Created by C.L. Pirkis
“Too much of a lady, do you say?…I don’t care twopence-halfpenny whether she is or is not a lady. I only know she is the most sensible and practical woman I ever met. In the first place, she has the faculty — so rare among women — of carrying out orders to the very letter: in the second place, she has a clear, shrewd brain, unhampered by any hard-and-fast theories; thirdly, and most important item of all, she has so much common sense that it amounts to genius — positively to genius, sir.”
— Ebenezer Dyer
MISS LOVEDAY BROOKE is generally considered not just one of crime fiction’s first female detectives, but more significantly, perhaps, she may also have been the first one created by a female author. Even better, she’s no bored member of the upper classes looking for grandmaman‘s missing silverware, but a working girl, an intelligent and independent young professional in her early thirties, “invariably dressed in black and Quaker-like in her prim neatness,” according to Ellery Queen in Queen’s Quorum, who works as a bonafide professional detective, working for a bonafide detective agency.
That agency, owned and operated by Ebenezer Dyer, is the real deal, located in Lynch Court, off London’s Fleet Street, and the emphasis on professionalism is borne out right on the cover of the first edition of The Experiences of Loveday Brooke, her one and (sadly) only collection — the extremely hard-to-find 1894 volume is bound in simple reddish-brown cloth, lettered in gilt, and sports Loveday’s business card pasted right on the front cover.
Thanks to a “jerk of Fortune’s wheel,” the prim Miss Brooke (all lady detectives of her era seem to have been addressed by their marital status), a former member of “Society,” finds herself “thrown upon the world penniless and all but friendless.” Cut off from her friends in society, and with no other means of support, she turns to detective work, where her particular skill set (a “shrewd, clear mind” and a knack for disguise) comes in handy, and draws praise from her employer for her “common sense” that apparently borders on genius.
Certainly, she seems to be doing well enough at her new profession — she has her own chambers, and can afford a maid. But unlike most of her sister sleuths of the time, Loveday has become a detective simply because she wants to be one, and realizes she’s good at it–there’s no domestic or financial trauma that has forced her hand. But even more refreshing and progressive for the time, is that she seems to have had absolutely zero interest in getting married. You go, girl.
Most of the stories start with Loveday going undercover (as variously a nursery governess, a servant or a interior designer) and easily cracking the case, with the second devoted to an explanation of how she did it. They’re not exactly play fair mysteries, although her deductions are always reasonable and logical. And while the writing may lack some of the style, wit and sprightly plots of some of her contemporaries (I’m looking at you, Doyle), the stories are captivating enough, and provide an intriguing look at not just the female detective, but of the development of the private detective in general.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Catherine Louisa Pirkis (née Lyne) was a British author who wrote numerous short stories and 14 novels between 1877 and 1894, but was best known for her seven stories featuring Loveday Brooke, written under the gender-free byline of “C.L. Pirkis.” Amazingly, she didn’t even begin writing until her late thirties, when she was already a married mother of two. Unfortunately for mystery readers, after the success of her lady detective, she moved from writing fiction to working for animal charities and, with her husband, helped foundthe British National Canine Defence League in 1891.
- “…month by month Miss Loveday Brooke continues to outshine the detective Sherlock Holmes in preternatural prescience… We are just afraid Miss Brooke is too clever in catching criminals ever to catch a husband.”
— The May Magazinesî Glasgow Herald (May 11, 1893)
- “Loveday Brooke… is one of the most progressive characters to emerge from the popular literature of this time period.”
— Olivia Rutigliano (October 2020, CrimeReads)
- “The Black Bag Left on a Door-Step” (February 1883, The Ludgate Magazine)
- “The Murder at Troyte’s Hill” (March 1883, The Ludgate Magazine)
- “A Princess’s Vengeance” (May 1883, The Ludgate Magazine)
- “Drawn Daggers” (June 1883, The Ludgate Magazine)
- “The Ghost of Fountain Lane” (July 1883, The Ludgate Magazine)
- “The Redhill Sisterhood” (1883, The Ludgate Magazine)
- “Missing” (1894, The Experiences of Loveday Brooke)
- The Lady Detectives
Early Female Eyes
- Meet Catherine Louisa Pirkis, Creator Of The 19Th Century’s Most Progressive Lady Detective Character
Olivia Rutigliano reveals how much of an anomoly Loveday Brooke really was (October 2020, CrimeReads)
Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.