In The Spotlight: Anna Katherine Green’s The Golden Slipper and Other Problems For Violet Strange

SpotlightHello, All,

Welcome to another edition of In The Spotlight. It can be both interesting and useful to take a look at early crime fiction. After all, the genre as we know it now has its roots in those early stories. So let’s turn today’s spotlight on one such example: Anna Katherine Green’s The Golden Slipper and Other Problems for Violet Strange, first published in 1915.

This is a collection of nine short stories featuring New York debutante Violet Strange. As you might expect, given the times, her father wants her to marry and settle into life as a wealthy New York aristocrat. Violet, though, has another interest. She is secretly employed as a private investigator. Her mysterious employer sends her the information needed to solve cases; Violet uses her social status, her deductive abilities and her intelligence to solve them.

In the first story, The Golden Slipper, she gets to know a high-society clique of young women calling itself ‘The Inseparables.’ When one of them has a valuable jewel stolen, Violet lays an ingenious trap to catch the thief. The Second Bullet features the tragic deaths of a young father and his daughter. His widow, who claims to have had nothing to do with the deaths, needs the money from his life insurance. It’s up to Violet to prove what really happened, so as to clear the widow’s name. In An Intangible Clue, the strange murder of a seemingly harmless old woman leads Violet to use several ‘tricks of the trade’ to get the witness statements she needs to find out who killed the victim and why. The Grotto Spectre is the story of the sad history of the Upjohn family. When the body of Roger Upjohn’s wife is discovered, he begs Violet to solve the case, so as to give him and his father some peace. Violet is hired to find a missing will in The Dreaming Lady; and in The House of Clocks, she uncovers a dark secret from the past to help free a young woman from a life of as more or less a domestic slave. The Doctor, His Wife, and the Clock is the story of the unsolved shooting murder of wealthy and influential Mr. Hasbrouk. Is blind Dr. Zabrieski, who confesses to the crime, guilty? Or is there more to this case? Missing: Page Thirteen concerns the disappearance of a crucial page in an important academic paper. And Violet’s Own is a different, more personal kind of mystery for Violet.  

One of the important elements in this collection is the portrait it gives of New York society life in the early years of World War I. Violet Strange is a ‘blueblood,’ so she mixes with the social leaders. She has a full slate of musicales, teas and other social events, more than once using them as pretexts for investigating and following leads. Think ‘Mrs. Astor’s 400,’ and you’ll have a solid idea of the lifestyle shown in many of these stories. Along with this, Green depicts the social structure of the times. There are very distinct class divisions, and those who are in the ‘service’ class know their places, if I may put it that way.

There are also distinct gender-based differences as well that are very apparent in these stories. To give just one example, The Second Bullet concerns the death of George Hammond and his child. He didn’t have very much, so when he dies, his wife is left near penniless. Without the proceeds from his life insurance policy, she’ll have no other means; in that place, at that time, this was a very precarious position for a woman. There are other examples too of the different societal expectations for men and for women, even among the wealthy.

And that’s a good part of the reason for which Violet hides her profession from her father (although her brother Arthur knows the truth). Violet isn’t expected to ‘dirty her hands’ with crime and detection. And there are plenty of people who don’t expect a woman to have the deductive skills to solve crimes. Violet’s father is doing his job as a father (given the tenor of the times) to want a good match for his daughter and see her married well.

For her part, Violet is, to an extent, a product of her times and social class. She is accustomed to wealth and status, although she’s not arrogant or supercilious. She has no burning desire to take up women’s suffrage or other feminist causes. She doesn’t really want to have her own business or try to best the men at their own game. In fact, she’s somewhat reluctant to take on the cases she’s asked to investigate.

At the same time, Violet is both intelligent and curious, with solid deduction skills. She also has pride and dignity, so there’s an element of satisfaction in solving crimes. Like all of us, she makes mistakes. But she has the makings of a fine, fine detective, and her employer knows that she can’t long resist an intriguing puzzle. She also uses quick thinking, verbal subterfuge, and even the ‘I’m just a woman’ ploy to get the answers she needs.

Violet is skilled at solving intellectual puzzles, and that’s what these stories are. Readers who like such mysteries will be pleased. There are ‘impossible’ disappearances, murders that are hard to explain, missing bullets, and more. Several of them are along the lines of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, and Violet uses similar deduction. That said though, readers who expect these to be ‘just like the Holmes stories’ will be disappointed. Violet is a very different character.

We learn the truth about each case. But that doesn’t make everything all right again. Some of these stories are very sad, and Green doesn’t try to sugarcoat what happens. That said though, there isn’t very much violence in the novels. The sadness comes from the effect on those left involved in the crimes. Violet is keenly aware of that sadness, too, and frequently shows compassion (‘though not muddle-headed sentiment) for victims and their families.

The Golden Slipper and Other Problems for Violet Strange is a look into the world of New York in the early Twentieth Century. It features a young woman who in many ways is the wealthy, privileged debutante she appears to be, but who has an intriguing secret life. The mysteries are intellectual more than psychological, and invite readers to make deductions from sometimes very odd clues. But what’s your view? Have you read The Golden Slipper and Other Problems for Violet Strange? If you have, what elements do you see in it?

Coming Up On In The Spotlight

Monday 15 June/Tuesday 16 June – The Harbour Master – Daniel Pembrey

Monday 22 June/Tuesday 23 June – Simon Said – Sarah R. Shaber

Monday 29 June/Tuesday 30 June – Call For the Dead – John le Carré


Filed under Anna Katherine Green, The Golden Slipper and Other Problems For Violet Strange

21 responses to “In The Spotlight: Anna Katherine Green’s The Golden Slipper and Other Problems For Violet Strange

  1. Thank you for spotlighting Anna Katherine Green; I knew she was a novelist but did not know about the short stories, which I will now be reading! Again, thanks!

  2. I must admit I haven’t read the Violet Strange short stories – another collection to add to my TBR pile, I fear. I have read one of Anna Katharine Green’s earlier books, The Leavenworth Case, first published in 1878, nine years before Sherlock Holmes appeared in his first story. Green is credited with creating, in a police detective named Ebenezer Gryce, with creating the first genuine series detective to appear in several of her novels. Green was very influential on many other authors – and, for that matter, on the continuing development of the detective story. I find the language rather florid, and the attitudes certainly are Victorian, but the books very much deserve to be reread and enjoyed.

    • Les – Many people aren’t aware of the impact Green had on the genre, so I’m very glad you brought that up. The attitudes and the writing style certainly do reflect the era, but the stories themselves are in many people’s estimation very well-crafted mysteries. And one can certainly see the beginnings of the genre reflected in them.

  3. This sounds very good, Margot. I will get a copy and at least try the stories.

  4. There’s a lot of semi-forgotten classic crime being released at the moment and I’ve been enjoying dipping my toe in the water. It’s very different from today’s stuff – and on the whole that’s a compliment to it! These sound interesting – perhaps after I’ve got through some of the Martin Edwards’ anthologies I seem to have acquired…

    • How did those anthologies sneak in there, FictionFan? 😉 – If we’re being honest here, the same thing somehow happens to me *sigh.* Fortunately, I have the very good excuse that Martin Edwards is not only a very skilled writer, but also a true expert on long-lost crime fiction. I have yet to be disappointed in anything he writes or edits. And you do have a point about some of these older stories. They’re not all good, of course, but lots of them are terrific, and really ought to be better known than they are in my opinion.

  5. Col

    Hmm, thanks for the spotlight, I think I’ll pass though! 🙂

  6. I’ve never read anythign by her – I think it’s THE LEAVENWORTH CASE that usually gets the mention but very glad to read about this in detail – thanks for another great bit of spotlighting Margot.

    • Glad you enjoyed this, Sergio. And you’re absolutely right about The Leavenworth Case. That one gets more attention than this collection does as a rule. Funny how that happens, even when the story or collection that gets less attention is at least as good as the one that gets more.

  7. Margot, I have not read “The Golden Slipper and Other Problems for Violet Strange” as a collection though I did read “The Doctor, His Wife, and the Clock” separately and remember liking the story and the style very much. Based on just that one story, I thought Green drew very convincing characters.

    • I think she created very convincing characters too, Prashant. And the story is well-crafted, too; I think it’s an interesting puzzle. I hope that if you read the rest of the stories in the collection, you’ll enjoy them.

  8. Wow! I want to read this. Going to see if my fella can find it on kindle. This is just my cup of tea.

  9. It’s fascinating to see writers from that era have such a big impact on today’s fiction. I had no idea short stories were around back in 1915, and thought they were more a sign of the times, present attention spans shortening due to TV and busy schedules.

    • Interesting point about short stories, Sue. I know that several short stories were first printed in magazines such as The Strand. Some novels were, too, in serial form. You’re right, too, that authors from the early days of crime fiction still have an impact today. I think that’s one reason it’s worth reading at least some of them.

  10. I was aware of this author, but hadn’t read her, and hadn’t heard of this collection – but you have definitely whetted my interest….

    • I’ll be really keen to know if you like her work, Moira. The prose is a bit florid (shouldn’t be surprising, given the era). But the mysteries are solidly done. And I think Green deserves her place as one of the founders of the genre as we know it now.

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