Friday, February 22, 2013

Anna Katharine Green - A Strange Disappearance

While Lost Man's Lane, which I wrote about a few days ago, was a combination of Victorian gothic and "cozy" detective novel, A Strange Disappearance, published in 1880, 18 years before Lost Man's Lane, is more a combination of Victorian melodrama and soft boiled detective novel, and probably more the former than the latter, infused heavily with Victorian sensibilities and moralizing.

It begins when Mrs. Daniels, housekeeper to the politically important and wealthy Mr. Blake, goes to the police and requests that they investigate the "strange disappearance" of one of her employees, a seamstress.  She gets the attention of Mr. Gryce, who, however, is busy with other important investigations, so a younger detective, known only as "Q", and who is the narrator of this story, performs the primary investigation.

Collecting any information about the seamstress, like who she is, exactly, and why she might be kidnapped - and by whom, proves to be a difficult undertaking.  Mrs. Daniels is strangely mum about all this even as she is frantic to have the girl found.  Meanwhile, Mr. Blake presents as indifferent at best about his missing employee, but simultaneously is observed engaging in distinctly suspicious behavior.

"Q", with the help of the accomplished Mr. Gryce, gradually unravels the mystery.  But will they be in time to save the happy ending?  It's hard to moralize without something of a happy ending for the virtuous, self-sacrificing, self-effacing, and, of course, beautiful Victorian heroine, right?

Since I don't mind Victorian melodrama, even like it (within reason), and I also like classic detective novels, I found the novel enjoyable.

Actually, I thought the most interesting character to be the Countess De Mirac, probably because she was less cardboard than the others (and fell short of the Victorian female ideal).  Since she was a secondary character used to build up the mystery, once her part was done she faded out, which really was a shame.

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