Unpunished: A Mystery

Overview

   Written in the late 1920s and never before published, this mystery by the author of such early feminist classics as The Yellow Wall-Paper is a major literary find. Gilman's first and only detective novel recounts the murder of a pernicious attorney who has been shot, stabbed, bludgeoned, strangled and poisoned. The husband-and-wife detective team present a model of true partnership, while the unfolding details of the case offer poignant evidence of the injustice that poor and powerless women can...

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Overview

   Written in the late 1920s and never before published, this mystery by the author of such early feminist classics as The Yellow Wall-Paper is a major literary find. Gilman's first and only detective novel recounts the murder of a pernicious attorney who has been shot, stabbed, bludgeoned, strangled and poisoned. The husband-and-wife detective team present a model of true partnership, while the unfolding details of the case offer poignant evidence of the injustice that poor and powerless women can suffer at the hands of a brutal man. Gilman weaves her case for women's freedom and empowerment into a mystery rich in twists and turns, colorful characters, red herrings, suspense and wry humor.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
That man had been killed four times over. Or four ways at once. Or possibly five" is the intriguing conclusion of sleuth Jim Hunt to his lively wife and partner, Bess, early in Unpunished, Charlotte Perkins Gilman's first and only mystery novel. Gilman (1860-1935), best known for the classic feminist work The Yellow Wall-Paper, wrote this, her final novel, in 1929, but the manuscript languished in Radcliffe's Schlesinger Library until now. Gilman paints an evocative and anguished portrait of a household under the thumb of a ruthless blackmailer, all with powerful reasons for murder, and accomplishes a neat and fitting twist to the mystery at the end. While this novel is undoubtedly a mystery with a message about the abuses of patriarchal rule, the reader yearns for more from the Hunt Casebook and mourns the passing of this remarkable pen.

—Elizabeth Foxwell

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
When New York attorney Wade Vaughn is discovered in his home office with a knife in his back, a cord around his neck, a wound to his scalp, a bullet hole in his temple and a glass of poison by his side, the mystery is "not merely in the usual question of who did it, but in the unusual one of who did it first." Written in 1929 but previously unpublished, Gilman's (The Yellow Wallpaper; Herland) only full-length fictional work is sure to delight mystery lovers and anyone interested in the history of early feminism. As husband-and-wife detective team Jim and Bessie Hunt delve into Vaughn's death, they discover that just about everyone who knew Vaughn had a reason to detest him: his servants, doctor, immediate family, clients, co-workers and neighbors. But would any of these people actually kill him, or was the death a suicide? While the Hunts' investigation reveals a man so despicable that he is almost a caricature of evil, his misanthropy is the vehicle Gilman uses to denounce sexism and class domination, and she weaves this overt political message into the story with wit and verve. Although the book offers a humorous look at sexist and classist posturing, its own occasionally racist dialogue provides a window into the sociological attitudes of the first part of this century. Nonetheless, the book's surprising ending, fast-paced action and endearing detectives make it far more than a valuable historical artifact; it's a smart, entertaining whodunit by a writer who understood (and clearly enjoyed) the genre, even as she put it to polemical use. QPB selection. (July)
Library Journal
Completed by the noted feminist author in 1929, this title exemplifies (and satirizes) mystery traditions of the time and provides a forum as well for her ideas concerning the inequality of women. The plot derives from a fine conundrum: a universally hated murder victim dies (shot, stabbed, strangled, poisoned) in his locked study. A lively husband-and-wife team of detectives unravels the mystery, providing commentary, witty verbal sparring, and a not-so-surprising finale in which all the good characters are rewarded. A bit dated, but still interesting reading. For larger collections.
Kirkus Reviews
Not just Unpunished but Unpublished: This 1929 novel by pioneering feminist Gilman is breaking into print for the first time. In outline it reads like a parody of the formal conventions of its age. Criminal lawyer Wade Vaughn has been shot, stabbed, bashed, strangled, and poisoned to death; his household is awash with tormented relatives, resentful servants, and mysterious visitors; the sleuths, Jim and Bessie Hunt, are a breezy husband- and-wife team equally at home donning disguises and compounding felonies. But Gilman ("The Yellow Wallpaper," Herland) obviously has more than fun on her mind. Sadistic blackmailer Vaughn, who toys with his crippled sister-in-law Jacqueline ("Jack") Warner and his hopeful heirs like a cat with a brace of three blind mice, is a nightmare composite of male monstrosities far too common in Gilman's time, or yesterday; and the "Multi-Murder," as the newspapers dub it, is aptly described by a sympathetic neighbor as "the nicest murder I ever heard of." The workmanlike plot, which makes room for everyone's homicidal impulses, ends with a revelation of a sixth means of death as absurd as it is emotionally satisfying.

Gilman obviously intends horrid Vaughn to be overshadowed by heroic Jack. The most enduring memory readers are likely to take away from her stoic travail wrapped in a cheerful detective fantasy, though, is of a man who was none too good for getting killed five (or was it six?) times.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781558611702
  • Publisher: Feminist Press at CUNY, The
  • Publication date: 9/1/1998
  • Pages: 192
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 7.00 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Table of Contents

Editors' Acknowledgments
A Note on the Text
1 "Extra! Extra!" 3
2 Sufficient Murder 16
3 Search and Inquiry 27
4 A Council of War 40
5 Nectar for Newspapers 48
6 An Inside View 60
7 The Record 70
8 The Will and My Sister 80
9 The Ear of Dionysus 92
10 The Screw 103
11 Various Efforts 113
12 An Informer 127
13 The Inquest 142
14 Further Information 153
15 The Inquest Continued 167
16 Further Developments 179
17 A Final Verdict 194
Textual Notes 209
Afterword 213
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