come to her point: early in the book, I was confused by all the material about prison matrons she was providing, and it took a while before it became clear that this really did tie into the history of women detectives and wasn't just a long tangent. And the book does become repetitive at times. But on the whole, not only is it solidly researched, but that research is presented in a pretty approachable and engaging way. If you're interested in the subject, this is worth taking a look at. Fair warning, though, your to-read pile will gain quite a few new entries--almost every chapter presented at least one new book I just had to read. I'm going to be busy for a while....

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program. An honest review was requested in exchange, but not required.
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