Four Great Literary Detective Spinsters

The spinster, I fear, is as underappreciated in this day and age as ever she was. Far too many assume that the state of singleness in a woman is a reflection of some failing or flaw in her person, and can by no means comprehend that it might be an intentional choice on the lady’s part, or even an eventuality with which she is perfectly content.

But in fiction the spinster comes into her own. Most specifically, consider the great spinsters of detective fiction. I am sure this is not an exhaustive list, but here are four to whet your appetite.

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Stress and Support Systems

This blog post is brought to you by the letter ‘S’!

As I mentioned last week, we are soon moving house. A week today, in fact. Seven days. In six days, the movers will be coming to pack everything up. Everything, that is, except the books, which we plan on packing ourselves.

So far I have managed to pack up the mystery collection (it has its own book case) which filled three wine boxes: Agatha Christie, Assorted Mystery, and Assorted Mystery: Paperback. Although to be honest with you, I think there’s some Christie in every box. An excellent vintage.

reading murder

They’re all packed and taped and labelled and this is all very satisfying to behold, until the sinking realization that there will be no more mystery-reading until we unpack at the new house.

No Miss Silver, no Poirot, no Miss Marple, no Tommy and Tuppence, no Cadfael, no Inspector Wexford. No Mma Ramotswe.
I am desolate.

You see, reading mysteries is one of my favourite ways of dealing with stress. (The wine boxes were empty when I got them.) I can comfortably read one in the morning, one in the afternoon, and (if circumstances are really dire) one in the evening as well, though headaches may threaten.

Nose in a book

In a mystery, as in life, there are things that go wrong, unfair actions and suspicions, confusion and uncertainty. Perhaps this is why I so much enjoy the old-fashioned detectives who give a full explanation in the last chapter: there are answers.
There will be answers.

But not today.

Has anyone else noticed that moving house is like a magnet in a field of iron filings, a lead weight on a rubber sheet covered in sand (or, again, iron filings)? It attracts other stressors.

iron filings tracing the magnetic field of a bar magnet

I went and had a look at the Holmes & Rahe stress scale, and I figured my score was around 271. “Risk of illness is moderate.”
What was I thinking, packing the mysteries a week out?

Of course, as the logically-minded (or anarchically-minded) among you will point out, if I get desperate I can always open one of the boxes. But this violates the cardinal law of successful moving:
That Which Has Been Packed Shall Not Be Unpacked.

Or at least not until you arrive at the other house. Then it’s a toss-up whether you go first for the bedding, the kettle, or the books. Or the cat.

shira and zora unpacking

But I have still a secret weapon up my sleeve – or rather, in a tea tin. Just for a change, it’s not tea, delectably de-stressing as that excellent beverage is. It’s knitting.

When I am stressed, I knit. Last year, I knit my father a cardigan (it was quite a stressful year). Usually I go for smaller projects – hats, baby items (for charity – stressed enough without one of my own, thank you) and most recently, socks.

big foot

It took an embarrassingly long time for me to figure out how to turn a heel, but I am now working on my second pair of real, wearable socks (in recycled merino/possum blend – soft and fuzzy).

Although socks are less escapist, knitting has the advantage over novels in one respect: time. There is nothing more frustrating than just getting into a story when your ten minutes for tea expires and it’s back to work (all right, there is, but let’s not go there, I’m stressed enough already).

alarm clocks kill dreams

Mind you, I managed to read the unabridged Nicholas Nickleby entirely in breaks at work, so it’s not entirely unworkable. But mysteries should not be chopped into little pieces in such a way.

I would be delighted to hear your tips for handling stress (moving-related or otherwise); and do feel free to administer your own Holmes-Rahe test and leave your results in the comments.
(Highest score gets bragging rights and an ulcer; lowest score gets a smug sense of superiority and an unimpaired duodenum.)

And tell me: what would you unpack first?

I'm Keen!

Enthusiasm is often derided in our society – being blasé, bored, cynical and flippant is just so much cooler.

Well, forget cool. (I was never going to be cool anyway: I prefer to be warm when it’s five degrees outside, so I actually wear clothes in winter. Wooly ones.)

Tongue out with excitement

As Simon Pegg says: “Being a geek is all about being honest about what you enjoy and not being afraid to demonstrate that affection. It means never having to play it cool about how much you like something. It’s basically a license to proudly emote on a somewhat childish level rather than behave like a supposed adult. Being a geek is extremely liberating.”

I mean, who looks like they’re having more fun?
These people:

Everyone looks happy

or these people?

01 (345)


So, in the spirit of being unashamedly enthusiastic about things we like, here’s a few things I like in books and stories generally.

I like ‘cosy’ murder mysteries, where people might be offed by their nearest and dearest, but never in a manner that is sadistic or tortuous.
I like little old lady detectives – Miss Silver, Miss Marple, and their ilk.

Knitting Ladies revisited

I am particularly fond of Miss Silver, but that may be due in part to my seasonal predilection for knitting. Her only fault is her pronunciation of French with an English accent. Otherwise, she is who I’d like to be when I grow up (if indeed I ever do).

I like drawing-room scenes at the end where the detective explains what happened – whether before or after the criminal’s identity is revealed.

I like writers who have fun with language, who aren’t afraid to be a bit silly and in whose company you can rest assured nothing grotty is going to slide past your eyeballs. P.G. Wodehouse, you are my hero.


I like historical novels – provided they aren’t modern characters acting in modern ways in a quasi-historical setting. Ellis Peters is a good example of getting it right.

I like fantasy, provided, again, that they aren’t modern characters acting in modern ways in a fantasy world. Unless of course they are visitors (unintentional or otherwise) to this other world, in which case, potentially hilarious!


Which brings me to my next point: Culture Clash! I love culture clash stories. At least the ones where culture clash is food for amusement. Where two cultures clash, take on each others worst aspects, and descend in interlocking spirals of unthinking destruction and despair, not so much.

I like well thought out worlds, with interior consistency, even if they’re consistently weird (see Terry Pratchett and Simon R. Green).

Great A'Tuin, the star turtle, bears the Discworld through space [1680x1050]

I like stories to have a structure – not such a big fan of the post-modern ‘significant meaninglessness’; and I really don’t go for teenage, middle-age, or any other age angst. (Note to Holden Caulfield: habitual liars do not get much sympathy when complaining about how phoney everyone is.)

I like imagination and wit.
I like a story I can get right into.
I like to be slightly forlorn when the tale is finished (and peeved when I find the author has inconsiderately died and will therefore be producing no more.)

What about you?
What do you like, and what do you loathe?
If you could bring back one author from the dead (in a Frogs kind of a way, not a Monkey’s Paw kind of a way), who would it be?