Monday, February 22, 2016

Mysterious women (1 of 2)

Once the giant new update to my Overwhelming List finally went live a couple of weeks ago, I turned my attention to the need to update some of my other subject list with some of the many new additions who wrote mysteries or war-related fiction. I've now managed to finish my update to the Mystery List, and there were a few interesting new additions this time around—enough to fill two whole update posts, even!

Of course, there were also some about which so little is know that I can only guess about whether their mysteries are of interest (or even about whether their books are mysteries at all). WINIFRED BOGGS will be mentioned elsewhere for her other titles, but her second-to-last novel, Murder on the Underground (1929), certainly sounds like a mystery, even if I can find no details about it at all. Ditto with a late novel by ANNIE BRADSHAW called Murder at the Boarding House (1936)—could be intriguing, but unless one of you has tracked it down and can give an opinion on it, it remains a question mark. And G. T. OCKLEY (real name Grace Thompson, who was also a sculptor) wrote three novels—The Man Under the Window (1935), The Tempestuous Wooer (1936), and The Devil on Board (1937)—which are definitely crime-themed, but that's the extent of my knowledge.

LYN DEAN's two novels, Ask No Questions and The Rope Waits, both from 1937, seem to be mysteries, but I can't say for sure. And MARGARET DOUGLAS, an unidentified author of dime romances, published one book called Murder at the "Mike" (1936). The similarly unidentified DOROTHY JOHNSON published a title called The Death of a Spinster (1931), along with three other titles with unrevealing titles, so we can only speculate about them. ESSEX SMITH seems to have written somewhat melodramatic fiction, but what of The Wye Valley Mystery (1929)? And KAY ROCHE's two novels could be interesting, judging from a book cover, but I've found little to go on apart from the fact that The Shuttered House (1950) appears to be set in Tangier, while The Game and the Candle (1951) takes place in Spain.

Having got those out of the way, however, there are actually some authors who are either interesting in themselves or whose works sound intriguing. And there's even one (coming in the second part of this post) whose work is in print and readily available—will wonders never cease?

When I first came across a mention of Gory Knight (1937), by Barbara Rivers Larminie (already on my list) and JANE LANGSLOW, it didn't sound terribly promising. Described as a parody of the "round robin" detective novels that were popular at the time, it sounded like it might not have aged well, even if it was well done enough at the time. Then I came across a discussion of it by Martin Edwards, in which he describes reading it with another mystery writer, Margaret Yorke (also already on my list). He concluded:

The story parodies the celebrated detectives Hercule Poirot, Lord Peter Wimsey (and his manservant Bunter), Reggie Fortune, Dr Priestley and Inspector French—although the French character appears only in the final stages of the book .The sleuths gather, by improbable means, in an English country house, and are immediately greeted by the disappearance of the cook (the eponymous Ms Knight.) It is an entertaining piece of work. The plot is slight, and stretched out excessively, but to my mind there is much pleasure to be had in the way MRL and ‘Jane Langslow’ render the eccentricities of Poirot, Wimsey and Bunter in particular.

Apart from the fact that this description piques my curiosity about the novel, there is also some intriguing speculation by Edwards and Yorke that the unidentified Langslow was really the pseudonym of another novelist from my list, Maud Diver. You can read all the interesting discussion here.

Kay Seaton

There's also been some online speculation about another new addition to the list, KAY SEATON. Unlike Langslow, her identity is not in question—she really is Denice Jeanette Bradley Ryan, and no one disputes that she's the daughter of R. R. Ryan, who wrote numerous thrillers himself. Or did he? There has been some speculation (how credible depends on your point of view) that Denice Ryan/Kay Seaton may actually have written some or all of her father's novels as well (see here and here). Unfortunately, though, I could find little information online about the four books she indisputedly wrote, apart from the fact that they are likewise thrillers.

I suspect that there must be some more detailed information online about the eight mysteries written by JEAN MARSH, who was also a children's author, creator of a number of radio plays (some adapted from her novels), and, later on, author of about 20 romance novels. But my attempts at some adept Googling have been hopelessly hampered by her namesake, the much better-known British actress and screenwriter, who created and starred in, among numerous other projects, the original Upstairs, Downstairs series. They're certainly not the same person—Marsh the author's first novel appeared three years before Marsh the actress was born—but they make for some challenging Google searches. More to come, perhaps…

Molly Spencer Simpson

I already wrote a bit in an earlier post about the tragic MOLLY SPENCER SIMPSON, who died suddenly at age 21, having already published two well-received noir-ish thrillers. You can read about what John Herrington and I uncovered about her here.

Writing certainly ran in the family for MARGARET JEPSON. She was the daughter of Edgar Alfred Jepson, who wrote adventure tales, mysteries, and stories of the supernatural. She was also the sister of Selwyn Jepson, who wrote numerous mysteries and film screenplays. And, what's more, she was the mother of novelist Fay Weldon, whose publishing career started a few years too late to include her on my list. Now, with all those famous relatives you'd think that Jepson's own work would be fairly well documented, but alas, I could find almost nothing about the seven novels she wrote, mostly under the pseudonym Pearl Bellairs. They are purported to be thrillers, thus her inclusion on the Mystery List, but I can't provide any other information.

And finally, anticlimactically, two more authors about which I know very little. MARY KENT (real name Mabel Mary Andrews) was the author, in collaboration with her husband Michael Kent (real name James Chapman Andrews), of a single novel, The Armitage Case (1942), about which I could find no details. And AYLMER HALL (real name Norah Eleanor Lyle Hall), best known for her historical children's adventures, including The Devilish Plot (1965), set in Napoleonic England, and two later tales set in historical Ireland, Beware of Moonlight (1969) and The Minstrel Boy (1970), had earlier published two novels, The Mystery of Torland Manor (1952) and The K. F. Conspiracy (1955), which appear to have contemporary settings and which, though also written for children, presumably have mystery elements that just (barely) qualify her for this list. But that's about the extent of my knowledge.

And that's it for now.  But there are a few more interesting new additions that I'll update you on next time. Are any of these jumping out at you as absolute must-reads?


  1. Well, the book from this post I most want to read, based on the information in this post (I didn't have/take the time to follow up all the links) is Gory Knight. I think I would enjoy the more or less contemporary spoofs of Lord Peter, Bunter, etc.

    Wasn't there a movie something like this, I seem to remember a bunch of golden age detectives (including one or two US hard boiled ones), a dark house, some staff member dead, etc. I don't remember the title or actors, etc.


    1. I'm actually going to mention Gory Knight to Dean Street Press and see if it might pique their interest. It does seem to have a lot of potential.

  2. Jerri, I BELIEVE you are thinking of Murder by Death, 1976, and the cast was stunning! Maggie Smith, David Niven, Elsa (I seem to recall as a spoof of Miss Marple) Estelle Winwood, Peter Falk, etc. etc. Written by Neal Simon. If you get a chance to see it, do! It's a hoot!

    1. Yes, I just went to NetFlix, and when I saw some of the "cover art" it came flashing back to me. Added to the queue. I wonder if Neal Simon ever read Gory Knight, or if he thought of this idea on his own?


    2. I made Andy watch Murder by Death a year or so ago, the first time I had watched it since I was a teenager. I recall, Tom, that Elsa plays Jessica Marbles, Maggie Smith and David Niven are hilarious, and don't forget Eileen Brennan!

      My favorite Neil Simon line, though, is from The Cheap Detective: "There, gentlemen, goes a brave, beautiful, and extremely boring woman."

  3. Oh gosh yes, must see it again. It was terrific.

    The premise of 4 Dead Men sounds intriguing, if not the execution.

    1. Yes, Susan, Spencer Simpson might be right up some readers' alley (alleys?), but I've never been very excited by noir-ish novels with lots of tough guys sauntering about. Me not interested in masculine-focused novels--who would have thought?!?!


NOTE: The comment function on Blogger is notoriously cranky. If you're having problems, try selecting "Name/URL" or "Anonymous" from the "Comment as" drop-down (be sure to "sign" your comment, though, so I know who dropped by). Some people also find it easier using a browser like Firefox or Chrome instead of Internet Explorer.

But it can still be a pain, and if you can't get any of that to work, please email me at I do want to hear from you!