New York: Beadle & Co, 1867. First edition. Original blue publisher's cloth binding with gilt to spine. Rubbing to extremities and chip at head of spine; cloth gently soiled overall. Brown coated endpapers. Internally pleasing, with only light scattered foxing largely confined to the margins. First printed in Beadle's Monthly in 9 parts 1866, the present is the first edition in book form. Extremely scarce institutionally and on the market, in this format it has appeared but once at auction, almost a decade ago. Scholars consider The Dead Letter the very first full length American detective novel, by either a man or a woman, predating Anna Katharine Green's The Leavenworth Case by twelve years.
"Before Raymond Chandler, before Dorothy Sayers of Agatha Christie, there was Metta Fuller Victor, the first American author -- man or woman -- of a full length detective novel. Published under the name Seeley Regester, The Dead Letter shows 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" (Nickerson). Blending genres to create something entirely new, Victor composed a sensational mystery involving a love-triangle turned deadly. In the midst of Reconstruction turmoil, Henry Moreland is found murdered on the steps of his fiancee Eleanor Argyll's home. Quickly suspicion is cast on Richard Redfield, the lawyer-protege of Eleanor's father John Argyll, Esquire. Desperate to clear his name, Redfield seeks the help of a famed New York detective and together the two uncover a shockingly twisted world that no one in their community could have predicted. The story's distribution was made possible, in part, by Victor's marriage into the Beadle publishing empire and her role as their editor, The Dead Letter's publication history also shows the increasing savvy of women authors of the period, and the importance of their celebrity in building a publishing house's brand. While the initial serialization of the story in Beadle's Monthly made it highly accessible and spread Victor's fame, it became worthwhile to print in book form to lure in a new audience. "The Dead Letter was published between hard covers with a price tag of fifty cents, indicating that the publishers felt that the book's primary audience was affluent enough to afford something considerably more expensive than a dime novel. The emphasis in the novel on the moneyed classes and the valorization of the rising professional as moral arbiter of their problems all seem to invite the middle-to-upper-class reader more warmly" (Duke). A groundbreaking work of literature. Very Good + (Item #3134)