The Dead Letter and The Figure Eight

The Dead Letter and The Figure Eight

Book Pages: 400 Illustrations: 14 illus. Published: August 2003

Gender and Sexuality > Feminism and Women’s Studies, Literature and Literary Studies > Fiction

Before Raymond Chandler, before Dorothy Sayers or Agatha Christie, there was Metta Fuller Victor, the first American author—man or woman—of a full-length detective novel. This novel, The Dead Letter, is presented here along with another of Victor’s mysteries, The Figure Eight. Both written in the 1860s and published under the name Seeley Regester, these novels show how—by combining conventions of the mystery form first developed by Edgar Allan Poe with those of the domestic novel—Victor pioneered the domestic detective story and paved the way for generations of writers to follow.

In The Dead Letter, Henry Moreland is killed by a single stab to the back. Against a background of post–Civil War politics, Richard Redfield, a young attorney, helps Burton, a legendary New York City detective, unravel the crime. In The Figure Eight, Joe Meredith undertakes a series of adventures and assumes a number of disguises to solve the mystery of the murder of his uncle and regain the lost fortune of his angelic cousin.


"[The Dead Letter] is well enough written to show the author was good in her time, and the social and domestic details are instructive." — Jon L. Breen , The Weekly Standard

"[D]elightful, illuminating, and thoroughly readable. . . . Hats off to Catherine Ross Nickerson . . . for shining a light on these long-neglected women." — Adam Woog , Seattle Times

"[E]ngrossing reads. The Dead Letter and The Figure Eight remain landmarks in American mystery fiction for the prolific Victor's proficient application of the detective formula to a full-length work and for her marriage of the romantic novel to the mystery." — Elizabeth Foxwell , Mystery Scene

"[F]un to read. . . page-turning action. . . . [Nickerson's introduction] makes a resounding case for the importance of [Victor] in the development of the mystery." — Booklist

"Catherine Ross Nickerson has given a delight to fans of the mystery novel by re-introducing the long-forgotten works of American author Metta Fuller Victor. . . . Nickerson . . . should be commended for bringing this exciting piece of the past to the attention of mystery fans everywhere." — Jeffrey Marks , Ohioana Quarterly

"For readers who think that Lifetime movies and the muddled genre books that combine romance and serial killers are a product of our tawdry age, Duke University Press has reprinted four 19th-century sensationalist classics that are titillating, vulgar, and moralistic by turns, full of violent action and passion, and as shallow and materialistic as reality television. Such fiction, however, provided an arena for women eager to become writers, and the novels collected in these two volumes--which each contain a fine introduction by scholar Catherine Ross Nickerson--display how vital that opportunity was." — Kris Lawson , Rain Taxi

"Readers interested in the development of detective fiction and popular fiction will welcome these volumes, which make available hitherto hard-to-find short novels. . . . Highly recommended." — B. Diemert , Choice

"The publication of [Victor's books] is a useful jolt, prompting us to recognize that me may have been disinclined to look for evidence that would disturb the neat contrasts of our potted history of the detective genre. . . . Victor can tell a good story. . . . [Her] novels are a welcome surpise." — Lisa Berglund , The Drood Review

“From the very beginning women writers have been of fundamental importance to the mystery genre and these highly entertaining works by two of the founding ‘mothers’ of the American mystery novel demonstrate why. Times may have changed since these books were first published, but good reading never goes out of fashion.” — Dean James, coauthor of By a Woman's Hand: A Guide to Mystery Fiction by Women

“Sinister governesses sleepwalk, wronged young men vow revenge, and mysterious deathbed messages appear in two rediscovered Gothic gems from Metta Fuller Victor. Fans of Louisa May Alcott's thrillers will devour these inventive tales from a pioneer in American detective fiction.” — Elizabeth Foxwell, mystery writer and contributing editor, Mystery Scene


Availability: In stock
Price: $29.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Metta Fuller Victor (1831–1885) was a publisher, editor, author, and moral reformer. She is perhaps best known for her abolitionist dime novel Maum Guinea and Her Plantation “Children” (1861). Matching different pseudonyms to different genres, she published popular works for children and adults—including mysteries, Westerns, romances, temperance novels, and rags-to-riches tales. She wrote numerous pieces against slavery, alcohol, and Mormon polygamy.
Catherine Ross Nickerson is Associate Professor of English at Emory University. She is the author of The Web of Iniquity: Early Detective Fiction by American Women, also published by Duke University Press.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Introduction / Catherine Ross Nickerson 1

The Dead Letter: An American Romance 11

The Figure Eight; or, The Mystery of Meredith Place 209
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensing
Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3165-0 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3177-3
Publicity material