Sun 25 Mar 2007
A few months ago I was asked if I had any information on writer Mary McMullen, who wrote nineteen mysteries between 1952 and 1986, when she passed away. Most of these books were published by Doubleday’s Crime Club imprint and can be generally classified as being in the “malice domestic” genre. Without a series character to maintain readers’ interest in her stories, she’s on the verge of being forgotten, but no one writes that many works of crime fiction without having had a substantial following at the time.
What’s the most interesting about Mary McMullen, perhaps, is her family. When I did a bibliography for mystery writer Helen Reilly following Michael Grost’s excellent analysis of her crime fiction, I said:
Helen Reilly’s primary character was Inspector Christopher McKee. In Mike’s essay on her, he considers the McKee books as very early police procedurals, but he also connects her work up with the Black Mask style of writing, in the hardboiled pulp tradition.
My impression of Ursula Curtiss’s books is that they are much like her sister Mary McMullen’s, but stronger on the suspense. If you’ve read any of them recently, though, and can tell me otherwise, I’d surely like to be corrected. Ursula Curtiss is listed in CFIV as the author of 22 novels and one collection of short stories, the books appearing at regular intervals between 1948 and 1985.
Besides James Kieran, the brother mentioned above, there was another well-known member of the family, John F. Kieran, the sportswriter who was a long-time panelist on radio’s Information Please in the 1940s, among other accomplishments.
James Kieran’s impact on the world of mystery fiction is small, but the reason will soon become clear. He has only one entry in CFIV, as follows, in slightly expanded form:
* * Come Murder Me. Gold Medal #150, 1951, pbo. Reprint: Gold Medal #419, 1954.
About this time, Victor Berch, whom I’d asked for assistance on the original inquiry about Mary McMullen, sent me the following email:
[In Al Hubin’s Crime Fiction IV] James Kieran’s dates [are given] as 1911-1986. I think this is the wrong James Kieran. Out of curiosity (more likely habit), I decided to check with the Copyright Office. Come Murder Me was first registered March 7, 1951. The copyright was renewed Feb. 15, 1971 by Mrs James Kieran. his wife. Then the thought crossed my mind “Why should his wife had to renew the copyright if he was still alive?
Anyhow, the record also gave her full name as Dagmar N. Kieran along with the Mrs. James Kieran appelation. So, I ran a check on her. She was born May 10, 1908 and died Sep. 22, 1985 according to [Social Security records].
However, there is another data base that I sometimes check. It lists people coming in to the USA from foreign ports, both citizens and aliens. The data taken from passports usually give the name of the person, the birth date, place of birth and present address.
And so I found Dagmar N. Kieran and her husband James M. Kieran returning from a trip to Curacao Dec. 7, 1936. James M. Kieran’s birth date was given as September 23, 1901, born in NYC. A check through the NY Times led me to an extensive obituary, which I’ll send along [soon]. He died January 12, 1952. So, his dates and full name should be Kieran, James Michael, Jr., 1901-1952.
He died, that is to say, only year after his only mystery novel was published. As for his family, a brief article in Timemagazine also mentions the Kierans (December 25, 1939):
Last week hot-tempered Mayor LaGuardia announced that he had fired hot-tempered Jim Kieran. “He called me a guinea ———–,” said the Little Flower. “What else could I do?” City Hall ferrets had their own idea of what the row was about: Franklin Roosevelt’s devoted friend Jim Kieran was outraged “because the Mayor lately has buttered up Herbert Hoover.”
Impulsive Mr. LaGuardia quickly regretted his anger, tried to get word to Jim Kieran that all was forgiven. The other Kierans said they had no idea where Jim was. Friends thought they knew. When the Kierans let their Irish get the better of them, they generally retire to Helen’s Connecticut farm to cool off.
Some excerpts from the NY Times obituary for James Kieran will follow, one of them toward the end very interesting, especially if true. It does not seem as though the statement would be in the obituary, if it were not. Of course the degree of involvement is not specified, and it may have been minimal. But here, read for yourself:
[After his leaving La Guardia] he entered the public-relations business for a period. […] More recently he collaborated with a sister Helen Reilly, one of the country’s well-known mystery story writers, in a number of books, and also was an author in his own right.
If anyone knows more, we’d love to know about it.