What follows arose from an inquiry by Paul Di Filippo on the FictionMags Yahoo group, based on a mystery novel found in a recent catalog from Peter Stern —

— Another Lesser-Known Writer in the crime field, one C. B. Dignam, commands top-dollar ($300) for his/her 1926 novel BLACK VELVET.

I am unable to google anything on Dignam. Anyone know info about this forgotten writer?

? Another member of the group, Denny Lien, a librarian at the University of Minnesota came up with the following information —

— Hubin lists only this and one other detective novel by the author, does not expand the pseudonyms or give dates etc., so presumably unknown and perhaps pseudonymous..

No holdings for the book in WorldCat. COPAC shows it at the British Library and the National Library of Scotland:

Main Author: Dignam, C. B.
Title Details: Black Velvet. A novel.
Publisher: London : John Hamilton, [1926.]
Physical desc.: pp. 287. ; 8o.
Note: Part of “The Sundial Mystery Library.”

and gives the same holdings for his/her only other novel:

Main Author: Dignam, C. B.
Title Details: The Sons of Seven.
Publisher: London : John Hamilton, 1928.
Physical desc.: pp. 357. ; 8o.
Note: Part of “The Sundial Mystery Library.”

I assume the “Sundial Mystery Library” was likely a lending library specialist or some such, resulting in few surviving copies.

? I sent both query and response to Al Hubin, who had this to add —

— I once owned copies of both Dignam’s books, but have no further information. According to freebmd.org, Dignam was a fairly common British surname, so it could be an author’s real name. But that list has no one with the initials C. B., though it’s possible that one of the listed persons with a first name beginning with C had a middle name which wasn’t given (or that one of a few entries without first/middle names and just given as “male” or “female” could be our author). I’ll inquire of others in case they know anything about C. B.

? But at the moment, this is where the matter stands. From their titles, both books sound like “thrillers” to me. I cannot think of very many female mystery writers who felt the need to disguise their sex by using initials or a “male-sounding” pseudonym, so my feeling is that C. B. Dignam was male.

And yet, Mary Violet Heberden, to point out a single counterexample (and all I need is one), and for whatever reason, felt the need to write her more than thirty spy/private eye novels in the 1940s and 50s as either M. V. Heberden or Charles L. Leonard. (The link will lead you to my review of Sinister Shelter, which Heberden wrote under the latter name, a private eye novel which has Paul Kilgerrin doing some post-war work in South America for the US government.)

In any case, here is another question: How many other female mystery writers can you think of who have disguised themselves in print as male? Leave a comment, if you would, or email me directly.

And FYI: There are currently three copies of BLACK VELVET for sale on the Internet, ranging in price from $14.00 to $53.50, including postage.