I'm busily putting the finishing touches on the final section of my World War II Book List, which I hope to post by Wednesday or Thursday at the latest, but in the meantime, I've come across two new(-ish) articles in as many days, both related to obscure women mystery authors, that have a strong relevance to this blog. It's so rare that I am timely with any news at all, how can I possibly resist sharing them with you?
Both of these articles have added to my "to do" list as well as my "to be read" list. First, there's the news, which you can read for yourself here, that one of the most obscure entries on my Overwhelming List, a grandniece of Jane Austen named Lois Austen-Leigh, who published four mystery novels in the 1930s, is about to burst back onto bookstore shelves courtesy of the British Library's wonderful series of mystery reprints. Sadly, it won't happen until late this year or early in 2017 (depending on which part of the story you believe—it cites both dates at different points), but The Incredible Crime (1931) sounds quite enticing.
The novel is described as "a witty take on academic life in Cambridge," (which means I need to add it to my not-yet-released adult school story list as well as fleshing out its mention on my Mystery List), and the book's editor—Kirsten Saxon of Mills College—also describes it as "brash" and "funny" and notes, from her research on Austen-Leigh herself, that "she zipped about town on her motorbike and claimed she wrote so the royalties would keep her in champagne.”
I'll certainly be an eager reader, and if the book is well-received, hopefully the British Library will get around to Austen-Leigh's other three novels as well—The Haunted Farm (1932), Rude Justice (1936), and The Gobblecock Mystery (1938)—though I was amused to see that they're considering whether a title-change might be necessary for the last of these…
The other article (see here) is about the release of a new book that surely needs to be on my TBR list. Martin Edwards, himself a successful mystery writer, has published The Golden Age of Murder, which uses the famous Detection Club as a focal point around which to examine a whole slew of lesser-known authors, including—apparently—some long-forgotten women writers. The review mentions Lucy Beatrice Malleson, who wrote very successful mysteries under the pen name Anthony Gilbert, as well as Ellen Wilkinson, who was an MP in addition to being an author. Another review I found online also mentions the husband and wife team of Margaret Cole and G. D. H. Cole, who published nearly three dozen mysteries together from the 1920s to 1960s.
Happily, it looks like the San Francisco Public Library has copies of Edwards' book on order, so I'll be eagerly perusing it at the earliest opportunity for more information on these and other authors.
Almost more interesting than the review of Edwards' book, however, is a little tidbit dropped into the middle of it about Monsignor Ronald Knox, who (unbeknownst to me until now) wrote clerical mystery novels and was the brother of Dilly Knox, master codebreaker at Bletchley Park. The review notes that Dilly Knox (it doesn't mention his first name, but he's obviously the brother they mean) was sent to "interrogate" Agatha Christie after her use of the name Bletchley in her spy novel N or M? made British Intelligence nervous. Actually, from other accounts I've read, this is perhaps a slight exaggeration, as Knox was in fact a friend of Christie's and was merely sent to chat with her and get a feel for how the name had come about. Christie apparently explained that her train had been stuck in Bletchley one day and she had therefore crankily given the town's name to her novel's unpleasant character.
The article finds it interesting that one mystery author's brother would have interviewed another mystery author to determine if she was a spy. But I'd like to take this opportunity to add another level of interest (at least interesting for my purposes), since, as many of you undoubtedly know, the Knox family also produced a wonderful female novelist (and one who also published a couple of mystery novels) who is better known to us as Winifred Peck.
(Although, to vent my crankiness with an author who started writing too late to be included on my Overwhelming List, you would not be likely to know this if you relied on Penelope Fitzgerald's acclaimed biography The Knox Brothers, which inexplicably all but erases sister Winifred's existence in its exclusive interest in the men of the family. Oh, I know the title is The Knox Brothers and not The Knox Family, but that just begs the question of why that was Fitzgerald's focus. The brothers are indeed interesting and worthy of attention, there's no question about that. But I find it absolutely bizarre that one woman writer, soon to be a novelist herself, would focus on the men of the family so completely that she could barely muster a single mention of the fact that Winifred was a novelist, let alone a successful and very talented one. Little wonder that male writers have so often been valued more highly than women writers, when even the women writers themselves seem to subscribe to the point of view that men are the interesting ones!)
Okay, snarkiness complete. Ahem. At any rate, one wonders (at least I do) how often, in her friendship with Dilly Knox, Mrs. Christie might have happened to also sit down to tea with Mrs. Peck? And what would their conversations have included? Sadly, we will likely never know. Social media might be at least as much of a curse as it is a blessing, but how I would have loved to see the Facebook posts—or possibly a tweeted video?—from such a meeting…
And finally, although I'm straining the meaning of the title of this post (well, if mysterious is more or less synonymously with unknown then she certainly qualifies), I have to note the rather exciting news that the Greyladies edition of Molly Clavering's Near Neighbours (which I reviewed here a while back—and I also talked more generally about Clavering here) is now officially available.
I'm so happy Greyladies decided to reprint this book, and you can order a copy from their website. If I'm not overstating, I believe this is the first time any of Clavering's books have been reprinted in paperback (or, indeed, any time in the past few decades), so it's great news for fans of the kind of gentle, humorous, character-based fiction for which Clavering's neighbor, D. E. Stevenson, is known.