Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Mysterious women (2 of 2)

About ten days ago, I posted the first batch of new additions to the Mystery List, stemming from the recent update to my Overwhelming List. I mentioned 15 new additions in that post, and there are still 14 more to go, and just as with the first batch of mystery writers, I have varying amounts of information (and, for that matter, interest) on the authors in this post.

JOY GRIFFIN is probably the daughter (or possibly the sister-in-law) of the far more prolific Aceituna Griffin, who published more than a dozen novels, many of them mysteries. Joy collaborated with Aceituna on a single title, Motive for Murder (1935), which is reviewed here as more of a thriller than a whodunnit, but despite this, the reviewer seems to feel the book holds together rather well. Joy does not seem to have published anything else, and one wonders (but will perhaps never know) what inspired this one-off collaboration.

Perhaps the only name among these new additions that any of you will have heard of elsewhere is ELISABETH LAMBERT, far better known, with the addition of her married name, Ortiz, as a prominent cookbook author, who specialized in Latin American cuisine. Earlier in her career, however, Lambert published two novels. The second, Father Couldn't Juggle (1954), about a girl growing up in Jamaica (presumably based on Lambert's own childhood), doesn't seem to have any crime element, but the first, The Sleeping House Party (1951), is set at an Australian artist's colony and seems rather intriguing to me, though it won't to all readers. The Sydney Morning Herald seems to suggest that the novel is a witty but perhaps rather bitchy portrait of a group of immoral sophisticates involved in a murder investigation, and that, perversely, intrigues me. I'm only quoting part of the review on the Mystery List, but here it is in its entirety:

Here Jean O'Flynn McKenzie tells of the tragedies in the artistic colony at Emu Beach, 50 miles from Sydney.

Jean is "lady-help, stooge and hired companion" of Laura Weedon who founded the settlement at the beach. She writes of her employer: "She is generous, kind and hospitable and I think she is a bitch … very keen on high culture, but no slut under a hedge was more immoral than she, no baggage less principles." Jean herself "has a few shreds of genuine modesty left after three years with Laura's curious … companions."

Laura, her husband, Philip, and her current intellectual affair, Bill Manafee, who looks a typical bushman but is a theatrical entrepreneur, were invited to Christmas Eve festivities at Peter and Tony's. They are interior decorators who call one another "old bag," and "poppet," and are very friendly with a beautiful blonde painter, Esther. They sold "scads of her pictures." Other guests are Helen, a divorcee, and Paul Carroll, a British author with a wolfish look.

At the party, Philip is found fatally stabbed, thrust into a Father Christmas costume, part of Peter and Tony's decorations.

Detection is mediocre. The interest lies in the way this extraordinary crew spit, scratch and splutter under police questioning. The style is tough, frisky or mincing.

What can I say? I just might have to track down a copy…

Cathleen Nesbitt, actress and mother of
novelist Jennifer Ramage (aka Howard Mason)

A couple of these authors have connections to show business. HOWARD MASON (real name Jennifer Ramage) was the daughter of actress Cathleen Nesbitt. I confess I'd never heard of Nesbitt, but I learned from her Wikipedia page that she not only appeared in films as varied as Three Coins in a Fountain, An Affair to Remember, and The Parent Trap, but that she was the fiancée of Rupert Brooke when he was killed during World War I. Mason/Ramage was also an actress, though mostly on radio, and is described in some sources as a comedienne and impressionist. She then turned to writing and published four crime novels about which little seems to be known. The Red Bishop (1953) sounds rather gothic in themes, but Proud Adversary (1951) was described as "a tale of adventure in the Buchan tradition." It's unclear whether Photo Finish (1954) was humorous in novel form, but it was turned into what sounds like a distinctly silly spy movie called Follow That Horse! (1960), in which "[a] race horse swallows a microfilm, sought after by the major superpower spy agencies." Ahem.

Film poster for Cast a Dark Shadow, based on Janet Green's only novel

JANET GREEN also had the experience, whether positive or negative, of having her work adapted for the silver screen. Her single novel, Murder Mistaken (1953), which was based on her own earlier play, was filmed in 1955 as Cast a Dark Shadow, starring Dirk Bogarde and Margaret Lockwood. The plot, IMDB tells me, is about a man who murders his wife for her money, only to find her fortune isn't what he expected, so he goes on the prowl for another victim…

Now a couple of authors I know little about: NORA K. STRANGE was a prolific author of about 50 novels over nearly as many years, most of them apparently set in Kenya, where she made her home. Only one of them, According to Jill (1926), seems to have some elements of mystery about it, but I haven't found out what those elements are. BARBARA MALIM is included here merely on the basis of the fact that some of her works, at least, sound like mysteries or thrillers—with titles such as Missing from Monte Carlo (1929), Death by Misadventure (1934), and Murder on Holiday (1937). And I know that MURIEL HOWE wrote more than 20 novels, including several works of romantic suspense written with her sister Doris (under the joint pseudonym Newlyn Nash), and that, on her own, she she wrote at least two novels—The Affair at Falconers (1957) and Pendragon (1958)—which seem to be more straightforward mysteries. But that's all I can say about them.

I know only slightly more about AGNES ROSEMARY COOPER's books, co-written with Mary Weller under another joint pseudonym, Ramsay Bell, but they appear to fit the genre. Dragon Under Ground is described as “a pleasantly told yet thrilling tale of Christmas adventure," while The Lake of Ghosts is set in the Apennines and has an archaeologist as heroine. I'm intrigued, but I wish I could find more details…

Charlotte Hough

CHARLOTTE HOUGH is a fascinating and tragic story in her own right. She had been a successful children's author for more than 20 years, beginning with Jim Tiger (1956), when she turned her attention to mystery writing. She published one title in the genre, The Bassington Murder (1980), featuring an amateur sleuth in a small English village, and she had begun work on a second when she became ensnared in her own all-too-real murder investigation. She ended up serving time in prison for assisting an elderly friend in committing suicide, and the experience was so traumatic that she was unable to return to writing. Her daughter wrote a poignant obituary for the Telegraph, which can be read here.

Some of you may already be aware of SARAH GAINHAM, since her best-known work, Night Falls on the City (1967), set in Vienna during World War II, was an international bestseller. But you might be less familiar with her earlier spy novels, such as Time Right Deadly (1956), The Cold Dark Night (1957), The Mythmaker (1957), The Stone Roses (1959), and The Silent Hostage (1960). Several of these are reviewed informatively reviewed here.

Mary Violet Heberden

I also got most of my information about MILDRED VIOLET WOODGATE from a fellow blogger. Steve at Bear Alley discussed her a couple of years ago, and he describes The Two Houses on the Cliff (1931) as a mystery with romantic elements, and quotes a review of Pauline's Lady (1931) that compares it to the earlier, somewhat sensational, works of M. E. Braddon.

It would be very easy to confuse JOAN COCKIN with her almost-namesake Joan Coggin, who also wrote mysteries, but I assure you they are two different women. Cockin was a trail-blazing diplomat (you can read a bit about that here) and later an educational writer. She also published three detective novels, all featuring her series character Inspector Cam. There is little enough information about her online, but Classic Crime Fiction provides this description of her debut, Curiosity Killed the Cat (1947):

There is something very true to life about the village of Little Biggling. Many will be familiar with the quarrels of that Cotswold village which the Ministry of Scientific Research has invaded in wartime, and retained in its grip long after peace had come. There might well be troubled in such a place between the Civil Servant lodgers and the resentful locals. And in Little Biggling the trouble was—MURDER. The dead man was only a messenger of the Ministry—and Parry was an unpleasant type at that: but the characteristics of the dead man meant nothing to Inspector Cam except as pointers towards the murderer. It was just unfortunate for a good many people besides Inspector Cam that Parry seemed to have been curious about everybody and everything in Little Biggling.

Some potential there?

There may also be some potential in the final two authors in this post. MARY VIOLET HEBERDEN, who published as "M. V. Heberden" and as "Charles L. Leonard," seems these days to have more of a following in France than in either the U.S. or U.K. She has no English language Wikipedia page (or any other significant information), but the French Wikipedia page, language barriers aside, is quite informative, and John Herrington filled in some gaps. She published more than 30 novels in all, variously featuring series characters Desmond Shannon, a New York private investigator, Rick Vanner, a former Navy spy, and Paul Kilgerrin, a wounded veteran of World War II who works with American spy organizations, with his sidekick Gerry Cordent, a female pilot. You can read a bit more about Heberden here (and see the rather glamorous photos). Is it just me or do you think it might be time for a Heberden revival?

Mary Violet Heberden

By the way, the glamorous pics are partly to be explained by the fact that Heberden started out as an actress. She began in London at age 16, but soon relocated to New York, apparently to get away from living with her spinster aunts. According to John's research, she worked variously as a tour guide, office manager, and timber importer (!). Her one fairly substantial claim to fame as an actress came 1935-1937, when she appeared on Broadway in a supporting role in Victoria Regina, starring Helen Hayes as Queen Victoria.

And finally (last but hopefully not least), we come to the one author on this list whose works are all, rather amazingly, in print and readily available (at least at the moment). GUY CULLINGFORD (real name Alice Constance Lindsay Taylor) wrote about a dozen humorous mysteries 1948-1991. Orion's "Murder Room" series has now released all of her mysteries as e-books, and some of the descriptions sound enticing. The only potential problem: there appears to be some doubt about how long Murder Room titles will continue to be available in view of announcements that the imprint is closing down. So, perhaps we should get them while we can?


  1. HELLO? Cathleen Nesbitt? MY FAIR LADY?????????????????
    Oh, Scott.........................

    1. Oh, the shame of it, Tom! (I was tempted to say, "What's My Fair Lady?" but I don't want to give you a heart attack...)

    2. It's OK, Scott. I have an acquaintance, who is an aspiring actor (for some decades!) AND gay - and once heard "On the Street Where You Live," and asked, "What's that song?" Can you imagine if I tried to introduce some of the authors you mention?
      P.S. Just noticed one of your remarks about the Murder Room imprint closing down. Oh, no!

  2. Comment from Call Me Madam:

    Gosh, I knew nothing of Charlotte Hough's difficult life! She's familiar to me only as the illustrator of several books by M E Atkinson, a children's author whom I like a lot.
    Thanks for the info.

    1. Sorry you had trouble leaving the comment, Barbara, but I'm glad to have added another tidbit to your wealth of knowledge!

  3. I've read ENGAGED TO MURDER by M.V. Heberden, and I enjoyed it very much. It was reprinted by Harper in the 1980s and isn't hard to find. I liked it so much, in fact, that I've been collecting all her books. One day I hope to have time to sit down and read more of them....

    1. That's great to know, thanks! It does look like I can find that one. Now all I need, like you, is the time to actually read it! So many books...

  4. Now your on to my FAVORITE genre of all time. I just bought 3 new bookcases but after these two posts I might need a fourth! Thanks, Scott. No really I mean thanks for all the new books to look for! It makes life grand!

    1. Thanks, Peggy Ann! I'm always happy to help folks fill up their unused bookshelf space! :-)


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!