Phoebe Atwood Taylor (1909-1976) was born in Boston, the child of Cape Cod natives who were also descendents of Mayflower Pilgraims. After Taylor marrPhoebe Atwood Taylor (1909-1976) was born in Boston, the child of Cape Cod natives who were also descendents of Mayflower Pilgraims. After Taylor married a Boston surgeon, they had a summer home on the Cape, which explains why the author would choose that setting for her first novel, published in 1931 when she was all of 22. She puts that inside knowledge to good use in recreating the local culture there in the 1930s and 1940s.
Taylor has my undying respect for her work ethic of writing her novels between midnight and three a.m. after her "housekeeping day" had ended, although her habit of waiting to start a book until three weeks before the publisher's deadline would give me a heart attack.
The Cape Cod Mystery was fairly successful in its day, selling 5,000 copies, and introduced the "Codfish Sherlock", Asey Mayo, who went on to star in 24 of Taylor's novels. Mayo retired in Cape Cod, following his world travels as a sailor, to serve as a general assistant to the heir of Porter Motors. He uses his wits and wit to solve murders with the help of a very fast car.
In the novel, the muckraking author, philanderer and occasional blackmailer Dale Sanborn is murdered one hot August weekend, leaving behind a long list of enemies, including an old girl friend, his fiancee, an outraged husband, a long-lost brother and a few more. Asey Mayo gets involved when his friend and mentor Bill Porter is accused of the crime, even though Mayo only has one clue to go on: a sardine can.
There are a few oddities, such as the narrator being not Mayo but rather Prudence Whitsby, who has a cottage on Cape Cod she shares with her niece and a cook (and also serves as the sight where the victim was murdered). Taylor wrote Mayo with a very heavy Coddish (Codlian?) accent that sometime a bit difficult to wade through, particularly when he's offering up his homespun sayings like "They ain't many whys without becauses."
The earlier Mayo titles are a little darker (it's been suggested this was due to the Depression at the time), but as the series went on, the tone apparently lightened enough that critic Dilys Winn called Taylor "the mystery equivalent to Buster Keaton," and one reviewer added that Asey Mayo does for Cape Cod what Travis McGee does for Southern Florida. Apparently Margaret Mitchell (Gone With the Wind) was even a fan of Taylor's Mayo character, encouraging Taylor to "pack the books with Cape Cod details."
Countryman Press re-issued several of Taylor's novels, including The Cape Cod Mystery, in 2005....more
Dorothy Salisbury Davis was considered as one of the Grand Dames of crime fiction, but she didn't start out as a writer, working first in advertisingDorothy Salisbury Davis was considered as one of the Grand Dames of crime fiction, but she didn't start out as a writer, working first in advertising and as a librarian. She published her first novel in 1949, The Judas Cat, and since authored 20 novels and received seven Edgar Award nominations. She's been a big influence on the crime fiction community, serving as Myster Writers of America grandmaster in 1985 and on the initial steering committee for the formation of Sisters in Crime (along with Charlotte MacLeod, Kate Mattes, Betty Francis, Sara Paretsky, Nancy Pickard and Susan Dunlap).
By her own account, Davis is an "odd fit" in crime fiction, unhappy with her perceived inability to create a memorable series character and uncomfortable with violence and murder. But she's very happy creating villains, and often commented that villains are much more fun to write about than heroes. Her themes trend more toward psychology than out-and-out detection and religious tensions are often found in her work, not surprising considering her own background (as a Roman Catholic who left the church).
A Gentleman Called from 1958 was nominated for an Edgar in 1959 and included in The Essential Mystery Lists by Roger Sobin. It features characters who were to be featured in three books, including attorney Jimmie Jarvis and his housekeeper, Mrs. Norris, and the District Attorney's chief investigator, Jasper Tally.
The story starts off revolving around middle-aged bachelor Theodore Adkins, who is slapped with a paternity suit. Adkins is also from a wealthy family who are old clients of Jarvis' law firm, which prompts Jarvis to take the case. At the same time, Jasper Tally is involved in an investigation into the strangulation of wealthy Arabella Sperling and the theft of her diamond pin. Eventuallly, the two plots converge around several other unsolved murders involving matrimony-minded women, which threatens to ensnare Mrs. Norris and put her own life in danger.
Salisbury is adept at characterization and using dialogue to flesh out her characters. The psychological underpinnings of A Gentleman Called are as important, or really more so, than the whodunnit aspect, but it's entertaining to follow her characters through their interactions or, as Kirkus noted, enjoy the "Insidious indirection which gives the novel a crafty glint."...more
Anthea Mary Fraser (born 1930) was inspired by her novelist-mother to be a writer, but her own first published novel had to wait until 1970. The 1974Anthea Mary Fraser (born 1930) was inspired by her novelist-mother to be a writer, but her own first published novel had to wait until 1970. The 1974 paranormal novel Laura Possessed was her first break-through success, followed by six other books in a similar vein and some romantic suspense titles before she turned to crime fiction.
She created two series, the first with Detective Chief Inspector David Webb of the Shillingham police, totaling 16 novels in all from 1984 to 1999. The second is a series Fraser debuted in 2003 featuring biographer/freelance journalist Rona Parish, with the last of six books published in 2008. Fraser also served the crime fiction community as secretary of the Crime Writers' Association from 1986 to 1996.
The first twelve in the DCI Webb series all take their titles from the lyrics to the English folk song "Green Grow the Rushes-O," including "I'll Sing you Two-O" from 1991, the ninth entry in the Webb roster. The case is set in motion when clothing store owner and part-time town magistrate Monica Tovey finds a van abandoned outside her home. But when the van's gruesome contents—the bodies of the football-mad, window washing, petty-thief White twins—are discovered, unsettling events disturb the serenity of the English town of Shillingham, and Monica suddenly finds her own life in danger.
DCI Webb begins to suspect that recent town burglaries, near-riots among soccer fans, low-flying airplanes and mysterious phone calls may not be unrelated to the case. Webb is also an accomplished artist, and he frequently calls upon his skills to record his impressions and hone in on the murderer, as he does here.
Fraser has taken some heat in the past for creating unconvincing and/or unlikely killers but also collected frequent praise for her rendering of small-town settings, with Publishers Weekly noting that "Fraser's rendering of an English community is again impeccable, enabling a reader not only to take pleasure in the mystery itself...but also to feel part of the life of a small, worried town," and Kirkus adding that it's "a competent, civilized police procedural, enhanced by sensitive probing of snarled relationships and a nicely drawn small-town ambiance."
PW also once characterized Fraser's writing as "succinct," with "her plots developed quickly, her prose straight to the point, with neither narrative nor character suffering from this brevity." And the book does fly along at a fairly clipped pace, in a very dialogue-heavy manner, although the investigation and procedural elements often take a back seat to character interactions.
It's interesting to read words the author gave to one character that "We lead container lives nowadays, bound up in our own concerns. It doesn't make for neighborliness." Those words feel even truer today than in 1991, when thanks to technology, we likely know more about some distant celebrity than we do the people on our own street, and people are glued to cellphones even when out "socializing" with others....more
The book is certainly enjoyable, but I experienced this classic via the original radio series - if you can get your hands on a copy, listen to that fiThe book is certainly enjoyable, but I experienced this classic via the original radio series - if you can get your hands on a copy, listen to that first!...more
Hulbert Footner wrote two mystery series, one featuring the pathbreaking female detective Madame Rosika Storey, and the other featuring a successful mHulbert Footner wrote two mystery series, one featuring the pathbreaking female detective Madame Rosika Storey, and the other featuring a successful middle-aged mystery writer-turned criminologist named Amos Lee Mappin. But even the latter series showed the author's interest in writing women into his novels, as Mappin's sidekick is his young secretary, Fanny Parran.
Death of a Celebrity dates from 1938 and is one of the last outings for Mappin, who is described as "not a tall man and far from slender." As usual, Mappin finds himself involved in criminal activity among New York's wealthy social circles. The "celebrity" of the title is famous playwright Gavin Dordress, who throws a party for fellow celebrities who all have reasons to hate -- and kill -- their host: an aging actress is enraged when she finds out Dordress didn't create a role for her in his latest play; the playwright's "best and oldest friend" is jealous because he relies on Dordress for handouts to fund a failed career as a novelist; the suitor of Dordress's daughter feels her father is holding her back from marrying; and Dordress's manager thinks his wife is having an affair with Dordress.
As one of the playwright's former classmates and a friend, Mappin is also invited to the party and brings along his secretary Fanny Parran, whose "littleness, her dimples, her blonde curls and her lisp gave her the artless charm of a child, but a man who assumed to talk baby-talk to her was apt to get a shock." The party is anything but jovial, but when Dordress turns up dead the next morning, the police assume it's suicide from the layout of the victim's body. It's Dordress's daugher and Fanny who convince Mappin to consider murder, and as Mappin digs deeper, he uncovers blackmail, revenge, jealousy and a simmering deep hatred that eventually point to one of the party-goers as the killer.
Like many of Footner's other stories, Mappin's investigation involves discovering clues left at the crime scene, which he uses to recreate the timeline and events of the murder. The writing is serviceable, if not particularly memorable, nor are Footner's plots intricate, often not playing fair with the reader in laying out the clues. But his characterizations and the interactions between the characters are entertaining. Considering Footner's focus on strong women in his novels, it's not surprising that the most interesting characters in Death of a Celebrity are female. ...more