Thursday, January 29, 2015

UPDATE: Mystery writers

In my fairly recent, epic update to my Overwhelming List, there were 11 authors added who wrote (or allegedly wrote) one or more mysteries. I've now had a chance to add those authors into the Mystery List. Sadly, because Blogger makes it rather challenging to make significant edits to a post (especially one containing a table, as all my lists do) without completely unexpected and undesirable results, this has meant that I had to, effectively, recreate all three parts of that list, and in order to preserve my own sanity I've removed some of the cover pics these posts originally featured. Alas. But as a result, the list is that much more informative and inclusive, so that will have to do for now.

These 11 authors include two who have seen a perhaps surprising resurgence of availability in the past couple of years. The British Library has reprinted all three of MAVIS DORIEL HAY's mysteries from the mid-1930s. I'm intrigued by them, especially the first, Murder Underground, in which the London Tube features prominently, but The Passing Tramp was distinctly underwhelmed by that one and I've heard from other readers that Hay's works haven't fully lived up to their potential. I may still have to check one out—especially since I can borrow them with my Amazon Prime account…

And A. FIELDING is surely as big a mystery in her own right as any of the puzzles she created. The best researchers in the business, including John Herrington who has given me so much of his expert assistance, have tried their hand at positively identifying Fielding, but have ultimately had to admit defeat. John is convinced that she is in fact a Dorothy Feilding, though definitely not the Lady Dorothy Feilding with whom she has been identified in the past (among other things, Lady Dorothy died about a decade before the other Dorothy Feilding stopped writing). John has successfully tracked Feilding during the years from 1925 until 1944, but has been unable to locate birth or death records to really ground his identification. The mystery continues… Only last year, Passing Tramp wrote about Fielding's personal mysteriousness, and his speculations about Fielding and Agatha Christie—though he acknowledges them to be unlikely (to say the least)—are also quite fun to read and bring out some very interesting links between the two women.

Of course, several of the other new additions to my list remain shrouded in almost as much obscurity as Fielding. When I corresponded with John about MARY DURHAM, he said he had contacted her publisher and it seemed possible that records might remain about her, but the publisher had not so far been responsive to his inquiries. You can read a bit more about the mystery here. (By the way, thanks to the reader who suggested Durham for my list quite a few months ago—alas, I can't seem to locate who it was, but I appreciate the suggestion, whoever was the source of it.)

MARGARET ARCHER, ANITA BOUTELL¸and HILDA DANVERS DEARDON are also pretty obscure, and I haven't located birth or death dates for either. Of Boutell's 1938 novel, Tell Death to Wait, a contemporary review (I've lost the source—my research skills for this post have been shameful) states:

The mystery element in this is thin, but as a story of murder it holds water. Successively told from four angles, it shows selfish, ruthless Leo whose death her husband, lover and guests determine shall be known as an accident. Nan, her loyal friend, is firm on proving it murder, but is blocked by hearing the past and the reason for the killing. There's a neat twist to the end.

Which is the extent of my knowledge about Boutell, and my knowledge of Archer and Deardon isn't even that extensive.

I at least have dates for JOAN COWDROY, who must have been fairly successful in her day as her output totalled at least 20 novels. Of her early novel The Inscrutable Secretary (1924), the Queenslander had this to say:

The Inscrutable Secretary (Hutchinson) is a really fine story of romantic love, big business, and mystery. John Marston, secretary, and adopted son of the South American millionaire, Anthony Farren, finds the affairs of the latter's bank in his hand after a shocking motor accident, when Farren is almost killed. He carries on in spite of overwhelming anxiety, suspicion, and enough mystery to have stranded a weaker man. … [I]t is a splendid story, well told.

I'm not sure I feel compelled to track it down, but it's nice to know something about Cowdroy's style.

I already mentioned LUCY BEATRICE MALLESON in my post on the backs of books not long ago. Her alter-ego, Anne Meredith, was mentioned on the back of Winifred Peck's Unseen Array, which sparked my curiosity, and I still find myself intrigued by the title included there, A Fig for Virtue. Malleson was obviously a successful writer in her day, especially with the many novels she published as "Anthony Gilbert," but there don't seem to have been any significant efforts to revive or reprint her works in recent years. An undiscovered treasure? Or not?

One of Malleson's other pseudonyms for wen
she needed a break from mystery writing

And finally, the three remaining authors added to the Mystery List have all been (or will soon be) included in my school story author update posts, but they all have at least a vague connection to mystery writing as well.

FREDA HURT, who wrote two school stories—The Wonderful Birthday (1953) and Fun Next Door (1954)—seems to have had the most success in mysteries, publishing several over the course of more than a decade after hanging up her girls' school author hat.

The other two have a more tenuous connection to mystery writing. M. C. RAMSAY is known to have written several novels for adults in addition to her one school story, but details about them are sparse. I'm speculating that Was She Guilty? (1920), at least, was a mystery, but this is little more than a guess based on its title.

And WINIFRED DONALD's inclusion is even tenuous. Sims & Clare mention that she wrote mystery stories, but if they were ever published in book form, she apparently used an as-yet-unknown (to me, at least) pseudonym. But I'm including her with this open query in the hope that someone who knows may provide a clue to the, er, mystery.

Below are the list entries for each of the nine authors and a few more cover photos just for the fun of it.

MARGARET ARCHER (dates unknown)
More research needed; author of eight novels of the 1940s and 1950s, the first two of which, at least—Canter's Chase (1945) and Gull Yard (1947)—are mysteries; others include Flowers for Teacher (1948), The Silent Sisters (1950), The Gentle Rain (1952), and See a Fine Lady (1955).

ANITA BOUTELL (dates unknown)
More research needed; forgotten mystery writer of the late 1930s and early 1940s.  Her works include Tell Death to Wait (1938), Death Has a Past (1939), and Cradled in Fear (1943). Death Brings a Storke (1938) could be a US edition of Tell Death to Wait or a fourth novel.

JOAN A[LICE]. COWDROY (1884-1946)
Author of at least 20 mysteries from the 1920s to 1940s, including Brothers-In-Love (1922), The Inscrutable Secretary (1924), Watch Mr Moh! (1931), Murder Unsuspected (1936), Death Has No Tongue (1938), and Merry-Go-Round (1940).

More research needed; author of at least nine novels of the 1930s which appear to be adventure and spy stories, including "This Road Is Dangerous!" (1930), The Blonde Madonna (1933), Strange Rendezvous (1934), The Trappings Are Gorgeous (1937), and Dust in Her Eyes (1940).

WINIFRED DONALD (dates unknown)
Author of five girls' mystery tales with some school content, including Linda—the Schoolgirl Detective (1949), Linda in Lucerne (1950), Linda and the Silver Greyhounds (1952), Linda in Cambridge (1955), and Linda in New York; reportedly, she also wrote adult mysteries under an as-yet-unidentified pseudonym (??).

MARY DURHAM (dates unknown)
Author of at least nine mystery novels, some or all featuring series character Inspector York, but little else is known of her; titles include Why Pick on Pickles? (1945), Keeps Death His Court (1946), Cornish Mystery (1946), Murder Has Charms (1948), and Castle Mandragora (1950).

A. FIELDING (dates unknown)
(pseudonym of Dorothy Feilding)
Mystery writer of the 1920s-1940s whose real identity remains shrouded in obscurity; titles include The Charteris Mystery (1925), Murder at the Nook (1929), The Westwood Mystery (1932), Tragedy at Beechcroft (1935), Mystery at the Rectory (1936), and Pointer to a Crime (1944).

MAVIS DORIEL HAY (1894–1979)
(married name Fitzrandolph)
Author of three mystery novels of the mid-1930s, recently rediscovered and reprinted by the British Library—Murder Underground (1934), Death on the Cherwell (1935), and The Santa Klaus Murder (1936); she also co-wrote several books about rural crafts in the 1920s.

Author of numerous children's books and a series of mysteries; works include the school stories The Wonderful Birthday (1953) and Fun Next Door (1954), as well as The Body at Busman's Hollow (1959), Sweet Death (1961), Death and the Dark Daughter (1966), and Dark Design (1972).

(aka Lucy Egerton, aka Anthony Gilbert, aka J. Kilmeny Keith, aka Sylvia Denys Hooke, aka Anne Meredith)
Prolific author of mysteries under her Gilbert pseudonym, featuring Arthur Crook, as well as mainstream fiction as Anne Meredith; titles include Death At Four Corners (1929), An Old Lady Dies (1934), Mrs Boot's Legacy (1941), A Fig for Virtue (1951), and Ring for a Noose (1963).

M. C. RAMSAY (dates unknown)
Author of one girls' school story, Betty Bruce, Beverley Scholar (1926) (sensational but great fun, according to Sims & Clare), as well as several adult novels, including James Ogilvy's Experiment (1907), Stephen Martin, MD (1908), The Doctor's Angel (1914), and Was She Guilty? (1920).


  1. I have a copy of Death on the Cherwell by Hay on order from the library, it's so interesting to find that lots of old crime are being reprinted.

    1. Oh, good, I look forward to your verdict (so to speak)! I'm very curious about her, despite some underwhelming reviews.

  2. Oh my, I read one of A. Fielding's books a few years ago, "The Footsteps That Stopped." I had no idea the author was a woman. Unfortunately, I have virtually no recollection of it, which is sorta damning, isn't it?

    1. No, that's not very encouraging, although I have to admit that I often don't have a recollection of books I read, apart from a general feeling of affection or indifference. Maybe that's why I blog, so I can at least look back and remember what I thought of books I've read!

  3. There's plenty of Anthony Gilbert available for the Kindle. I read him/her avidly as a teenager. I had no idea he was a she though.

    1. Thanks, Gil. I'm so used to my writers being impossibly obscure that I confess I didn't even check Amazon for Gilbert. But the blurb about her there has bumped her quite a way up my TBR list!

    2. Actually, the e-books appear to not be available in the U.S. Grrrrr. Like the GGBP e-books of several of the Chalet School titles, which have been enticing me but which alas are not for the likes of us poor Yanks!

    3. Grrr indeed. I know Amazon can be tricky but don't GGBP themselves transmit to the US? I know little about the ebook side of their business other than that they don't seem to want to do any more at the moment. Grrr for me too since I should love to have a complete set of CS books in the Czech Republic as well as in the UK. E books would make it much simpler!

  4. Thanks, Scott, for your never-ending supply of intriguing covers and book and author descriptions. (Too bad about having to remove some of them....)

    I especially like the first one, the Vanishing Corpse. Whimsical, to say the least. :^)

    1. I think I might like Castle Mandragora best actually. The guy running down the hill is either terrified or playing a bad round of charades.

  5. Oh, and I especially love the cover and blurb on Murder Underground.

    1. My favourite is The Trappings are Gorgeous. And what a fabulous concept The Tea-Cosy's Aunt is!


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