Anna Katherine Green – The Mother of the Detective Novel

Born in Brooklyn, New York, on November 11, 1846, Anna Katherine Green had a successful career as a detective novelist. Her first love was poetry and her early literary aspirations revolved around writing romantic verse. Even though she corresponded with Ralph Waldo Emerson, her poems were not highly recognised and Green expanded her writing to detective novels. She began with The Leavenworth Case: A Lawyer’s Story, which is believed to be her best narrative, and went on to produce 40 published books during her career.

Green was one of the first detective fiction writers in America, and became successful in a genre which was dominated by men. Her stories were widely admired because of their good plots and legal accuracy. The Leavenworth Case sparked a lengthy debate about whether it had really been written by a female writer. A decade before Arthur Conan Doyle created Sherlock Holmes, Green was being credited for making the genre popular.

The stories she wrote were influential in creating a series detective, as well as other base characters that were expanded upon by other successful authors. Her stories main character was Ebenezer Gryce, a member of the New York Metropolitan Police Force. In addition to Gryce, three of her novels have a nosy spinster, Amelia Butterworth, assisting in the mystery. She also births the character of the ‘girl detective,’ when Violet Strange is introduced. Her plots also shaped the future of detective novels, and included dead bodies found in libraries, coroner’s inquest and ‘clews’ such as newspaper clippings.

Green got married to then actor and stove designer, Charles Rohlfs, on November 25, 1884. Rohlfs was seven years younger than his wife, and went a tour of the dramatization of her first book. After his years in the theatre, Charles became a successful furniture maker and Green collaborated with him on a few of his pieces. Green and her husband had three children together: Rosamund, Roland and Sterling.

Even though Green was famous for her unexpected success in a male dominated field, she did not approve of feminists and outwardly opposed women gaining the vote. Anna Green died on April 11, 1935 in Buffalo, New York. Buffalo Literary Walking Tours honours authors with local connections in their series of walks, and many of the aspects of Green’s life are pinpointed here. In addition, her legacy continued when her short story, The Intangible Clue, was adapted for the second series of BBC Radio 4’s drama series The Rivals.