Women of Mystery: The Lives and Works of Notable Women Crime Novelists

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9780312209421: Women of Mystery: The Lives and Works of Notable Women Crime Novelists

In this remarkable book, Martha Hailey DuBose has given those multitudes of readers who love the mystery novel an indispensable addition to their libraries. Unlike other works on the subject, Women of Mystery is not merely a directory of the novelists and their publications with a few biographical details. DuBose combines extensive research into the lives of significant women mystery writers from Anna Katherine Green and Mary Roberts Rinehart with critical essays on their work, anecdotes, contemporary reviews and opinions and some of the women's own comments. She takes us through the Golden Age of the British women mystery writers, Christie, Sayers, Marsh, Allingham and Tey, to the leading crime novelists of today, focused on the women who have become legends of the genre. And though she laments, "so many mysteries, so little time," she makes a good effort a mentioning "some of the best of the rest."

When DuBose writes of the lives of her principal players, she relates them to their times, their families, their personal situations and above all to their books. She subtly points out that Sayers, whose experience with the men in her life was inevitably disastrous, created in Lord Peter the ideal lover -- one who is all that a woman desires and needs. DuBose gives us the curriculum vitae that Dorothy Sayers created to help her bring Peter Wimsey to a virtual actuality. Ngaio Marsh would give up an active presence in the theatrical world she loved, but she recreated it for herself as well as her readers in many of her novels. The biographies of these woman are as engrossing as the stories they wrote, and Martha DuBose has shined a different, intimate and intriguing light on them, their works, and the lives that informed those works.

This book is so full of treasure it's hard to see how any mystery enthusiast will be able to do without it. And what a gift it would make for anyone on your list who has been heard to announce "I love a mystery."

Some of the treats inside:

In the Beginning: The Mothers of Detection
Anna Katherine Green
Mary Roberts Rinehart

A Golden Era: The Genteel Puzzlers
Agatha Christie
20 Dorothy L. Sayers
Ngaio Marsh
Margery Allingham
Josephine Tey

Modern Motives: Mysteries of the Murderous Mind
Patricia Highsmith
P.D. James
Ruth Rendell
Mary Higgins Clark
Sue Grafton and more!!

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Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Women of Mystery
Part ONEIN THE BEGINNING: THE MOTHERS OF DETECTION"All goes to plan, both lying and confession, Down to the thrilling final chase, the kill."--from "The Detective Story" by W.H. AudenIn the 1800s, murder was decidedly not a proper topic for well-bred ladies and gentlemen. When the young Victoria became Queen of England and Great Britain in 1837, propriety ascended the throne, and the Queen's rigid standards of behavior dominated not only her own subjects but the upstart citizens of England's former colonies as well. Even at the raucous frontier fringes of the fledgling United States, Victorianism mixed well with the still-strong strains of Yankee Puritanism.Luckily, more and more people were learning to read, and with literacy came a growing demand for literature in its broadest sense. Although fine books were beyond the financial reach of most people, newspapers, magazines, and cheap storybooks thrived in a market that clamored for entertainment and quick thrills, and even the most high-minded authors (and their publishers) discovered that they could actually make money and gain fame by feeding popular tastes. It was in this environment that the detective story was born.The first true literary detective was a French gentleman named C. Auguste Dupin--the invention of America's foremost tortured genius, Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849). With the publication of "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" in 1841, followed by "The Purloined Letter," "The Mystery of Marie Rogêt," "'Thou Art the Man,'" and "The Gold Bug," Poe carved out the fundamentals of the genre. Dorothy L. Sayers credited Poe with the introduction of "the formula of the eccentric and brilliant private detective whose doings are chronicled by an admiring and thick-headed friend." Dupin was, according to mystery writer andcritic Julian Symons, "what Poe often wished he could have been himself, an emotionless reasoning machine."The brilliant-detective-and-dogged-sidekick formula was just one of the devices Poe innovated. From his fertile brain came the locked room murder, the innocent suspect, the most likely villain, the verbal clue, the cryptic clue, the in-plain-sight clue, the red herring, rudimentary ballistics evidence, armchair detection, fiction built on real-life facts--so many of what Dorothy Sayers called the "deceptions in the mystery-monger's bag of tricks ... ." Sayers went on to declare that, "take it all round, 'The Murders in the Rue Morgue' constitutes in itself almost a complete manual of detective theory and practice."The times were changing dramatically in mid-nineteenth-century England and France and in the United States. The story of the development of detective fiction is a record of relatively rapid cross-pollination among these three countries. The first seed was germinated by Poe. Seedlings were then transported from shore to shore, hybridized, and when conditions were propitious, a true genre emerged.Howard Haycraft in Murder for Pleasure connected the development of civilian police forces to the rise of democratic states and the realization "that only by methodical apprehension and just punishment of actual offenders could crime be adequately curbed and controlled." The advent of professional police departments came in the early to mid-1800s in England, France, and the United States. With the acceptance of official detection, interest in fictional detection could prosper.A second factor was the Industrial Revolution, which made the mass production of reading material a viable commercial activity. As Colin Watson demonstrated in his study of the rise of popular crime fiction, Snobbery with Violence, authors like Sir Walter Scott, Charles Dickens, and William Thackeray, who understood popular tastes, came along "at just the right moment to reap the benefit of cheap printing, big-scale serialization ... and the direct marketing and wide distribution made possible by the growth of the railways."A third critical factor was the spread of literacy. Throughout the nineteenth century, more and more of our foremothers and forefathers were learning to read, and what they wanted to read was sensationalism. Romanticism and, later, reaction against Victorian repression ignited a wildfire of lurid storytelling to satisfy the growing public demand. Even in polite British society, ladies and gentlemen wanted their excitement dished up hot and spicy--if not in their drawing rooms, at least between the covers of their books. Despite the condemnation of Victorian critics, nineteenth-century readers relished new tales of horror and sexualmetaphor, snatching up Mary Shelley's1 Frankenstein (1818) at the beginning of the century and Bram Stoker's Dracula (1897) at the end. In-between, they indulged in the soulful Gothic romances of the Brontë sisters, the stormy poetics of Byron and Shelley, the dark passions of Thomas Hardy.The most successful writers of popular sensational stories were often women who spun feverish tales that revolved around dark secrets, dramatic revelations, and tragic consequences. What they delivered was truly sensational: overwrought tales of sex, betrayal, and death, usually justified by neatly high-minded conclusions. But readers knew that the sins along the road to the final moral--illicit love affairs, bastard children, hidden identities, bigamy, incest, and murder--were the real fun.In 1860 and 1861, East Lynne, the first story by Mrs. Henry Wood (Ellen Price Wood, 1814-1887), appeared as a magazine serial and was later published as a complete novel. Although rejected by several cautious English publishers because of its controversial content, East Lynne eventually sold more than one million copies during Mrs. Wood's lifetime, making her a very wealthy woman. The story includes elements of detection (but no detective) and the legal prosecution of an old crime. Critics at the time were astounded by the author's presentation of courtroom procedures. The Saturday Review noted "an accuracy and method of legal knowledge which would do credit to many famous male novelists."2An even more scandalous English novel, Lady Audley's Secret, was penned by young Mary Elizabeth Braddon. Wildly popular, this high melodrama was crammed with crime, from bigamy and blackmail to murder, leading to the unmasking of the charming Lady Audley's true nature. A lawyer's daughter, Miss Braddon (Mary Elizabeth Braddon Maxwell, 1837-1915) lived much closer to the edge of social acceptability than Mrs. Wood. By the time Lady Audley's Secret reached the British public in 1862, Miss Braddon had moved in with her publisher, John Maxwell. Because Maxwell's first wife was confined to a mental institution, the couple lived together without benefit of clergy until 1874, when they were at last able to marry. Together they had six children, two of whom became novelists, and Mary Elizabeth also raised her husband's five offspring.Her writings, which reflected the influence of the French Realists,won the admiration of contemporaries including Charles Dickens, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Henry James, and she enjoyed a long and successful writing career. Like Mrs. Wood, Mary Elizabeth Braddon never dealt seriously with detection, but toward the end of her career, she included increasingly complex crimes in her books, and her influence on later generations of detective writers was substantial.American readers in the early nineteenth century were drawn to the moody mysteries of Hawthorne and Poe and the novels of James Fenimore Cooper. Americans were still very much a part of a frontier culture and favored down-to-earth settings for their thrillers rather than the Gothic castles of their English cousins. Even Mark Twain dabbled with certain facets of the crime story, and he was one of the earliest writers to understand the importance of fingerprint evidence. It was an American woman, however, who took inspiration from Poe's short stories and expanded detection to novel proportions. The first detective novel by a woman is now recognized to be The Dead Letter: An American Romance (1867), written by Mrs. Metta Victoria Fuller Victor (1831-1885) under the pen name Seeley Regester. Mrs. Victor's novel--first serialized in Beadle's Monthly magazine in 1866--included a gentleman police detective named Mr. Burton, and through hundreds of pages, the novel mixed fevered sensationalism with detection and wild trans-American chases. The resilient Mr. Burton does his darnedest to solve the mystery rationally, but in the end, he must turn to his clairvoyant daughter for a resolution: a detective, yes, but hardly Poe's reasoning machine. While the Pennsylvania-born Mrs. Victor was a prolific writer, she was never a very good one, and The Dead Letter is now regarded as little more than a quaint historical footnote.It was to be another American woman who would finally master the legacy of Poe in long form, eliminate the cheap sensationalism of Victorian romance, and write the first internationally successful detective novel--and she would earn her title as "The Mother of the Detective Novel" almost a decade before the birth of the great Sherlock Holmes.ANNA KATHARINE GREENTHE LADY AND THE INSPECTOR"Have you any idea of the disadvantnges under which a detective labours?"--The Leavenworth CaseIn 1853, Poe's concept of the reasoning detective had attracted no less a novelist than England's great Charles Dickens (1812-1870). His working-class Inspector Bucket of Bleak House has resonated through generations of police fiction, and Dickens's last, unfinished novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, is considered by many to have been a true detective story in the making. But with the possible exception of Edwin Drood, Dickens was never really interested in detection per se. Inspector Bucket was not a plodding crime-solver but a plot device, employed by Dickens to move his story forward with minimum complication.It was Dickens's friend Wilkie Collins (1824-1889) who made the next real breakthrough in detective fiction after Poe. In 1868, Collins published The Moonstone. Although an earlier Collins mystery, The Woman in White, is more popular today, it was not true detection. The Moonstone was called by Dorothy L. Sayers "probably the very finest detective story ever written" and by poet T. S. Eliot the "first, the longest and the best"3 of the English detective novels. It is a cunningly plotted tale of crime and misdirection into which Collins introduced his own working-class policeman, Sergeant Cuff, the prototype of so many ordinary men of inordinate rationality who populate fictional police departments even today. Cuff is described by Julian Symons as "a master of the apparently irrelevant remark, the unexpected observation ..." that reveals his prodigious deductive powers. But Collins never followed up on The Moonstone and its detective, and although interest in the novelwas revived among writers in the 1920s, it never achieved broad public acceptance.In the year of The Moonstone's, publication, a young American was scribbling away at her first novel, a secret project that took six years to complete. Anna Katharine Green's decision to become a professional writer of detective fiction was not so extraordinary as it might appear. She was already a boundary-breaker--a college graduate in a society that saw few rewards in the formal education of women. Born in 1846, Anna Catherine Green (she changed the spelling of her middle name when her first book was accepted for publication) was the product of hardy New England stock. Her father, James Wilson Green, was a lawyer who represented clients in the state and federal courts of Manhattan and raised his family across the river in Brooklyn Heights, New York. Anna was the fourth child born to James and his wife, Katherine Anne Whitney Green. Katherine gave birth to her fifth child in 1849, but neither she nor the infant survived. Left with four children to care for, James Green turned over the child-rearing duties to his elder daughter Sarah, whom Anna Katharine called "mother-sister."In spite of his success as a lawyer, James Green had the soul of a wanderer and frequently moved his family from rented house to rented house, city to city. One of his many moves took the family to Buffalo, New York, where he met and married his second wife, "Mother Grace," a kind woman who encouraged her stepdaughter's education and burgeoning interest in writing.As Anna Katharine was growing up, so was her country. Even with the Civil War looming, the United States was expanding economically and geographically, and a middle-class lawyer and his family were well positioned to benefit. The Greens were always devout Presbyterians, worshiping for many years at Brooklyn's Plymouth Church, whose firebrand pastor was Henry Ward Beecher, brother of Uncle Tom's Cabin author Harriet Beecher Stowe. It was probably this combination of factors--the family's relative affluence, their religion, and the influence of the powerful teachings of Henry Ward Beecher, a fervent supporter of women's rights--that prompted the extraordinary decision to send Anna Katharine to college. In 1863, she entered Ripley College in Poultney, Vermont, one of a gallant handful of women's institutions of higher education. At Ripley, Anna Katharine presided over the Washington Irving Association, made the acquaintance of Ralph Waldo Emerson, and determined to become a poet. She received her bachelor's degree in 1866 and returned to the family home--now back in Brooklyn Heights and filled to the rafters with brothers, sisters-in-law, and sundry extended family members.Anna Katharine sent several of her poems to Emerson in 1868, buthis response was not encouraging. She turned from writing poetry to a novel. Believing that her father would not approve of fiction, she kept her work secret from all but her stepmother until The Leavenworth Case was completed. In fact, James was enthusiastic about his daughter's first novel, perhaps because the story included extensive legal and courtroom knowledge that had to have been learned from him. Through a friend, James arranged for Anna Katharine to meet publisher George Putnam, a contact that proved highly profitable for both.Published by Putnam in 1878, The Leavenworth Case: A Lawyer's Story was an immediate success at home and overseas. In England, Anna Katharine was praised in print by Wilkie Collins: "Her powers of invention are so remarkable--she has so much imagination and so much belief (a most important qualification for our art) in what she says ... ."4 In France, her work was promoted by Émile Gaboriau, and its international success opened the world of literary eminence to Anna Katharine. The novel eventually sold more than a million copies, became required reading at the Yale Law School, and was said to be a favorite of British prime minister Stanley Baldwin. In 1894, Anna Katharine was visited at her home by her friend and frequent correspondent Arthur Conan Doyle, who had brought Sherlock Holmes to the reading public seven years earlier.In The Leavenworth Case, Anna Katharine created her version of the Bucket-Cuff working-class cop, Inspector Ebenezer Gryce of the New York Police. As the story opens, a wealthy merchant is found dead in the library of his home, and suspicion falls on two lovely sisters before Inspector Gryce unr...

From Booklist:

This handy biocritical guide to female crime novelists offers short essays on 18 authors, beginning with Anna Katherine Green and Mary Roberts Rinehart, moving through the Golden Age (Christie, Sayers, Marsh, Allingham, and Tey), and finishing with a sampling of moderns, including P. D. James, Sue Grafton, and Patricia Cornwell. DuBose mixes critical commentary on her subjects' work with relatively brief biographical sketches. Bibliographies are included for each of the profiled authors. Much of the biographical material will be familiar to fans (Anne Perry's secret past as a convicted murderer; P. D. James' career in hospital administration), but there is considerable value, especially for students and researchers, in gathering this material together. In addition, DuBose's critical comments, though generally laudatory, are often quite perceptive. She is particularly good on the Golden Age authors and on establishing connections from one era to the next (the influence of Patricia Highsmith, for example, on such modern masters of psychological suspense as Ruth Rendell). In all, a functional addition to the mystery reference shelf. Bill Ott
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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