Thursday, September 2, 2010

The female private detective of 1921, in her own words.

From the Kansas City Star, reprinted in the Japan Advertiser, 28 Aug. 1921:


"Marvelous, Dr. Holmes. But I do not yet understand how you discovered the murderer."

"Really, Watson, at times you make me despair," the great detective replied, as she whisked on her evening gloves. "The murderer is one of my best friends. She told me everything at tea."

The detective story of the future will read like this, according to the predictions of officials of one of London's noted private detective agencies, whose success in employing women detectives has raised the following question:

Are women cleverer detectives than men?

Although almost every hero of a detective story from Sherlock Holmes to Craig Kennedy has been a man is it possible that this attribute of the man, like so many others, is to be unceremoniously snatched from him?

Girl Solves Tangles

Is the legendary Holmes, smoking his pipe in the firelight of a Baker street flat, in temper a misogynist and inexorably following out the cold, dry processes of his reasoning, to the dismay of the underworld, to be supplanted by the figure of a brisk, attractive young woman who detects a criminal as she would a bad dancer?

London, home of Sherlock Holmes, calmly faces these questions at the present moment, owing to the recent achievements of the agency which was unraveled a number of enigmas which had baffled some of the leading criminologists of Europe. A girl detective, 17 years old, has far surpassed the feats of the detective story heroes, or, for that matter, of Scotland Yard. In a recent divorce case she knew more of the complication than either respondent or co-respondent. In less than a fortnight she solved the problem of a series of thefts in a London college, which had stumped a man investigator there for months. Disguised as a student, she ferreted out the thief and the hiding place of the stolen goods. In every stage of the case she was aided by a team of women detectives.

The agency for which she works employs men, but the bulk of the work--all of it except the unpleasant task of shadowing--is performed by the girl detectives.

Intuition Helps

Miss Maud West, chief of the agency, is an advocate of the theory that women, gifted with intuition, is endowed with a finer sort of detective ability than man. Seated at her desk and adjusting a yellow chrysanthemum in a tall vase, in an office with 2-inch deep carpet, Prussian papered walls and New Art statuettes, which would conspire to disarm the too clever criminal who visited it in pursuit of Poe's Purloined Letter theory of hiding, Miss West stated the hypothesis on which she has tracked down hundreds of criminals.

"I employ women," said Miss West, "in every investigation requiring subtlety, craft, guesswork, diplomatic conversation or plain common sense. In cases demanding patient shadowing, or strict adherence to tradition, I use men.

"For the finer and more delicate work I invariably find that a woman is able to clear up a case in much less time than a man. She has more tact, quicker perception, and an equally vivid imagination. Of course they are not able to shadow a criminal. A woman cannot stand in one place without attracting attention to herself, and she hasn't the same physical endurance."

Women's Methods

Miss West told of a recent case in which a wife had run away from her husband. A woman detective ascertained that she had a confidential friend who lived on the Continent. going abroad, she became this woman's bosom confidante. One day she led the conversation to the disappearance of Mrs. Smith and obtained the address at which she was living in England, in a private hotel.

Another woman detective went as a guest to the hotel and amused the company by telling fortunes with cards. When Mrs. Smith's turn came she listened in amazement to secrets which only one woman knew--fresh from the agency's card-filing index system.

Quite obviously no man could have proceeded by this simple and direct route. Instead, acting on scientific principles, and proceeding by clews, he would have had to follow Mrs. Smith from hotel to hotel, city to city, employing an army of watchers and spies who would have been constantly exposed to danger.

Derides Fiction

As to the other type of man detective, the deductive type, who sits by the fireside and, nonchalantly inhaling the smoke from a meerschaum, solves the murders and finds precious necklaces, Miss West is inclined to think he doesn't exist, and that he is the creation of highly romantic minds outside the detective business.

"Do you never read detective stories?" I asked.

"Never," she replied. "No detective does. It never is the reflective, fireside type of detective who does anything really, while the one who employs unromantic, common sense methods is successful. Not a girl in this agency would solve a case if she followed fiction methods."

The truth is, according to Miss West, that theories are of little value in the detective's business, while common sense is valuable. And the Bernard Shaw theory, if any, applied to the detective profession, accounts for women's success in it--viz., that she intuitively adheres to common sense instead of plodding after romantic chimeras.

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