Thursday, March 26, 2020

"NEW" AUTHORS: TBR potential (part 2 of 2)

Twelve more particularly intriguing authors this time around. These are authors who, to the extent that I can find details about their work, sound like they could be worth tracking down. In some cases, attempts to track them down may well prove hopeless, but hope springs eternal!

Isobel Strachey

It seems particularly striking that an author who achieved the apparent fame and success that ISOBEL STRACHEY did would not only have fallen off the world's radar but didn't even make it onto my radar until now. She was an artist and author of seven witty, sophisticated novels that were widely enough read in their day for a Guardian critic in 1963 to be able to suggest that Margaret Drabble, then a newcomer, was "by Elizabeth Bowen out of Isobel Strachey" and assume her readers would understand the reference. The Younger Sister (1951), which seems to have been one of her most acclaimed, is about a prudish young woman, fresh from school, who is horrified to find her married sister contemplating an affair and determines to sabotage the relationship. The Melbourne Age called it "a delightful book with its amused, gently satirical view of youthful idealism." 

Review of Isobel Strachey's The Younger
, from the Melbourne Age

Her other published titles are First Impressions (1945), A Summer in Buenos Aires (1947), Quick Bright Things (1953), Suzanna (1956), For Change of Scene (1959), and The Perfectionists (1961). According to her Observer obituary, she had completed a final novel just before her 1987 death, The Dressing Gown, which remains unpublished. She was married to a nephew of Lytton Strachey, and spent much of her childhood in Argentina where her father worked with the railway.

Image from Neglected Books (see link below)

KATHLEEN SULLY also received significant acclaim in her lifetime, though judging from reviews by Neglected Books, who has been extraordinarily thorough in documenting her work (see here, and I've swiped a couple of his gorgeous cover images as well), it might be a bit more understandable how her dark, disturbing visions could have fallen out of fashion. She began her publishing career with two short children's books, Stony Stream and Small Creatures, both in 1946. Nearly a decade later, she began publishing her adult novels, which were praised for their dark but brilliant portrayals. Of her debut, Canal in Moonlight (1955), set in an impoverished canal-side neighborhood, John Betjeman wrote, "It is no good my going on describing this book or trying to convey its at once hopeful and desolating climax. … Her book will either disgust you or do what it did to me, purge you with pity and frighten you with its sense of loneliness." 

Image from Neglected Books (see link above)

Of her third, Merrily to the Grave (1958), Elizabeth Bowen wrote of the author's "forceful, bizarre, singular gifts." Her other novels are Through the Wall (1957), Burden of the Seed (1958), A Man Talking to Seagulls (1959), Skrine (1960), Shade of Eden (1960), The Undesired (1961), A Man on the Roof (1961), The Fractured Smile (1965), Not Tonight (1966), Dear Wolf (1967), Horizontal Image (1968), A Breeze on a Lonely Road (1969), Island in Moonlight (1970), and A Look at the Tadpoles (1970). Canaille (1956) is a collection of two novellas. I'm inclined to think that Sully won't be a favorite for me, but her perspective sounds so unique and original that I think I must at least sample her work.

Review of Marjorie F. Bacon's Men Have Their Dreams,
from The Guardian

Both Strachey and Sully are reasonably accessible from libraries, at least, but MARJORIE F. BACON's two novels look considerably more elusive. Men Have Their Dreams (1941) is about a teacher in a secretarial training school and the interactions and relationships of some of her students. It could really go either way, but according to the Guardian, "Miss Bacon has held before her the ideal of being unfailingly direct and amusing in the telling of her story, and as she ls remarkably knowledgeable about the material with which she deals, witty, and the mistress of an admirable narrative style she succeeds in holding our attention." Her second novel, about which I've found no details, was The Devil's Shilling (1942).

Cover image courtesy of Grant Hurlock

Definitely enticing, but impossibly elusive if not for the intervention of the generous Grant Hurlock, is JANE LYLE, the unidentified author of 9 romantic novels. Usually, I'm not so absolutely enticed by "romantic" authors, but some snippets of reviews and blurbs make Lyle an exception. Sparty Lea (1934) is about a young woman who moves to a country cottage on the strength of a small legacy. Chit for Chat (1936) in particular seems to have garnered praise for its humor, and To-Morrow and To-Morrow (1938) was described as "a charming story of village life." 

Others are Three Times Round (1934), Full Measure (1935), Yours Respectably (1937), Nuts in May (1937), Together We Live (1938), and Such Ridiculous People (1940). I'm going to dive into a couple of these when time allows, courtesy of Grant. According to a 1938 review, the author was then living in Edinburgh, so she could be Jane Allan Lyle née Peacock, 1858-1939, but somehow having sampled a bit of Chit for Chat it doesn't quite seem like it was written by a woman of nearly 80. So far there's no way to establish her identity further, and it's also entirely possible the name was a pseudonym. More to come about Lyle.

I was also intrigued enough by C. A. (CELIA ANNA) NICHOLSON to snag a copy of Hell and the Duchess (1928), which was described in an advertisement as a "glittering chain of intrigues and escapades, fantastic sins and consciencious scruples." No details as to plot, though, and of course I haven't found time to dip into it yet. Nicholson was a well known designer and illustrator before her marriage, and later the author of more than a dozen novels. 

Tough to find details of most of her other books as well, but it appears that The Dawn Fulfilled (1925) is a tragic tale of a brilliant neurologist, while The Bridge Is Love (1930), set in "aristocratic France," was praised by the Times Literary Supplement for Nicholson's "eye, even in tragic moments, for social comedy." The Bookman called the intriguingly titled A Boswell to Her Cook (1931) "a haunting chronicle, clear as a bit of daily life, yet touched with a glamour indescribable." Other titles under her own name include Martin, Son of John (1918), Their Chosen People (1923), The Dancer's Cat (1925), and Wrath of the Shades (1933). She also published two novels under the pseudonym Diana Forbes—The Man Behind the Tinted Glasses (1924) and Whose the Hand? (1925)—which appear to be thrillers.

NANCY J. JOHNSTONE is one of those authors that could easily go either way. She had most success with three memoir/travel titles—Hotel in Spain (1937), about she and her husband opening a hotel in a Spanish coastal village, Hotel in Flight (1939), about their subsequent adventures during the Spanish Civil War and their efforts to get 60 children safely to the French border, and Sombreros Are Becoming (1941), about their regrouping and opening of a new hotel in Mexico. But she did also publish a single novel, Temperate Zone (1941), a humorous look at Brits and Americans in Mexico, which could be as charming as it sounds, or not… She and her husband split by the late 1940s and she remarried in Guatemala. The last sighting of her in public records is traveling to Russia in 1950 or 1951.

I'm also intrigued enough by DOROTHY WRIGHT to check out at least one of her books. Wright was a teacher and writer on basketmaking, a playwright, a screenwriter, and the author of six novels. The Gentle Phoenix (1938), a comedy about a young woman from a family of artists, earned a comparison to Margaret Kennedy's The Constant Nymph. Laurian and the Wolf (1957) is about a couple of young newlyweds on honeymoon in Italy and back home in London, and Among the Cedars (1959), a copy of which is currently winging its way to me, is about the neglected daughter of a divorced couple, who spends a summer in Austria with a young widow and her family. Her other novels are Shadows in Sunlight (1936), Queens Wilde (1950), and Advance in Love (1953). In spite of a mini-bio here, which provided the dates 1910-1996, I've so far been unable to trace her in public records.

Review of Hildegarde Huntsman's
Mad Fingers (aka The Laughing
), from the Pittsburgh

The first of HILDEGARDE HUNTSMAN's three novels, The Laughing String (1929, published in the U.S. as Mad Fingers), may also owe something to The Constant Nymph: "A well-written English story of an irresponsible artist's family, more particularly of Anna, practical and level-headed, a balance wheel in confusion." That's not a lot to go on, but there is potential, no? And also in regard to her second novel, Butterflies Have Wings (1931), about the frustrations of a young girl whose parents don't realize she's growing up. I could find no details her final novel, Martha and Mary (1935). In the 1950s, Huntsman published two one-act plays for all-women casts. According to an Ancestry family tree, she may have gone by the nickname "Garda".

Dustjacket scan courtesy of my Fairy Godmother

My information about the earliest novels by PRUDENCE SUMMERHAYES is even more vague, but I'm still intrigued. She published four novels in all. Of her debut, Cobweb Child (1934), I only have a blurb from the Daily Independent saying, "There is a sweetness and calmness that is extremely attractive," and about the second, World's Memory (1935), I have one from the Evening Standard calling it "A delightfully unpretentious novel … a book to read with quiet pleasure." But you have to admit both blurbs sounds enticing, if only it were possible to track down the books. 

She published a third novel, The Speaking Mirror, in 1938, before falling silent until after World War II, when she published Girls in Green (1949), "a novel of library life between the two wars." One modern critic seemed to enjoy it, noting that "the librarians' characters are remarkably filled out," while another summed up, "The novel is sufficiently somniferous that the reader's search for stereotypes runs neck-and-neck with the efforts of the Sandman to bring a merciful end to the business." Yikes. A capsule bio from an Australian newspaper says Summerhayes was the daughter of a country doctor and spent time working in a bookshop and on a Rocky Mountain ranch.

F. H. DORSET, pseudonym of Frances Beatrice Caroline Llewellyn-Thomas (née Carré), published five novels that seem to have been well-reviewed. The most famous (admittedly a highly relative term applied to a completely forgotten author) may be her last, The Marching Cloud (1937), which reflects the women's suffrage movement and women's changing social roles through the life of one woman. The Observer reviewer compared it to Trollope, no less. According to BBC Talk, Surging Tide (1931) "ends with a long and dramatic trial scene which will key you up deliciously," and Beggarman's Fortune (1934) is about a wealthy man whose legacy to his nephews and nieces takes the form of a treasure hunt, complicated by jewel thieves. Her other novels are Silent Meadows (1932) and The Window of the World (1932).

I also know very little about the last two authors in this post, but what little I do know seems intriguing. GWEN SYMS was the author of five novels—Nightingale in the Forest (1929), The Implacable Hunter (1930), Shannon Lister (1931), Unwilling Trinity (1933), and Along This Road (1937). Of Implacable Hunter, the Yorkshire Post said, "Everyone in the book is vividly done, especially the horrific ex-beauty of a mother, and the dialogue is full of rather cynical humour." As we all know, cynical humour can go either way—is it Dorothy Parker-ish or Barbara Pym-ish cynical humour, or is it a hateful trainwreck like the Hazel Pynegar WWII book I mentioned a while back? Happily, thanks yet again to Grant Hurlock, I have it queued up on my TBR list.

Hogarth Press cover of Allinson's A Childhood
(image from Modernist Archives, see link below)

Francesca Allinson, age 16 (image from
Modernist Archives, see link below)

And finally, it's always nice to come across even a fringe figure of the Bloomsbury circle, and perhaps FRANCESCA ALLINSON can just barely qualify, since her single autobiographical novel, A Childhood (1937), was published by Virginia and Leonard Woolf at Hogarth Press. Allinson was also a musician, composer, and scholar of English folk songs. She appears to have committed suicide in 1945. A biography of Allinson appeared in 2017. You can find additional information about her here. Thanks are due again to Mark Harris for flagging this one for me.

And that's that for the authors that jumped out at me as having particular interest (and that didn't fall readily into the mystery posts I've already done or my upcoming posts on children's writers). I have 24 authors from the last update who published at least some children's fiction, and some of those are very much potential TBR additions as well.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

"NEW" AUTHORS: TBR potential (part 1 of 2)

Here as promised are a few distractions from pandemic news and social distancing, from our bunker in San Francisco. Hope you're all safe and well too and weathering the storm as happily as possible.

It took me so long to get round to the last update of my list, and it has subsequently taken me so long to write these posts to tell you about new authors that I've actually already read books by 4 of the 23 authors I had flagged as having "TBR potential" and I've at least dipped into books by three or four more.

It was ages ago that I wrote about what seems to be P. B. ABERCROMBIE's most famous novel (well, it's all very relative), The Little Difference (1959), set in and around a girls' boarding school. See my review here. Much of her work is humorous, with darker underlying themes, and some of her eight novels received acclaim from the likes of John Betjeman, Marghanita Laski, and Angus Wilson, the last of whom called her "the most interesting of our young novelists." Alas, the acclaim did not result in lasting fame. 

Abercrombie's sixth novel, Fido Couchant (1961, aka The Grasshopper Heart), was reviewed at Neglected Books here. The other novels are The Rescuers (1952), A Lease of Life (1953), Victor and the Vanquished (1956), The Child of Fortune (1957), Pity (1965), and The Brou-Ha-Ha (1972).

I wrote about three more new authors here back in December. I read and enjoyed (but didn't quite love) MARGARET CARDEW's A House in Venice (1941), about the widow of a poet who becomes entangled with her husband's ex-wife and son while staying in Italy. The Guardian called it "a first novel with a delicious sense of comedy." 

Her second novel, The Judgment of Paris (1943), is about an American inspirational speaker who has rather more difficulty uplifting the women of Paris—the Guardian called that one "a delicate morsel of literary confectionery." Cardew seems to have had a connection to France, as her subsequent works were A French Alphabet (1945) and The History of Mère Michel and her Cat (1953), the latter a retelling of an 18th century French tale. Sadly, Cardew's husband died in 1942, just as her writing career was taking off, which may help explain why no more novels were forthcoming.

Meanwhile, I read and definitely did not enjoy FRANCES MARTIN's Summer Meridian (1956) (same post as above). It's a grownup school story set in a "co-educational school … devoted to the development of individuality and self-expression in the young," which should have been right up my alley, but alas was not. We've not yet been able to find any clues to identify Martin.

And also in that post I wrote about reading the second of two novels by MARY LE BAS. Second Thoughts (1935) is about a successful young novelist in London who falls in love and decides to stop writing, but finds it more difficult than anticipated. It's perfectly passable and has some strong points, but, as I said originally, just not very much pizzazz. But, I also mentioned that, in my first flush of excitement, I had acquired her other novel, her debut, Castle Walk (1934), which E. M. Delafield called "very fresh and amusing". Since my original post, I have actually read Castle Walk as well, and can happily report that it was much better than Second Thoughts. It follows two sisters who make a sort of wager—one will stay demurely and morally at home and try to make her way while living with their mother and stepfather, while the other will head off to London and make her way, as immorally as necessary, by hook or by crook. Unsurprisingly, all ends happily and it's a charming read. Le Bas must have used her best material for Castle Walk and run out of steam a bit with her follow-up! Le Bas, too, has eluded identification. If we assume the name is not a pseudonym, the author could be Mary Louisa Le Bas, 1914-1986, married name Turnbull, but I can't prove it.

Now, for some of the authors I haven't yet mentioned here.

While I was working on this recent update at a snail's pace, one of my "new" authors, STELLA MARTIN CURREY, miraculously reappeared in print, author of one of the latest Persephone reprints (see here), One Woman's Year (1953), which Persephone describes as "a mixture of commonplace, diary, short story, recipes—and woodcuts." Currey was the daughter of J. P. Martin, author of the Uncle series of children's books (1964-1973), and niece of Dora Fowler Martin, another author on my list. 

One Woman's Year was her final book, but she had earlier published fivel novels. Her debut, Paperchase End (1934), is about the newspaper business, and the Guardian admired its "deftness and humour" but felt Currey had overcrowded it with characters. Prelude for Six Flutes (1937) is about a girl assuming the care of her younger siblings after their parents are killed. It sounds right up my alley, but copies have proven elusive. The others are Marry We Must (1940), Following Charles (1944), and To the Mountain (1949).

I always like making connections with other authors on my list, and AGNES ANCROFT, author of three impossible-to-find novels, fits that criteria, being the sister of the rather better known Anne Hepple, whose romantic Scottish tales retain a small but loyal following. Ancroft's novels were As One of the Family (1938), No Divorce (1939), and Boarding House (1940). Hepple's fans will be intrigued to read that, reviewing the last of these, the Observer said it was "in the same delightful style as her famous sister's novels, and displays a flair for clever characterization." But they will likely be disheartened (as am I) at being unable to sample any of them.

Similarly melding the intriguing and the hopeless is FRANCES HUISH. Of her one novel, Selina Triumphant (1940), a blurb from the Times said, "There is plenty of entertainment and fun in this story of Oxford and life in a girls' school." Sounds delightful, but here's another one to seek at the British Library.

It's almost embarrassing how many intriguing authors have come to my list from the Neglected Books site. GAY TAYLOR is certainly one of those. She was the co-founder, with husband Harold Midgeley Taylor, of the Golden Cockerel Press and author or co-author of three books. The first, an autobiographical novel called No Goodness in the Worm (1930), based on Taylor's unsatisfying marriage and her tormented relationship with author A. E. Coppard, received wildly varying reviews. A few years later, she collaborated with close friend Malachi Whitaker (whose stories were fairly recently reprinted by Persephone) on the humorous satire The Autobiography of Ethel Firebrace (1937), from the point of view of a bestselling novelist of high sensibility and healthy ego. Her final book, A Prison, A Paradise (1958), published under her Loran Hurnscot pseudonym, is a diary (with names changed) revisiting her relationship with Coppard and her subsequent spiritual revelations. Elisabeth Russell Taylor wrote about her interest in Taylor, and particularly about A Prison, A Paradise, here. Neglected Books has also discussed all three of Taylor's books (see here).

Similarly on my radar because of Neglected Books is EILEEN WINNCROFT, the author of two novels—Be a Gent, Little Woman, Be a Gent (1938) and Angels in Ealing (1939). According to the Observer, the first is "the haphazard story of a young woman journalist with two children (each by a different husband), who is forced to rid herself of a charming drone and his poisonous mother." 

Eileen Winncroft

I had got as far as discovering that the Winncroft name was a pseudonym for one Martha Blount, but hit a wall at that point. Neglected Books, however, discovered that Blount itself was a pseudonym, and went on to identify her—not to mention actually getting his hands on the first of her novels. See here for his post about her.

Margaret Bellasis, aka Francesca Marton

FRANCESCA MARTON, however, came to my attention thanks to Mark Harris, a loyal reader of this blog. This was the pseudonym of Margaret Bellasis, who was a
historian and author of four pseudonymous novels, most set in the early or mid-Victorian periods. Over the Same Ground (1944) tells two alternating stories set a century apart in the same seaside town. In Attic and Area, or, The Maidservant's Year (1948) and Mrs. Betsey, or, Widowed and Wed (1954) she seems to have taken on the challenge of writing novels that were Victorian in both scope and style. According to the Evening Standard, the former "leaves one dreaming about the London that inspired Cruikshank and fertilised Dickens." The latter, about a 28-year-old widow struggling to support her children by working as a housekeeper, was even more enthusiastically praised: "Francesca Marton has recreated Victoria's England—the great country houses filled with color and excitement both above and below stairs; the sprawling, noisy city of London with its magnificent exhibition and its wretched poor; and Betsey's own sturdy, hard-working middle class" (Hartford Courant, 1 May 1955). Her final novel, Speculation Miss (1958), set around 1800, "loads a bevy of young spinsters on an East Indiaman for a six months' voyage with a crew of pretty hot-blooded, shiver-my-timbering sailors" (Guardian, 16 Dec 1958). She also published two historical works under her real name—Honourable Company (1952), about her own family's contributions to the East India Company, and "Rise, Canadians!" (1955), an acclaimed account of the 1837 rebellion in Upper Canada. The latter at least has been reprinted in recent years.

And rounding out this post is ADELAIDE Q. ROBY, author of five novels, most historical in setting and all released in e-book format by Endeavour Media in recent years. The Pindars (1939) is a family saga moving from the Industrial Revolution to World War I. Siren Song (1940) is about the romance of a farmer's daughter educated by a kindly clergyman. 

White Harvest (1941) is another saga set within the cotton industry. Roby then apparently fell silent until Sea Urchin (1974), set in an 18th century Cornish village. One additional novel, Charlotte Once Again, set in the 1960s and featuring ghostly themes, has been released by Endeavour, but I've not been able to determine its original publication date or whether it's a previously unpublished work.

All of these seem to have potential. Now if only one had unlimited reading time! And next time I have 12 more authors who have roused my curiosity.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Sheltering in place

Like most of us, I've been slowed down a bit the past week or so by the chaos and disruption of the coronavirus, but I hope to get back to posting more new authors and some recent reading soon.

As some of you will have seen on the news, San Francisco has been ordered to "shelter in place", effective yesterday evening until April 7, meaning streets and sidewalks are becoming eerily quiet and we are more or less housebound. Andy and I are working from home, which is taking some adjustment, but we are very fortunate in that we will therefore continue to be paid as usual. Andy has been joking that if the virus doesn't get us, being confined to our apartment together might! We are, however, allowed to go for walks (gyms are closed), fetch food from restaurants (carryout only) and grocery stores, and go to medical appointments and other necessary errands, though we must keep a distance of six feet from anyone we encounter along the way.  I suspect we're all dealing with something similar, or if anyone isn't you may soon be...

I'm cheered, though, by the news that by the end of the week some new films, including Emma, which we have been looking forward to, are apparently being released for rental via streaming services (at least in the US, hopefully elsewhere as well).  So there's at least one evening's entertainment taken care of--has anyone seen it yet?  

We are both healthy and crossing our fingers we remain so, and I hope all of you do too.  Please take good care of yourselves, both physically and mentally.  A fellow introvert at work joked that she hadn't realized it but she'd apparently been preparing for a pandemic her whole life, social distancing and all, and I have to say the idea of staying at home for a few weeks doesn't cause much alarm for me, but I know that for others it will be quite difficult.

I find that in the past week I've been thinking often about the folks in London and other locations during the Blitz who stood air raids all night long and still showed up for work the next day and then went and stood in lines for their rations. For the most part, we're not in anything like that kind of crisis yet, and I very much hope we won't be, but that period always provides me with some very useful inspiration and perspective.

Stay well, and more from me soon!

Sunday, March 8, 2020

War, romance, and … a ghost cat?: KAY CARROLL, Farthing Gate (1945)

"[Y]ou'll adore it, my dear. You'll be crazier about it than I am, even. It's got all the kind of things you think important—atmosphere, and a thatched roof, and an old-world sort of garden; and all the things I think important, too; electric light and an Aga cooker and a marvellous cesspool."

You have to admit this is a promising beginning for a novel, at least if you are, like me, an aficionado of English village tales. And the fact that Delia ("Didi") Fitzallan and her sister Joanna are relocating to this idyllic-sounding cottage, along with Delia's sons Glen and Nigel, and Joanna's daughter April, in the midst of World War II while their husbands are off fighting, is merely the icing on the cake.

The cottage is offered to the sisters by Penelope Lane-Lambert, Joanna's godmother, to whom Joanna always refers as Aunt Penelope and from whom she hopes to inherit one day. But Aunt Penelope is sometimes a challenge:

Lady Lane-Lambert was an old girlhood friend of Adeline Brownleigh, the mother of Didi and Joanna. She was godmother to Joanna and an honorary aunt to Didi and Robin. She lived in the southern village of Finglehurst in a wonderful old Elizabethan manor; her husband, a silent, preoccupied man, performed adequately and in an unfeudal manner those duties that, even in these days of government of the people by the people, fall to the lot of the largest landowner in a village. His wife performed similar feminine duties with a zeal that amounted to relish, and in a very feudal manner indeed.

Penelope's young niece by marriage, Sarah Lane, is somewhat uncomfortably staying with her while recovering from shell-shock after working as an ambulance drive in London, and becomes fast friends with Delia. And rounding out the cast of characters are Robin, brother of Delia and Joanna, and Hugh Falconer, an eligible if not terribly handsome friend of Robin's, who comes to stay at the cottage during his leave, relieved that there will be no young single women present who might set their sights on him. Or so he thinks.

And there are the former inhabitants of the cottage—the domineering Mrs Gethridge, now deceased, and her former companion Miss Corran, who went mad soon after and has been hospitalized nearby ever since. Not to mention Miss Corran's big cat, Dominic, who also manages to figure prominently.

Farthing Gate is such an odd little novel—part cozy little wartime village tale with a charming cast of characters, and part a strangely gothic haunted house story. Imagine Rebecca as rewritten by Richmal Crompton (but probably not quite as enticing as that might make it sound). 

The two sisters and their children are entirely believable and relatable, and Carroll's psychology is sound in presenting their dynamics and those of the other characters who pay them visits. She's best at telling of the day-to-day events of wartime life (though much of the time the war remains very much in the background). And however daft it is, even the ghost story succeeds in creating some suspense and curiosity, especially as the ghost cat's malevolence seems particularly to affect young, sensitive April, though the climax of it all is a bit too pat and easy.

Where Carroll falls down a bit, for me, is in the romantic bits, which are only a step or two above Mills & Boon. The romantically involved characters are, alas, the most bland and tiresome of the bunch, which makes me once again wish that authors like Carroll had been allowed (even encouraged!) to write novels focused entirely on domestic and/or wartime life without having to always rely on trite romance to sell their books. I should also note that, though cozy enough when there's no ghost cat traumatizing the children, Farthing Gate is more of a light drama than a comedy. The children are occasionally good for a laugh, and the dialogue between the two sisters is often amusing and smart, but most of it isn't played for laughs. I found myself wishing for a sequel in which the two husbands return from the war and minor domestic confusions and misunderstandings ensue. Despite the weaknesses, however, Carroll's writing did keep me turning pages, and I have to confess that I also spontaneously purchased several more of her books right after finishing Farthing Gate.

Bookplate of the Boston Athenaeum,
from whence my interlibrary loan sprang

I'm curious particularly about some of Carroll's other wartime writing, since one of the most effective and harrowing passages in this book is the description of Sarah's near-miss in London, which makes me think Carroll must have had some first-hand experience of bombs herself:

For the thing that had happened to Sarah, airily described by Aunt Penelope as "being hit in the blitz," had been a bomb exploding in the road a few yards behind her ambulance. …

It had been the culmination of a night of horror and fear; of driving with dry mouth and staring eyes through streets that had become for all who made their frenzied way along them, streets in hell. … Streets where chasms yawned suddenly before one's wheels; where a sudden frightened sideways glance gave one the incredible sight of the walls of a block of buildings caving in against a background of flaming sky, dissolving like a child's erection of bricks prodded from behind by a mischievous finger. … An inferno of noise beat on the cars; the air was thick with flying ashes, clouding one's windscreen; one's nostrils filled with the dreadful sickening smell of charred flesh …

At last—at last—one reached the hospital, as yet unhit, standing grey and steady and square like a rock in a stormy sea, and one's pathetic cargo of torn and ravaged and broken humanity was taken out, one's ambulance emptied, and back one had to go. … Back through hell, back into hell. …

And then it had happened. Above the background of noise, explosions, and screams, a scream louder than all the others, inhuman, the scream of a falling bomb. … A scream meant for her, for Sarah, coming straight for her. … Her foot had pressed down the accelerator madly, and she had raced to meet it. … Whee-ee-ee! Then nothing more. Absolutely nothing. A blank. …

Whew! That passage might well be worth the price of admission in itself.

Kay Carroll was actually the pseudonym of Katherine Alexis Charles, née MacAndrew, who knew quite a lot about life as a military wife, having married Wing Commander Guy P. Charles in 1933. She began her writing career with a memoir, Compass Course: The Log of an Air Force Officer's Wife (1941), which covered the years 1933-1941 and was described as "a vastly entertaining story by an Air Officer's wife with a quick and witty mind and a Service heart." (I'll be reading that one soon—it's sitting on my TBR shelves at this moment.) She went on to publish seven novels, now quite scarce—But Westward, Look— (1943), Farthing Gate (1945), Guest of Honour (1947), Hail and Farewell (1948), But Winter and Rough Weather (1950), Harmony Row (1950), and Anthea (1952). At least two of those (and possibly a third if it is not, in fact, lost in the mail, as I and the bookseller fear…) will be following along in my reading queue before long as well.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

"NEW" AUTHORS: mysterious women (2 of 2)

Eight more authors newly added to my main list, each of whom published at least one work of mystery or suspense.

I would have to say that the author I think most promising from this batch is EMERY BONETT. Nina left a comment on an earlier post ages and ages ago suggesting that Bonett (real name Felicity Winifred Carter, daughter of novelist Winifred Carter, also newly added to my list) belonged on my list and seemed right up my alley, but it has taken this long for me to follow up. I'm actually reading High Pavement (1944, aka Old Mrs Camelot) as we speak, and I have the later A Banner for Pegasus (1951, aka Not in the Script) on my TBR shelf.

Carter started out with four solo novels under the Bonett name. Her debut, A Girl Must Live (1936), was about a chorus girl seeking a wealthy husband, and was made into a film starring Margaret Lockwood in 1939. Three more solo novels—Never Go Dark (1940), Make Do With Spring (1941), and the aforementioned High Pavement—followed. I'm not sure about Never Go Dark and Make Do With Spring, but by High Pavement she has certainly progressed to writing mysteries. After World War II, she began collaborating with her husband, John Coulson, who went by John Bonett, and produced eight more mysteries with him. Dead Lion (1949) deals with the murder of a literary critic, while my next read, A Banner for Pegasus, is about a film crew shooting a film in an English village, and No Grave for a Lady (1962), set in Lyonesse, is about a novelist looking into the death of a silent film actress. Writing was clearly in Carter's blood—in addition to her novelist mother, her uncle John L. Carter was also a novelist, and her aunt Edith Carter was a playwright. Happily, due to reprints in the 1980s and perhaps even later, Bonett's books are not as difficult to track down as many of the authors I write about.

At the other end of that spectrum, however, on the "Intriguing but Impossible to Find List," would be CAROLINE FRANCIS, who published two mystery novels—Directors' Corridor (1936) and It Couldn't Be Suicide (1936). In the first, an unpopular secretary is found dead in a company boardroom, and in the second murder, a castle, and a gang of smugglers figure prominently. Of the latter, a contemporary critic said, "True, the central feature the book is to be found the murders and smuggling, but Caroline Francis has infused a happy atmosphere of humour and some effective work into the book, apart from the mysterious happenings, which dovetail naturally into the plan of things." So far, though, her books are as elusive as her true identity—John Herrington was able to discover that Francis was the pseudonym of a secretary for Vacuum Oil, a company that later became Mobil, but we couldn't identify her any further. One wonders if the unpopular secretary who becomes a corpse in Directors' Corridor was based on her own experiences of her co-workers!

Purely judging books by their titles, one of the most intriguing books in this post is surely DOROTHY HEWLETT's A Shocking Bad Hat (1941), described by the Observer as a "mystery melodrama beginning in an alley off Holborn and ending with a chase in the sewers." Hewlett was a playwright and biographer as well as a novelist. She published several one-act plays 1929-1937, followed by Adonais: A Life of John Keats (1937). 

Some of her novels, at least, are set in the early Victorian world she had researched for that book, including Victorian House (1939), which harked back stylistically (and, at 500+ pages, in girth) to classic Victorian novels. Her other novels are Better Than Figs (1943), The Two Rapps (1944), The Flying Horse (1946), and The Flowing Tide (1955). She published a second biography, Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1953), and, much later, a short historical work, Harrogate College 1893-1973 (1981).

Image "borrowed" from John
at Pretty Sinister (see link below)

I'm also quite intrigued by G. M. (GERTRUDE MARY) WILSON, who was a schoolteacher, comic strip writer, and author of more than two dozen novels. Many of these were mystery novels with supernatural elements, and often featured series character Miss Purdy, a mystery writer herself, and Inspector Lovick. Titles include Risky (1948), Cousin Jenny (1954), Bury That Poker (1957), It Rained That Friday (1960), Witchwater (1961), Murder on Monday (1963), Nightmare Cottage (1963), Cake for Caroline (1967), Death is Buttercups (1969), She Kept On Dying (1972), and Death on a Broomstick (1977). John at Pretty Sinister has posted enthusiastically about her work—see here, and, inspired by John, Martin Edwards made Nightmare Cottage one of his "forgotten books" here. Great recommendations, but alas most of the books are a challenge to find.

JOAN DERING also garnered some high-profile praise in her day. At least some of her seven novels seem to fall into the romantic suspense genre. Anthony Boucher called her debut, Louise (1956), "A romantic suspense-novel in the du Maurier tradition … contains some nice observations of a convalescent home and a second-rate public school. The ending is ill-contrived and resoundingly anti-climactic; but the going's a pleasure up to that point…" But Barzun and Taylor, in their Catalogue of Crime, are more enthusiastic about her final novel, Not Proven (1966): "The women in it are intelligent, courageous, and consecutive in their actions and feelings; the writing is first-rate and the plot (in the Jane Eyre category) is admirably put together, as is the solution of the antecedent murder." 

Number Two, North Steps (1965) is perhaps a bit more of a conventional mystery, with a vicar's daughter helping to clear her cousin of a murder charge. The other titles are Mrs Winterton's Rebellion (1958), The Caravanners (1959), Marianne (1960), and The Silent Witness (1962).

I'm generally more interested in mysteries and whodunnits than in more exotic adventure thrillers, but if you feel differently then HELEN HALYBURTON ROSS might be up your alley. She was the author of 11 novels, most or all of them thriller-ish in theme and many with Middle Eastern settings. Her debut, A Man with His Back to the East (1926), is set in Egypt. 

A blurb from the Yorkshire Observer called The Mystery of the Lotus Queen (1931) "a story of amazing adventures … proves most exciting in its atmosphere of suspense." Other titles include The House of the Talisman (1927), Sin and Sand (1929), The Lost Oasis (1933), and The Scarab Clue (1935). The name Halyburton doesn't appear on any of her own records, but was her father's middle name, so presumably she adopted it as a kind of pseudonym in his honour.

With HAZEL P. HANSHEW we progress from an author using her father's name to an author who is credited by the British Library with having written (or possibly co-authored, with her mother Mary E. Henshew) several titles in the 1910s and 1920s which were first published as by her father, Thomas W. Hanshew. She later published three novels of her own—The Riddle of the Winged Death (1931), Murder in the Hotel (1932), and, under her pseudonym Anna Kingsley, The Valiant Pilgrim (1933). Hanshew is sometimes considered an American author as her parents were American, but they moved to England early in her childhood and she remained there most of her life, so I've included her in my list. (Sadly, no cover images at all that I could find.)

I don't know a lot about DOROTHY BENNETT's work, but she published six crime novels—The Curious Were Killed (1947), The Carrion Crows (1950), Stranger in His Grave (1966), The Chaos Makers (1968), State Puppet (1971), and Game Without Winners (1972). The British Bennett (1919-1976) is not to be confused with no fewer than three American authors with similar names—children's author Dorothy A[gnes]. Bennett (1909-1999), crime writer Dorothy [Evelyn] Bennett (1902-1992), and playwright Dorothy Bennett (1907-1988). That's a lot of Dorothy Bennetts!

Finally, and rather anticlimactically, there's KAY (KATHLEEN) AGUTTER, who was a journalist and author of four novels. Three novels appeared pseudonymously under the name M. J. Stuart in the 1920s—The Valiant Gentleman (1924), which sounds like a romantic comedy, Grafted Stock (1925), and Brass Pot and Clay (1927). One final novel, Nothing Is Past (1939), a dark tale of a man whose past traumas turn him into a murderer, appeared under her own name.

That's it for this post, but I still have posts on more than 20 "new" children's authors, as well as 20+ other new additions to my list that are of particular interest. Coming soon…
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