What first impressed me when, as a boy, I picked up a paperback of The Scarlet Pimpernel was its author’s name: Baroness Orczy. She didn’t write as Mrs. Montagu Barstow—her husband was a well-known magazine illustrator—or even as Emma Magdolna Rozália Mária Jozefa Borbála Orczy de Orci, which is what she was christened in Hungary. While her friends in London or Monte Carlo may have called her “Emmuska,” on the covers of her many books she was always Baroness Orczy. That name alone seems to promise glamour, romance, swashbuckling excitement.

In photographs, however, she looks more like the family cook—well upholstered, benevolent—than one of the most remarkable authors of her time. Orczy, for instance, created one of the very first “armchair” detectives in The Old Man in the Corner (1909) and one of the earliest female policewomen in Lady Molly of Scotland...


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