The Dead Witness by Michael Sims

THE DEAD WITNESS edited by Michael Sims. Bloomsbury £18.99

Reviewed by Peter Coleborn

This large anthology is subtitled “A Connoisseur’s Collection of Victorian Detective Stories”. I’m no expert of this genre but looking at the contents, it’s clear that this is a juicy book. Included herein are stories by William E Burton, Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, Arthur Conan Doyle and Mark Twain: 22 in all. Actually, there are a couple of non-fiction pieces, including a newspaper article and an inquest transcript from a certain Jack the Ripper case. Truly fascinating stuff.

Editor Michael Sims adds a good general introduction to the Victorian detective, plus pieces for each story in the anthology. He suggests that Poe’s Dupin story (“The Murders in the Rue Morgue” [1841]) kicked off the detective story genre, but mentions that “The Secret Cell” by William E Burton (reprinted here for the first time) was published in 1837, a few years before Poe’s masterpiece. This is an excellent anthology, and an excellent introduction to the detective tales of the Victorian era.