Lillian de la Torre Analysis


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Using real crimes and criminals as the basis of fiction is a well-established literary device, as works such as the anonymous The Tragedy of Mr. Arden of Feversham (1592), Henry Fielding’s The History of the Life of the Late Mr. Jonathan Wild the Great (1743, 1754), and Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Mystery of Marie Rogêt” demonstrate. No one, however, had considered using a historical figure to solve these crimes before Lillian de la Torre recruited Samuel Johnson as a private investigator. Combining her extensive knowledge of eighteenth century British literature and history with the conventions of the classic detective story, de la Torre produced more than thirty enjoyable short stories. Nevertheless, her purpose went beyond mere entertainment; as a self-described “histo-detector,” she solved mysteries that puzzled contemporaries and eluded historians. Although most of her serious histo-detecting was reserved for nonfictional, book-length works, some of her short stories also reveal how actual crimes might have been committed.


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Browne, Ray B., and Lawrence A. Kreiser, Jr., eds. The Detective as Historian: History and Art in Historical Crime Fiction. Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 2000. Anthology devoted to analysis of the representation of history and the history of representation within historical crime fiction. Provides perspective on de la Torre.

Hoch, Edward D. “A Mirror to Our Crimes.” The Armchair Detective 12 (Summer, 1979): 282-283. Comments on the use and portrayal of real crimes in detective fiction; sheds light on de la Torre’s works.

Johnsen, Rosemary Erickson. Contemporary Feminist Historical Crime Fiction. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006. Provides a useful overview of the genre, as well as a detailed analysis of de la Torre’s literary descendants.

Peters, Ellis. Foreword to Historical Whodunits, edited by Mike Ashley. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1997. The author of the Cadfael mysteries provides commentary on the genre of the historical whodunit and on de la Torre’s place in that genre.

Purcell, James Mark. “Lillian de la Torre, Preliminary Bibliography: Blood on the Periwigs.” Mystery Readers Newsletter 4 (July/August, 1971): 25-27. Bibliography of the author’s works through 1971.