Mr Bazalgette’s Agent is the first British detective novel to feature a professional female detective. Written by Leonard Merrick and published in July 1888, Mr Bazalgette’s Agent slipped into obscurity partly because the author disliked the book and set about buying and destroying all the copies he could lay his hands on. However, despite the occasional use of words that we now find offensive, history has been kinder to the story and the book is now regarded as a novel of some worth.
Mr Bazalgette’s Agent chronicles the adventures of twenty-eight-year-old Miriam Lea. Unemployed, Miss Lea responds to an advertisement placed by Mr Alfred Bazalgette’s private detective agency. She secures a position with the agency and her first task is to find Mr Jasper Vining, a banker’s clerk, who has absconded with a large sum of money. The trail leads to Europe and the diamond mines of South Africa, familiar territories to the author, Leonard Merrick.
Leonard Merrick was born in London in February 1864 as Leonard Miller. His family were prosperous and young Leonard enjoyed a privileged education. In his late teens Leonard Miller changed his name to Merrick when he embarked on a career as an actor. The profession did not satisfy him so he turned to writing. His first novel, Mr Bazalgette’s Agent, was not a critical or commercial success. Even so, he persevered eventually achieving success and the accolade ‘the novelist’s novelist’, offered by J. M. Barrie, creator of Peter Pan. Despite receiving rewards and accolades, Leonard Merrick was admired more by his fellow writers than by the public, which is something many authors of today can identify with.