Detective Work

The final recording I’m doing for the Australian Women Writers’ challenge for this year is a selection of short stories by Mary Fortune. This isn’t the review proper, as I’m only part way through the full recording, but I did want to say something about choosing and finding the stories I decided to record, because that story is, I think, a little more interesting than for my previous recordings where I easily found the works on Project Gutenberg or the Internet Archive.

When I was thinking about what my next recording would be, I knew I wanted to read something distinctly different from the books I’d done so far. In my wanderings around the web, I happened on Mary Fortune, also known variously as Mary Helena Fortune, Waif Wander, or W.W. for short. Like so many female writers, Fortune published under a pseudonym so her writing was more marketable. Another aspect to Fortune’s pseudonymity was, no  doubt, that she wrote in the detective genre and, from what I’ve read so far, her work is decidedly gory, which was no doubt deemed an unsuitable subject for ladies to write about.

What really sparked my decision to pursue recording some of Fortune’s work was the fact she remains virtually unknown and out of print, despite the fact that for forty years—forty years—her stories, featuring Melbourne detective, Mark Sinclair, appeared in The Australian Journal The Australian Dictionary of Biography (ADB) entry on Fortune, notes that her identity as the author of The Detective’s Album series wasn’t revealed until 1950, quite some time after her death in 1910, so I suppose it makes some kind of sense that she faded into anonymity.

In recent years, the author of the ADB entry, Lucy Sussex, has written a biography and edited a couple of collections of Fortune’s writing, which I’m yet to look at. (To be honest, I didn’t think the library had any of Sussex’s works, but I guess I wasn’t looking properly, because, just now, I found several in the catalogue, as well as—O joy!—a bibliography of Fortune’s work that Sussex compiled with Elizabeth Gibson.) So, Mary Fortune is slowly being drawn in to share the light of Australia’s significant writers.

Now that I’ve been recording some of Fortune’s stories from The Detective’s Album series that appeared in The Australian Journal throughout 1880, I’m especially glad that Sussex has done the work she has, and that I can, through my recordings for Librivox, make further accessible some of this pioneering crime writer’s work. I found a bound collection of some of Fortune’s stories, photocopied from The Australian Journal, in the special collections Fryer Library at the University of Queensland.  Normally readers would have to visit the library themselves, but I was able to photocopy the photocopies and now I’m using them to record from home.


A photocopy of a photocopy of ‘The Window Among the Willows’ by W.W. in The Australian Journal, March 1880

While reading this, you may have been able to gather that I’m enjoying the stories I’ve read so far. I want to say that she’s a better writer than Arthur Conan Doyle—the most obvious comparison one might make in this genre. I’m sure that’s sacrilege to some, which is why I’m a bit hesitant to declare it without reserve, but honestly some of the revelations and resolutions in the Sherlock Holmes’ series are in my opinion quite ridiculous, and I was very pleased to read Fortune’s finely wrought stories, none of which, so far, have sacrificed logic for an ending.


About Kirsty Leishman

Currently enrolled in a Grad Dip of Teaching and Learning in anticipation of teaching English and Film, TV & New Media to high school students. Abandoned a PhD in television. Completed an MPhil on zines. Honours in Australian grunge literature. Long time university tutor of media, communications, cultural studies and academic writing. Opinionated. View all posts by Kirsty Leishman

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