When M. Ruth Myers and I discovered we were both promoting books in our respective historical mystery series at the same time, we thought how much fun it would be to compare the responses our female sleuths from different historical periods would make to the same questions.
On the surface, Mrs. Annie Fuller, the protagonist in my Victorian San Francisco Mystery series, is a rather typical 19th century widowed woman who supports herself by running a boarding house. The fact that she supplements her income as the pretend clairvoyant, Madam Sibyl, is a secret she must protect in order to preserve her reputation as a respectable lady.
In contrast, in M. Ruth Myer’s award winning series, her protagonist, Maggie Sullivan, is proud of her profession as private eye. Living in Depression-era Dayton, Ohio, Miss Sullivan drives a DeSoto, carries a .38, and isn’t ashamed to admit she likes an occasional nip of gin.
In short, you might imagine that Miss Maggie Sullivan couldn’t be more different than my genteel Mrs. Annie Fuller.
Well, let’s just see, as we ask them a series of questions.
Today’s post is Part One and tomorrow Part Two will continue over on Myers’ blog at http://galgumshoe.com
1. What got you interested in pursuing such an unusual profession for a woman?
ANNIE: Although I know that there are such things as female investigators who work for the Pinkerton Agency, I am strictly an amateur. In fact, it is my occupation as the clairvoyant Madam Sibyl, giving out financial advice to wealthy San Francisco businessmen, which got me involved in solving crimes. When one of my favorite clients died under suspicious circumstances, I decided to go undercover as a servant in his household to find out who killed him (and recover his missing assets.)
MAGGIE: My dad was a cop, so I grew up around cops from the time I knew how to toddle. I wanted to do what they did, but I wasn’t very good at following rules the way policemen had to. Then a woman in our neighborhood killed herself after her husband skipped out and she heard rumors he might have another family down in Cincinnati. My dad said if she’d been able to hire a detective and find out for sure, it might not have happened. I decided that’s what I wanted to do, to help people like that.
2. What is your relationship with local law enforcement like?
MAGGIE: Way too many of them try to mother hen me because they watched me grow up. Half the others, I went to school with. I get along fine with everyone on the force except two. One made a pass at me and I had to hurt him where it counted to convince him No meant No. The other’s the head of homicide, who clings to the notion I find things out by batting my eyes instead of using my brain. Nobody slips me information and I never ask for special favors – although I’ve been known to trick people into inadvertently letting a tidbit drop now and then.
ANNIE: Actually, I have tried very hard not to have my activities as an investigator come to the official attention of the San Francisco authorities, since any public recognition of my involvement would damage my reputation as a lady. All formal connections with the police have come through the San Francisco lawyer, Nathaniel Dawson, and Patrick McGee, a local patrolman, who happens to be my cook’s nephew. They have both proven to be invaluable collaborators in my investigations.
3. How do clients hear about your services?
ANNIE: Several of my first cases came from people who live in the boarding house I run who asked for my help, and Mr. Dawson has kindly brought me in to assist people that his law firm was hired to represent. Recently, it has been my growing reputation as an accountant who can ferret out financial wrong-doing that has led people to ask for my assistance.
MAGGIE: Many of my clients come to me through word of mouth. Some come because they’ve seen my number in the telephone directory. One even came to me because she found my business card in a library book.
4. Are there any ways in which being a woman gives you an edge over a man in pursuing your cases?
MAGGIE: Sure, several. It doesn’t occur to most people that a woman could be a private eye. That means I can blend in. Men, even when they find out what I do, tend to underestimate me. Women, on the other hand, are more likely to talk to me than they would a man. Sometimes I have to let them chatter on to sift out a tidbit or two. Men don’t have that kind of patience. Mostly they don’t even think of questioning the likes of manicurists and cigarette girls because such women are invisible to them.
ANNIE: I must say I agree with Miss Sullivan, that the fact that people tend to underestimate or over look me as a woman gives me an edge. It was amazing what I learned when I pretended to be a female domestic…people simply didn’t notice I was in the room. Women have to be observant to survive in a world dominated by men, so despite my relative youth, I have learned how to read the unspoken meanings behind a person’s clothing, the way they hold their bodies, and their facial expressions. And I can ask the kind of questions that would be seen as suspicious or rude, if I were a man, because I am perceived as just a gossipy woman.
The second book in my series, Uneasy Spirits, is free for the next three days (1/20-22) on Kindle
M. Louisa Locke, January 20, 2016