Dorcas Dene

Created by George M. Sims
(1847-1922)

“It isn’t usual,” the Superintendent said, “for our men to act under the orders of a private detective, even one so talented as Dorcas Dene, but under the circumstances I consent.”

One of several Victorian and Edwardian female detectives who popped up in the wake of Sherlock Holmes, DORCAS DENE distinguished herself by her professionalism, her ingenuity (she was a whiz at disguise) and what would now be tagged as her feminist determination. In other words, she was nobody’s bimbo.

Dorcas (née Lester) fell into the detection racket thanks to a series of personal and financial catastrophes. First her father died unexpectedly, leaving Dorcas and her mother witha slew of debts no honest woman could pay. To make ends meet, Dorcas became an actress, and eventually married a promising young artist named Paul Dene. And so Dorcas, her Mom and Paul all lived happily ever after in a big old house in the tony St. James Wood district of London, right?

Nope. Paul then went blind, and of course lost his ability to paint, and Dorcas had to become the breadwinner.

Fortunately their next door neighbour, Mr. Johnson, was a retired police commissioner ran a high-class detective agency, and he was in need of — what else? — a lady lady detective. When Johnson’s died, he left the agency to Dorcas.

Of course Dorcas is extremely attractive, with soft grey eyes, and the earliest tales occasionally get a little too soggy (much is made of poor Paul’s lack of vision and the deep and abiding love of the young couple).

Fortunately, despite all the melodramatic sop (which is dialed down as the stories progress and “poor Paul” is shunted offstage), Dorcas is a pretty savvy sleuth, and enjoys the respect of Scotland Yard. She even has her own Watson: Mr. Saxon, an elderly dramatist who Dorcas befriended during her acting days and who now acts as the trusted narrator and occasional assistant for her adventures.

And the mysteries themselves are good ones, carefully plotted and presented, and often quite inventive, with clues delivered and followed in a logical and engaging fashion. There’s little guess work or eyeball-rolling coincidences to help Dorcas solve her cases — she relies on good old-fasioned leg work and a keen sense of professionalism, something not all the “rivals” of Sherlock Holmes could boast of.

Dorcas appeared in several short stories, collected in two case books, Dorcas Dene, Detective: First Series (1897) and Dorcas Dene, Detective: Second Series (1898).

UNDER OATH

  • “Dene shows outstanding detective skills throughout the book. This portrait of a highly intelligent, gifted woman excelling in her profession through ability is deeply feminist.”
    — Mike Grost

SHORT STORIES

  • “A Bank Holiday Mystery”
  • “The Brown Bear Lamp”
  • “The Clothes in the Cupboard”
  • “The Co-Respondent”
  • “The Council of Four”
  • “The Diamond Lizard”
  • “The Empty House”
  • “The Handkerchief Sachet”
  • “The Haverstock Hill Murder”
  • “The Helsham Mystery”
  • “The House in Regentís Park”
  • “The Man with the Wild Eyes”
  • “The Missing Prince”
  • “The Morganatic Wife”
  • “The Mysterious Millionaire”
  • “The One Who Knew”
  • “A Piece of Brown Paper”
  • “Presented to the Queen”
  • “The Prick of a Pin”
  • “The Secret of the Lake”

COLLECTIONS

  • Dorcas Dene, Detective: First Series (1897)
  • Dorcas Dene, Detective: Second Series (1898)

RELATED LINKS

Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.

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