Up front, I didn't read all the stories; there are 22 stories in this collection, and I didn't have time to read the whole thing, so this review only represents a small percentage of them.
But, of the stories I read, none of them were bad. In fact, they were all uniformly excellent and I'm looking forward to reading more of the collection at a later date.
Quick thoughts about each of the stories I read:
The Secret Cell by William E. Burton - The story itself is not only great, but so is its backstory: Burton, the author, wrote it in 1837, before Poe wrote what is widely regarded to be the first detective story, Murders in the Rue Morgue. He wrote it for the magazine he himself founded, The Gentleman's Magazine, and the editor he hired was a certain Edgar Allan Poe (who published Rue in 1841. While Dupin's standing as the first genius detective is safe, it's likely Poe read this story; whether or not it served as an inspiration can only be guessed at. But it's a fun story with strong writing, lots of detective legwork, fisticuffs, disguises, abductions, nuns, asylums and hidden rooms.
On Duty with Inspector Field by Charles Dickens - Dickens and I are fair weather friends at best, but for downright vivid descriptions of poverty-stricken Victorian London, I'm not sure you could find better. Not really much of a plot to this one at all - just a 'tour' through the dregs of London in the middle of the night as the police go about their rounds. This story does not disprove my suspicions that Dickens was paid by the word.
The Diary of Anne Rodway by Wilkie Collins - As the title suggests, this story takes the form of diary entries, but the narrative is very smooth. There's a real mystery here and it's engaging, but the solution felt somewhat abrupt and the coincidences verging on supernatural (a device, I'm guessing, Collins enjoyed using).
You Are Not Human, Monsieur D'Artagnan by Alexandre Dumas, pere - This is an except from the final Three Musketeers book, The Vicomte de Bragelonne, but it feels fairly complete as it stands alone, even to a reader for whom the general story of the Three Musketeers comes strictly from the movies and popular culture. In this short piece D'Artagnan plays the part of Sherlock Holmes as he uses sharp observations, empirical evidence and genius detecting to shed light on a shooting.
The Dead Witness; or, The Bush Waterhole by W.W. (Mary Fortune) - I didn't set out to read this one, but as I was flipping through, a mention of Australia caught my eye, so I stopped. Turns out this is the first known detective story ever written by a woman. Fortune was a prolific writer in Australia, although sexism being what it was, she was forced to write under a pseudonym kept so tight a secret that no one knew Mary Fortune was W.W. until decades after her death. Her life was not a happy one, but it was not for want of talent if this story is any judge. It's a short one, but it's vivid and well written and the end, while a bit fantastic, is also deliciously grotesque.
The Assassin's Natal Autograph by Mark Twain - Another except, this one from Puddin' Head Wilson. This one is slightly harder to follow, as there are characters named that are obviously important, but missing any backstory at all, but in most aspects it works really well. It's Twain, so the setting (a courtroom) is full of detail and suspense; the focus of the scene is the power of fingerprints and the denouement, even without the backstory is climatic.
The Stolen Cigar-Case by Bret Harte - Another one that caught my eye, this time because I saw "Sherlock Holmes" in the introduction. This is a parody of the Greatest Detective of all time, as well as a parody of his long suffering Watson. It started off hilarious - laugh out loud funny - but by midway, it felt a bit hateful. Parodies are supposed to mock, but reading this one gets the impression that Harte really hated Watson and Holmes both.
An Intangible Clue by Anna Katherine Green - The author of the first known detective novel by a woman (Mary Fortune, above, wrote only short stories) and the author of The Leavenworth Case, this was my first introduction to her work and Miss Violet Strange. I hope it won't be my last; Miss Strange has claims to Sherlockian abilities in her own right, and I found the story both intricate and slyly funny. The mystery itself was complete enough, but I was left wanting more when it came to Miss Strange and her mysterious employer.
If you're a fan of the old-style detective stories, I don't think you can go wrong with this collection. They just don't write them like they used to.
I read this for BookLikes-opoly and completed a total of 202 pages.
Total pages read: 202