Baroness Emmuska Orczy is best known for her novel The Scarlet Pimpernel (I had fun reading it several years back) as well as a number of sequels which followed (which I haven't read, but may someday). But did you know she also wrote mysteries? She even created more than one sleuth, though I think she only wrote short stories and not full length novels (I could be wrong on this count). Lady Molly of Scotland Yard is an interesting creation. How could I pass up the story, "The Fordwych Castle Mystery" when I read this description?
"Lady Molly is one of the great female rivals of Sherlock Holmes, a formidable figure who never fails her reader."
"The ornate descriptions and perfumed Victorian sentiment are a reminder of popular Romantic literature, while the feminist spirit of the Lady herself looks across generations."
The story concerns the death of a servant freshly arrived from India with her young mistress who has come to England to be with her sister and aunt. There are hints of a sibling rivalry, one being dark and swarthy and the other a pale English rose, one slight and petite and the other athletic and indifferent. One sister is set to inherit the family title and property while the other lays claim to it. Red herrings abound. It's all set in a country house where the mischief has caused gossip and innuendo amongst the villagers.
An inquest is held, statements are given, questions asked. The verdict returned by the jury is "wilful murder against some person or persons unknown." But for all that Scotland Yard is unable to crack the case and catch the murderer, so Lady Molly is called in. Much like Sherlock Holmes its through deductive reasoning that she points her finger in the right direction. The "clues" such as they are, are all there though there isn't really anything in the way of actual sleuthing as the reader of the classic detective story knows it.
"Surely the Fordwych Castle Mystery, as it was universally called, was a case which more than any other required feminine tact, intuition, and all those qualities of which my dear lady possessed more than her usual share."
"With the exception of Mr. McKinley, the lawyer, and young Jack d'Alboukirk, there were only women connected with the case."
But just who is Lady Molly, is what I want to know, and how exactly did she do it--find the killer? Halfway through the story it dawned on me I had missed reference to the narrator. So, not just who is Lady Molly, but who is telling the story. Lady Molly's trusty sidekick is, Mary. There is a bit of the divide and conquer between the two women and the suspects. There is a lot of setting the scene and explaining the lineage of the Duplessis family. Some confusion from Lady Molly's male colleagues but then she swoops in and saves the day. And the killer might just be someone you don't expect.
The story is part of the collection by Baroness Orczy called Lady Molly of Scotland Yard: The Complete Collection, which is hailed by the publisher as "unforgettable armchair mysteries". They reminded me a little, too, of Miss Marple who is often absent during much of the story but she always sorts it out in the end. In her case it is all down to human nature, of course. I suspect that reading more stories featuring Lady Molly must help paint a broader picture of who she is. The story was published in 1910, and I am guessing the period is meant to be roughly contemporary. It's all a bit of a tease to be honest. I enjoyed the telling, but the mystery of just who she is is almost of more interest to me than who murdered poor Roonah! I may have to 'investigate' Lady Molly further at some point.
* * * * *
This week's New Yorker story is by yet another writer who I am familiar with but have never read, Thomas McGaune. "Hubcaps" is a fairly short short story. More about this to follow . . .
* * * * *
And finally, I have a little direction of where I want to go with my short story reading for the foreseeable future, and maybe even through the rest of the year. Last week I had to stop by the university bookstore and had to take a peek at the popular reading section. It's actually fairly small but they do have a couple of bookcases with classics displayed. Fifty Great American Short Stories edited by Milton Crane caught my eye. I already own a number of anthologies like this which I have plumbed on a number of occasions, so my hopes were not high that the volume would contain much that was new to me (though I have lots left to read in what I already own). I was happily surprised to see that while the list of authors is as you would expect (with far, far too few women I might add . . . and this is common sadly in these collections) the stories are not the same ones you find in every other collection. So, more about it next weekend.
Have you read a short story lately? Nudge, nudge. You should!