Women and the home front

Posted by Matt Kuhns on Mar 30, 2013

One further thought, this last weekend of Women’s History Month, inspired by some comments from Mr. Jerry Clark at our recent store co-appearance. Discussing the “Pizza Bomber” case, a byzantine, years-long investigation chronicled in the book he and Ed Palattella co-authored, Clark spoke briefly of the personal toll such cases can exact.

Unsurprisingly, such work can stretch those involved awfully thin. Even with dedicated, well-organized teams like those of the modern FBI, the individuals at the center of a major crime investigation can find work taking over their life; as Clark noted, one may “clock out” and go home at night but one doesn’t ever really get away from a case like “the pizza bomber” until it’s truly and finally over. Meanwhile, stress and exhaustion can take a toll, not only on an investigator but on those around him or her. Particularly one’s family.

I don’t recall Mr. Clark’s exact words, but the gist of one further comment stuck with me, too. I believe it was, more or less, that an all-absorbing criminal investigation can sorely test personal relationships but, at the same time, strong family support can be invaluable in making it through.

This gave me pause because nearly every detective highlighted in Brilliant Deduction was a “family man.”

Which may not be that odd, certainly for the time period, but it’s striking how this contrasts with fiction. Sherlock Holmes—at least in the canonical stories—was a borderline-misogynist bachelor. I’ve not read a lot of Poirot novels but I’m not aware of any Mrs. Poirot. The 20th century American fictional detective archetype, exemplified by Spade and Marlowe, is decidedly unattached.

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The He-Man Woman Haters’ Club?

Posted by Matt Kuhns on Mar 4, 2013

I’ve been thinking a bit this week on whether Brilliant Deduction might be considered a “guy” book.

There is something to the idea, based on traditional concepts of gender in our society at least. First and foremost, women play only limited roles; it isn’t The Hobbit or The Shawshank Redemption, but as I note in the book’s introduction, the phenomenon of real-life famous detectives that I examine was the product of a particular culture and era, i.e. Western society during the “Long Nineteenth Century.”

That culture and era generally did not regard police work—from which the detective profession grew—as an appropriate career for women. For that matter, it didn’t exactly regard the idea of having a career as appropriate for women. Thus most of the other people appearing in my book—politicians, financiers, industrialists—are also men. Even among criminal society, with little concern for social strictures in other areas, women were almost equally underrepresented (or, I suppose, so much more effective that they avoided notice far more often).

Meanwhile, the world that shows up in Brilliant Deduction is not only predominantly male per numbers, but per (traditional concepts of) style and emphasis. Heavyset, bearded men enjoying brandy and cigars with their comfortable boys’-club connections; train robberies, bomb plots and jailbreaks; classic “man cave” settings from smokey taverns to William Pinkerton’s office* to Ellis Parker’s Elk’s Lodge. Is this, then, a book simply made to adorn the modern man cave? What kind of audience do I really have in mind, here?

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