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?

Actually, if I had any specific audience in mind for this book other than myself, it was probably “people who enjoy reading, and enjoy reading some of the same kinds of books that I do,” which category I don’t believe is exclusively or even especially male. I don’t know how audiences skew for books like The Poisoner’s Handbook or Swanson’s Manhunt (works among which I like to think my book will find a home, in some sense). I do know that early feedback observed that Brilliant Deduction is written at a fairly “high,” e.g. college-graduate or equivalent reading level, though. I didn’t go out of my way to write for such an audience, but I didn’t make any great effort to “dumb things down” much, either. And I know that I’ve been reading for some time how, among American college graduates at least, women have not only closed the gap with men but begun to overtake them.

How much does this really mean, if anything: I don’t know. Ultimately, again, one of the things I enjoyed about writing a book is that I wasn’t creating “on spec.” I wrote something that I think is good, and worthwhile, and having done that I am going to try to interest others in it and hope that they respond… but that’s up to them, i.e., you.

Who is the audience for Brilliant Deduction? Maybe it’s you.

Let me know!

* Biographer James Horan describes William’s office “filled with pictures of dogs and horses and the memorabilia of Pinkerton’s active life. It looked like a gentleman’s study, where he could relax with friends.” This does not give me the impression of a space reflecting much of a feminine influence.

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