I've been doing a bit of writing (the further adventures of my Steampunk spy, Li Bic), and got to a point where one character is reading while he waits for another character.
But what could he be reading?
I started looking for novels written before 1896, but I didn't want anything obvious, just something light by an author that might be forgotten now, but which would also shed a little light on what the character doing the reading is like.
And what I found was Loveday Brooke, Lady Detective, by Catherine Louisa Pirkis, a series of short stories published in the Ludgate Magazine. Even better, seven stories have been collected in a modern paperback, published by Wildside Press.
The Victorian young lady on the front cover looks a bit too pretty to be Loveday, who is a sensible woman of around 30, and of fairly non-descript appearance according to the first story, The Black Bag Left on a Doorstep.
But the stories are quite good fun. Loveday works for a London based detective agency, and is sent around the country to investigate a variety of crimes, including murder.
Country house burglaries seem to be a popular crime - in one story the local Detective Inspector mentions that one local country house has Electric Lighting, and supposes that, if all country houses did likewise, the burglary rate would drop almost to nothing. Loveday isn't so sure. The author's description of the electric lighting also gives the impression that she has no idea how it works, though she knows wires are involved (she says the electricity is stored in jars, in a little 'engine house').
What the stories do very well, though, is give a flavour of the period, from a woman's point of view. Loveday travels alone, and stays in local hotels when she is not pretending to be a relative of the housekeeper in the country house she is investigating, or taking up a position as a secretary who lives in the house. The butler in one story "treated Loveday in an easy, familiar fashion, evidently considering that an amanuensis took much the same rank as a nursery governess - that is to say, a little below a lady's maid and a little above a house maid."
I'm about half way through the book at the moment, and enjoying it very much - though the author does cheat, compared with later mystery writers. It's impossible for the reader to try to solve the case, because she conceals vital clues until the big reveal at the end.