Sunday, 29 May 2011

That Affair Next Door

The first American author, male or female, to write a full-length novel of detection was a Victorian-era woman, Metta Fuller Victor. Another nineteenth-century woman author, Anna Katherine Green, invented the amateur spinster sleuth, whose progeny are legion, ranging from Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple to a gaggle of contemporary cozy heroines on both sides of the Atlantic. Green achieved any number of detective fiction firsts, including the first use of an icicle as murder weapon.
These books won’t break out on any best-seller lists, but they are valuable for illuminating the development of the crime novel, the constrictions of the Victorian age that planted the seeds of feminism, and for showing the centrality of women in popular fiction. They are also pretty fun to read, sort of like cruising through hoary melodramas or dime novels. Green’s spinster sleuth, Amelia Butterworth, investigates the murder of a young woman in the house next door and the mystery of a haunted mansion. Butterworth is an old snoop but a crafty one. Readers will cringe at the condescension of Ebenezer Gryce, the first police detective to sneer at a woman detective.
Returning from a trip abroad, the Van Burnam family enters their New York mansion to find a dead woman on the dining room floor. A curio cabinet has fallen on top of her, crushing her face, and law officers suspect that the victim is the wife of one of the Van Burnam sons. However, the son insists that he does not recognize the victim. How did this woman get into this locked house? Whose are those strange garments she is wearing? What is her hat doing in the closet and a strange, gaudy hat crushed underneath her? Why did the coroner insist that the woman was dead when the curio fell?

The story itself was another fascinating study in human motivations intertwined with bits and pieces of circumstantial evidence that at first make very little sense. True to Green’s style, she calls up and explains each motivation, each piece of evidence with mathematical precision until the mystery unravels, and the perpetrator is punished in a most fitting fashion.

In That Affair Next Door, Mr. Gryce owes much of his success to the main witness, a woman named Miss Amelia Butterworth, who lives next door to the crime scene.
As we might expect, Miss Butterworth enjoys looking out her windows. One night around midnight she sees a man and woman enter the Van Burnam mansion, which is supposed to be empty. The man leaves soon after, but the woman does not. On the following day, Miss Butterworth persuades a policeman to enter the quiet house to see if anything’s amiss. They find the body of a woman crushed to death under a cabinet in the parlor.

This is just the beginning of a complex investigation full of wrong turns and faulty conclusions. The clues are particularly delightful - a pincushion out of place, lost keys, lost rings, too many women’s hats etc. Early on, Miss Butterworth feels that her worth has not been appreciated by the police. So she undertakes her own investigation - and has the time of her life doing it.

Despite a few erroneous notions, Miss Butterworth emerges as a truly amazing detective - and wins Gryce’s admiration. She’s charmer, a crusty old maid with a well-concealed soft heart - and quite a slippery interrogator. Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple was inspired by the delightful Miss Butterworth.
So move over, Miss Marple! The original spinster sleuth is back, confronting ghostly coaches, nosing into family skullduggery, and tripping over occasional corpses. Three cheers for Amelia Butterworth and her creator Anna Katharine Green.

Genre : Classic, Mystery

Rate : 5/5 (Amazing)


  1. This is interesting. I find origins of writing genres fascinating. I'll have to look this book up.Found you on network your blog.

  2. You have peaked my interest and I went and purchased the collection. I found her on first, but your Amazon link is an all-in-one collection which is far more convenient and definitely worth the nominal price. I found you on Book Blogs as well and have added your site to my blog roll. You can find me at and



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