Combining the charm of a classic mystery novel with the diligent research and careful analysis of a biography, The Adventures of Maud West, Lady Detective is a rich and compelling story about secrets and lies in the golden age of crime.

A lover of golden age mystery novels herself, Susannah Stapleton is curled up on a winter’s night reading about Glady’s Mitchell’s Mrs Bradley when a thought strikes her – were there any real lady detectives in the golden age of crime? The resulting internet search brings up a Miss Maud West “London’s only Lady detective”, and starts Stapleton off on a journey filled with more red herrings and secret histories than even Agatha Christie might find plausible!

Without giving away too many of the details of Maud’s life, the unravelling of which is part of the joy of reading Stapleton’s painstakingly researched book, Maud West was a fascinating personality. Shamelessly self-publicising, Maud sells her tales of derring-do to readers across the world, inventing numerous backstories and delighting thrill-seekers with her stories of foiled robberies, attempted kidnappings and dangerous continental drug gangs. But, as Stapleton digs deeper, ever questioning the truth behind Maud’s own account of herself, another story begins to emerge. Possibly less glamorous but no less compelling and, if anything, even more fantastical.

Doggedly researched and deliciously entertaining, The Adventures of Maud West, Lady Detective, is a testament to the life of a forgotten pioneer who forged both an enduring personal life and a successful career in an era when women’s options were limited. Combining biography, mystery, and social history, this is one piece of literary sleuthing that golden age fans won’t want to miss this summer.

Amy Louise Blaney, The Shelf of Unread Books, 4/4

The Adventures of Maud West, Lady Detective by Susannah Stapleton
Picador 9781509867295 hbk Jun 2019