Thursday, May 31, 2018
Lady Molly of Scotland Yard
Well, you know, some say she is the daughter of a duke, others that she was born in the gutter, and that the handle has been soldered on to her name in order to give her style and influence.
That's the first sentence in the short story "The Ninescore Mystery," which is the first of a dozen short stories written by the Baroness Orczy--author of The Scarlet Pimpernel. These stories were first published in 1910.
It's a wonderful first sentence, fun to read and immediately giving us something to latch on to about Lady Molly that easily makes us believe it completely when we are told that she immediately commands the respect of those she meets from the force of her personality and her intelligence.
Who is Lady Molly? She's the head of Scotland Yard's Female Department and she's also the chief's go-to person when the male detectives are stumped on a case.
I didn't know about Lady Molly until recently. This annoys me, because I'm supposed to be a scholar about pre-digital genre fiction. I'm supposed to know everything, darn it!
I found out about her when I was discussing the line-up of books I had selected for an "Adventure Classics of Western Literature" reading group I administer on Facebook. I mentioned that I hadn't initially thought to put The Scarlet Pimpernel on the reading list and was going to do so. She then told me about the Lady Molly stories, which I immediately downloaded onto my Kindle.
Never go anywhere without your Kindle, children. You never know when there's something you need to read that you want to acquire RIGHT NOW!
Anyway, the Lady Molly stories are very much influenced by Sherlock Holmes in their structure, with the narration provided by Molly's assistant Mary Granard. Molly, though, depends less on deduction based on clues and more on deduction based on a sharp understanding of human nature.
"The Ninescore Mystery" is a great example of this. A young lady is found dead in the small town of Ninescore. She's been dead for a couple of weeks and is badly decomposed by the time she's found. But her body is identified and an investigation is launched.
It's an investigation that goes nowhere. There's lots of clues--a missing sister; a presumed nobleman who was having an affair with the victim; a presumably illegitimate baby; and a few other items. There's a vague indication of blackmail amidst all this, but the nobleman denies any hanky panky and has a good alibi for the night of the murder.
Molly, though, believes she knows the answer and has a plan for identifying the killer with certainty. Her plan is, in fact, a double-edged sword--designed to both smoke out someone in hiding and force that person to talk.
Lady Molly is a great character--another wonderful addition to the the small but exclusive Canon of Great Detectives. But, by golly, I should have already have known about her!