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The first novel to portray a woman detective returns to print

The Female Detective

A British Library Crime Classic

by Andrew Forrester

Poisoned Pen Press

Mystery & Thrillers

Pub Date 02 Aug 2016


The Female Detective stands out because it is literally the first novel published that features a woman who is a professional detective, as opposed to an amateur. Her identity is obscured, as are the reasons she chose her profession. All readers are given is one of her aliases, Miss Gladden or “G”. Despite being written by a man, The Female Detective challenges the preconceived notion that a woman’s inherent sensitivity prevents her from comprehending the nature of criminals or applying justice. Instead, Forrester shows that women are capable of going where men are not and acquiring information which would otherwise go undiscovered. While the police only see what is right in view, “G” perceives the complexity of situations.

The Female Detective is not a novel per se, rather it is a casebook, a collection of reminiscences which not only showcase “G” observational skills, but also her ability to blend in, applying deception where necessary. “G” is eminently capable, but not without sentiment, particularly when justice and law do not mesh.

Various things contribute to the value of The Female Detective - the time it was written, its portrayal of the first female “professional” detective, and its challenging of the preconceived roles of women. While it might not have the excitement or panache of some modern works, The Female Detective is a forgotten gem that is definitely worth reading.


I received a copy of The Female Detective from the publisher and in exchange for an honest review.



The Female Detective is the first novel in British fiction to feature a professional female detective. Written by Andrew Forrester, it was originally published in 1864. The protagonist is Miss Gladden, or 'G' as she is also known - the precursor to Miss Marple, Mma Ramotswe and Lisbeth Salander. Miss Gladden's deductive methods and energetic approach anticipate those of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, and she can be seen as beginning a powerful tradition of female detectives in these seven short stories. 'G' uses similar methods to her male counterparts – she enters scenes of crime incognito, tracking down killers while trying to conceal her own tracks and her identity from others. 'G', the first female detective, does much physical detective work, examining crime scenes, looking for clues and employing all manner of skill, subterfuge, observation and charm solve crimes. Like Holmes, 'G' regards the regular constabulary with disdain. For all the intrigue and interest of the stories, little is ever revealed about 'G' herself, and her personal circumstances remain a mystery throughout. But it is her ability to apply her considerable energy and intelligence to solve crimes that is her greatest appeal, and the reappearance of the original lady detective will be welcomed by fans of crime fiction.

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