FREDERICK C. DAVIS – The Deadly Miss Ashley. Schyler Cole & Luke Speare #1. Doubleday/Crime Club, hardcover, 1950. Pocket #804, paperback, 1951.

   I read and collect Davis’s books mostly because he was an extremely prolific writer for the detective pulp magazines, but if you were to pin me down I couldn’t tell you anything significant that he wrote for them. Maybe the Operator #5 pulp-hero stories?

   Here the detective Agency is Scyler Cole’s, but the switch os that he plays Watson to his own legman, Luke Speare, who appears to have all the brains and energy. The problem is to discover which of the many women inn the case is the accomplice awaiting an embezzler’s return from prison, the loot still hidden.

   The deductions get tedious and self-contradictory, the plot contrived and essentially unreal, but the clues are fair and the killer is deadly. The case hinges to large extent on an undecipherable method of shorthand, invented and taught by a lady in Baltimore – a touch of insanity indeed.

Rating: C

– Slightly revised from The MYSTERY FANcier, January 1977 (Vol. 1, No. 1)


      The Schyler Cole & Luke Speare series —

The Deadly Miss Ashley. Doubleday 1950.
Lilies in Her Garden Grew. Doubleday 1951.
Tread Lightly, Angel. Doubleday 1952.
Drag the Dark. Doubleday 1953.
Another Morgue Heard From. Doubleday 1954.
Night Drop. Doubleday 1955



NEVADA BARR – Firestorm. Anna Pigeon #4. Putnam, hardcover, 1996. Avon, paperback, 1997.

   Barr is one of those authors who seems to have taken the field more or less by storm, and whose first novel commands a ridiculous price from dealers. I’ve only read one of her previous three books, the second, and thought it was well written prose-wise but had an excruciatingly unlikely plot denouement. I felt sort of sad when I started this, because it was a a book that a god friend had harangued me about reading.

   Forest ranger and EMT Anna Pigeon is attached to a firefighting crew that’s battling a monster blaze in the National Forest and Lassen Volcanic National Park in Northern California when disaster strikes. Just as the fire appears to be winding down, a change in the weather causes a firestorm and Anna and the crew are caught by it.

   Most survive, but most are burned to one degree or another, and they are isolated from rescue by terrain and weather. When they check for survivors, one of the casualties is not only burned, but stabbed. Those that remain must worry not only about surviving injury and the elements, but the presence of a murderer in their midst.

   I liked this. Anna Pigeon is a very engaging character (at least in this book; I don’t remember liking her as well in the other), and here Barr writes a very lean, straightforward style of prose and tells a hell of a good story. The nearest I’ve come to to fighting forest fires is brush and grassland, but I’ve seen firestorms, and if Barr hasn’t been there and done that, she’s listened well to someone who has. The realism of the fire scenes is astounding.

   Barr did a good job with the supporting cast and the mystery was adequate, but this was as much about coping and survival as anything else, to me. Good book.

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #24, March 1996.

      The Anna Pigeon series —

1. Track of the Cat (1993)
2. A Superior Death (1994)
3. Ill Wind (1995)
4. Firestorm (1996)
5. Endangered Species (1997)
6. Blind Descent (1998)
7. Liberty Falling (1999)
8. Deep South (2000)
9. Blood Lure (2001)
10. Hunting Season (2002)
11. Flashback (2003)
12. High Country (2004)
13. Hard Truth (2005)
14. Winter Study (2008)
15. Borderline (2009)
16. Burn (2010)
17. The Rope (2012)
18. Destroyer Angel (2014)
19. Boar Island (2016)



BART SPICER – Black Sheep, Run. Carney Wilde #3. Dodd Mead, hardcover, 1951. Bantam #1049, paperback, 1952.

   Carney Wilde is one of the top private eyes in Philadelphia. He just opened his brand new office that he can’t afford and a cop he knows busts in on the office-warming party and urgently needs to talk to him.

   The police superintendent committed suicide a week back, but he left a note confessing to graft and naming names. New Jersey gamblers had been paying off cops to look the other way when shuttle services shipped Philadelphians to and fro from Jersey to enjoy an evening of debauchery. The list included the name of a mutual friend, the most honorable homicide detective on the force. The cop hires Carney Wilde to clear his name.

   Wilde heads to Jersey to try to figure out the payoff structure. He ends up getting tailed by another P.I. hired by a reform group of mugwumps aiming to clean up corruption in the City of Brotherly Love. But before Wilde knows it, he’s been framed for the murder of the mugwumps’ P.I., and now the law is after him too. Now Wilde not only has to vindicate the cop, but vindicate himself whilst uncovering the deep dark twisted conspiracy behind the framing of the innocent by the grifters themselves. Who’s behind the conspiracy? And why are the mugwumps so embedded in the swamp?

   Hopefully I’m not giving too much away by saying that the story’s a bit reminiscent of One Lonely Night and The Manchurian Candidate.

   Carney Wilde is a believable, likeable, very human detective, with all the frailties and passions of an everyday guy. He’s no hero. He’s just trying his best. Which is generally good enough.

   I enjoyed the book, as I did the only other in the series I’ve tried (The Long Green). I think he deserves to be spoken of in the same breath as Ross Macdonald and Thomas Dewey and William Campbell Gault. Which is to say that, to apply Somerset Maugham’s self-denigrating quote: “in the very top rank of the second rate.”

      The Carney Wilde series

The Dark Light. Dodd 1949.
Blues for the Prince. Dodd 1950.
Black Sheep, Run. Dodd 1951.
The Golden Door. Dodd 1951.
The Long Green. Dodd 1952.
The Taming of Carney Wilde. Dodd 1954.
Exit, Running. Dodd 1959.



PETER BOWEN – Wolf, No Wolf. Gabriel Du Pré #3. St. Martin’s, hardcover, 1996; paperback, 1997.

   Bowen is also the author of the three-book Yellowstone Kelly series. Du Pré is a Metís breed, a descendant of the voyageurs, who works as a cattle inspector in Montana and lives with an Indian woman.

   Trouble has come to Gabriel Du Pré’s Montana, trouble in the form of eco-terrorists who want the cattle lands taken away from the ranchers, and wolves reintroduced to the country. When two of the terrorists are shot after cutting fences and killing cattle, the FBI is called in, and a tense situation gets tenser in a hurry.

   There are more killings, and Gabriel knows that the killers are almost certainly among his friends or acquaintances. And then the worst blizzard in memory sets in over the countryside, and survival becomes even more of a problem.

   This is the second book I read within a week that has the Western cattlegrower’s/bunny-hugger’s conflict as a plot hook. It’s a complex and emotionally charged issue, and I don’t believe you can read this without giving it some serious thought.

   I like this series a lot, but not for reasons that would necessarily translate into liking by anyone else. Bowen isn’t a tight, meticulous plotter, nor are his characters always strictly believable, nor will his idiosyncratic prose be to everyone’s taste. It’s to mine, however, and I like his sometimes larger-than-life characters, and I like his depiction of the people and culture of Montana cattle country.

   I could do with a little less of his Indian mystic, but that’s my only real cavil. I can’t see anyone being neutral about these; you’ll either like them considerably, as I do, or you won’t care for them at all.

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #24, March 1996.


      The Gabriel Du Pré series

1. Coyote Wind (1994)
2. Specimen Song (1995)
3. Wolf, No Wolf (1996)
4. Notches (1997)
5. Thunder Horse (1998)
6. Long Son (1999)
7. The Stick Game (2000)
8. Cruzatte and Maria (2001)
9. Ash Child (2002)
10. Badlands (2003)
11. The Tumbler (2004)
12. Stewball (2005)
13. Nails (2006)
14. Bitter Creek (2015)
15. Solus (2018)

by Francis M. Nevins


   Back when first Hammett, then Chandler, then Spillane were the dominant figures in their field, the standard term for the kind of novels they wrote was hard-boiled. Today we rarely if ever see that word. The standard term has become noir, which in the past was used to describe the work of Cornell Woolrich and a few others like him who even in a pea-soup fog couldn’t be mistaken for Dash, Ray and the Mick.

   One evening when I was doing a guest presentation at Washington University, the young professor who had invited me insisted that there were two kinds of noir, hard and soft, with the former represented by people like Hammett and Chandler, the latter primarily by Woolrich. I’m not at all sure that noir is the right word for most PI novels but it certainly is for those of the foremost living practitioner in that field, Lawrence Block. As witness his final contribution to that type of novel in the 20th century.


   One of the strongest arguments for identifying Hammett with noir is the parable of the falling beams in THE MALTESE FALCON with its pervasive motif that we live while blind chance spares us. That would have been a fitting title for the fourteenth of Block’s novels about Matthew Scudder, EVERYBODY DIES (1998), which is also a perfect title since in this powerful book it’s almost literally true.

   Now happily married and sober and a licensed PI, Scudder is asked by his unlikely best friend, stone killer Mick Ballou, to help dispose of the bodies of two of Ballou’s minions, shot to death in a New Jersey storage shed where Mick had been stashing a huge shipment of stolen whiskey. Soon after the corpses are buried on Ballou’s upstate New York farm,

   Scudder is stopped on the street and beaten by two lowlifes who warn him to stay out of the situation, which he intended to do anyway. On reporting the incident he learns that Ballou has come to suspect that an unseen enemy is out to destroy him, and without any desire to get involved our PI finds himself in the middle of a savage war.

   That’s just about all the plot there is in EVERYBODY DIES, a succession of ultra-violent bloodlettings almost in the manner of James Ellroy, with a pile of casualties best described as collateral damage, two of them recurring characters in the series, people Scudder cared about deeply.

   Interspersed with the carnage are reflections on death, with one chapter consisting of dozens of variations on the theme Hammett expressed in seven words of one syllable each, and dark allusions to religion, including a reference to pedophile priests. Scudder’s illegal activities in this one threaten to cost him his license.


   The next novel in the series, HOPE TO DIE (2001), is set and was apparently written during the late summer of 2000, a few months before the Bush-Gore election, almost a year before 9/11.

   Scudder is now 62, perhaps a bit too old for the hard action of books like EVERYBODY DIES. He’s surrendered his PI license but is still sober and married to the ex-call girl Elaine and rather well off financially, making large contributions to arts causes like Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall. One evening after a complimentary dinner and concert for donors, another couple who attended, a prosperous attorney and his wife whom Scudder and Elaine never met, are brutally murdered on returning to their brownstone on 74th Street.

   Several days later two more bodies are discovered, this time in Brooklyn, and the police conclude that these men perpetrated the first double murder, after which one killed the other and then himself. But there remain a couple of loose ends: How did the perps get into the brownstone and how did they know the code that would turn off the house’s alarm system?

   After what seem too many pages devoted to domestic drama — Scudder’s ex-wife dies suddenly and he discovers one of his grown sons has gotten himself in trouble — we return to business when the murdered woman’s niece, a grad student at Columbia, asks Scudder to look into her suspicion that the couple’s daughter, who lived with them and inherits the brownstone and everything else, was behind the double murder. When Scudder goes to interrogate the daughter, she in turn hires him to investigate the murder of her parents.

   It’s at this point that something happens which is unique in a Scudder novel: we switch from the detective’s first-person viewpoint to that of the murderer, a viewpoint that we get to share in several chapters to come including the last. What he learns leads him to commit another murder, but not before the victim leaves Scudder a phone message that sets him on the trail.

   Eventually there are seven more deaths. Scudder and the police hope the serial killer himself is among the final casualties but, thanks to the last chapter, which returns us to the perp’s point of view, we know better.

   Perhaps that chapter means only that the monster has escaped and is free to kill again, but Block leaves open the possibility, and I would say the probability, of a sequel. He even hints at the madman’s next targets when the perp takes Scudder’s card from the fifth (or is it the sixth?) victim. And might those chapters of domestic drama not be irrelevant after all? Might the future targets include Scudder’s family?

   It’s also possible that a sequel, if any, might explain what seems to be a colossal blunder on Block’s part. The weapon in the first four murders described in HOPE TO DIE belonged to a psychiatrist named Nadler, who claims, and reported to the police at the time, that it was stolen during a burglary. Then, on page 246, Scudder and the police decide that Dr. Nadler must be innocent of the quadruple killing because, as he can prove, he’d been vacationing on Martha’s Vineyard for the past eight days.

   But in fact this proves less than nothing: the murders clearly took place much longer than eight days before page 246! In addition, Scudder had had a face-to-face interview with the shrink less than eight days before that pesky page. Doesn’t this demolish Nadler’s alibi? In the immortal words of Sportin’ Life from Gershwin’s PORGY AND BESS, it ain’t necessarily so.

   Perhaps it would all become clear if there were to be a sequel. But it was only after a long hiatus that the next Scudder novel appeared.


   It’s not billed as a sequel, but whoever reads it without having read HOPE TO DIE has to absorb some tightly compressed summaries of what happened in the earlier novel. ALL THE FLOWERS ARE DYING (2005) takes place a few years after 9/11, “our watershed; everything in our lives is before or after that date.” Scudder is at least 65 years old and more or less retired, Elaine still runs her art shop.

   In the early chapters we learn nothing important except that Monica, Elaine’s best girlfriend, has become involved with a mystery man. At this point we move to third-person narration and Greensville, Virginia, where a psychologist calling himself Arne Bodinson has gotten permission to interview Preston Applewhite, who is about to be given a lethal injection after being convicted of the brutal rape and murder of three teen-age boys.

   The next several chapters are devoted to the conversations between these two men and Applewhite’s execution. Meanwhile in New York, a woman Scudder knows from AA has hired him to investigate her current lover, who is also something of a mystery man. Eventually it becomes clear that the viewpoint character of the third-person chapters is the serial killer from HOPE TO DIE, and that he raped and murdered those three boys and framed Applewhite for the crimes.

   We are also told that this sociopath has unfinished business in New York, and start wondering whether he could be the same man Scudder has just been asked to investigate. In due course Elaine’s girlfriend is sadistically murdered, and it becomes increasingly certain that the murderer in another identity has invaded the lives of the Scudders and is out to kill them horribly too.

   Like HOPE TO DIE, this sequel abounds in technology, forensics, violence and brutal sex, but Block lightens the mood a trifle with a number of jokes, most of the quips more or less sexual including one taken from SEINFELD.

   The sociopath is probably Block’s most powerful attempt to create a demonic character in a godless world. He’s gifted with uncanny intuitive certainties that always turn out right (as are Scudder and Elaine), and we never learn his name or the source of the money he needs to maintain his various identities and perform his obscene acts.

   The novel is steeped in thoughts about death. “I think [life] ends…like a movie after the last reel runs out,” says Applewhite not long before his execution. “I think the rest of the world goes on, the same as it does when anybody else dies…. It’s hard at first to accept the notion that you’re not going to exist anymore, but it gets a little easier when you think of all the centuries, all the millennia, when you hadn’t yet been born and the world got along just fine without you.” And here are Elaine’s reflections after her friend Monica’s pain-wracked death.

   “People die all the time….It’s what happens. The longer you live the more people you lose. That’s how the world works….[Monica is] in the past tense now, isn’t she? She’s part of the past, she’s gone forever from the present and the future….I can’t stand that she’s gone….But I’ll get used to it. That’s what life is, getting used to people dying.”

   She and Scudder get their revenge, if you want to call it that, in a fight to the death with the serial killer, which is as graphic as anything in a Peckinpah or Tarantino film. The scene is so powerful that we almost suspend our disbelief that a man in his late sixties with a knife being twisted in his guts could take on this sociopath who, though wounded, is at least a quarter century younger.

   I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that at one point Block intended to end the book with Scudder and his adversary killing each other in the struggle, but changed his mind and added the final chapter, whose last line of dialogue is a joke, borrowed from the last line, the one delivered by Joe E. Brown, in the iconic Marilyn Monroe-Jack Lemmon-Tony Curtis sex comedy SOME LIKE IT HOT (1959).

   Scudder is still alive (though he’s come closer to death than in any previous novel), but in a very real sense the series winds up with ALL THE FLOWERS ARE DYING, and the rest is endnotes. Which we’ll explore later this year.



SUSAN HOLTZER – Curly Smoke. Anneke Haagen #2. St. Martin’s, hardcover, 1995; paperback, 1996.

   I thought Susan Holtzer’s first book. Something to Kill For, was surprisingly good. I say “surprisingly” because most first novel’s aren’t, and because it was a good bit cozier in type than I usually read.

   Anneke Haagen is moving into a rental cottage in Ann Arbor after a fire destroyed her home and all her belongings. The cottage is in .a small residential grouping located in the middle of commercial territory, and it’s in immediate danger of being demolished to make way for another development. The small group living there — which includes the prospective developer — are very much at odds over it all, and Anneke wonders what kind of people she’s landed among. Then on the night of a heavy snow a man is killed, and she knows — murderous.

   [Holtzer] still hasn’t written the kind of book I usually like, and she still does a pretty damned good job of it. She has an easy prose style, and a very deft hand at characterization. I like [Anneke Haagen}, her computer consultant sleuth, and her ex-pro football player cop lover (yes, one of those; I told you I didn’t usually like this kind), and with an exception or two the cast of suspects is well done also.

   The plot is fairly mundane and seemed the slightest bit contrived to me. I guess that very readable prose and very likable characters overcome a multitude of sins (not that there were that many), and I really liked the fact that Holtzer didn’t have her heroine charge into unnecessary danger and end the story with a burst of needless violence.

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #22, November 1995

      The Anneke Haagen series —

1. Something to Kill for (1994)
2. Curly Smoke (1995)
3. Bleeding Maize and Blue (1996)
4. Black Diamond (1997)
5. The Silly Season (1999)
6. The Wedding Game (2000)
7. Better Than Sex (2001)



TERI HOLBROOK – A Far and Deadly Cry. Gale Grayson #1. Bantam, paperback original, 1995.

   This is a first novel by a lady who is a former journalist. Interesting — the publicity material refers to her several times as Teri Peitso.  She is an American, a Southerner.

   Gale Grayson, an American expatriate once married to an Englishman, and her 3-year old daughter Katie Pru live in a picturesque Hampshire village where now all seems well. It didn’t three years ago, when Gale’s husband was cornered in the local church by police seeking to arrest him for terrorism, and rather than be arrested blew his brains out.

   All will not be well again, either, as Gale’s baby-sitter, a young local woman, is found murdered. The policeman who led the charge that resulted in the church death is dispatched from Scotland Yard to investigate, and all the half-healed wounds are opened again.

   This was recommended to me by someone whose tastes I didn’t know that well, and it looked a bit thick (nearly 400 pages), but it was a village mystery, so I tried it-and it turned out pretty well. Quite well, actually. The Chief Inspector and his lady Sergeant were believable and likable characters, and the numerous villagers were generally well-drawn also. The viewpoints shifted frequently (with that of the police predominant), and the story occasionally slowed down a bit; not surprising in a book of this length.

   But considering how little actually happened, action-wise, it held up really well. It could have been 50 pages shorter, but as is it’s still one of the better village mysteries I’ve read this year.

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #22, November 1995

      The Gale Grayson series

1. A Far and Deadly Cry (1995)
2. The Grass Widow (1996)
3. Sad Water (1998)
4. The Mother Tongue (2001)

Bibliographic Update: The author’s full name is now known to be Teri Peitso-Holbrook.

DAVID PETERS – Mind-Force Warrior. Psi-Man #1. Charter/Diamond, paperback original; 1st printing, October 1990. Ace, paperback, 2000, under the author’s real name, Peter David.

   Actually, [as far mystery fiction goes], this is a ringer, and maybe I shouldn’t be reviewing it here. You might find this book in the “action-adventure” section of your favorite chain bookstore. If that fails, you might want to check through the science fiction section before you find it, if you find it at all.

   Then again, the series that this is intended to be the first of might actually take off, like the endless series of Mack Bolan adventures or the Destroyer books that, now that my friend Will Murray is writing them, seem to be going as strong as ever.

   To get down to particulars, if you don’t expect a literary masterpiece, and are either a pulp or comic book fan, there is a better than even chance you even enjoy this. The year is 2021, a former high school teacher named Chuck Simon is the hero, and his trouble begin when the authorities learn that he has psychic powers that can kill. Telekinesis, mental telepathy, maybe even more.

   The problem is that Chuck is a Quaker, and he refuses the opportunity to become the government’s number one assassin, Things have downhill in the years from then to now. Constant air pollution, suspension of the Bill of Rights, a cashless society, cities infested with constant violence. (I think we can blame it on former President Quayle, whose statue is seen on page 104.)

   Not quite as bloody violent or militaristic as most of the men’s adventure series have become lately, this a book that can be read in a very short time. Since David Peters is in reality comic book writer Peter David — the Amazing Spider-Man, among other credits — you should not be surprised at the vivid, picturesque style of writing. You should also not be surprised at either the shallow characterization or the creaky turns of plot. Let me know: if I ever read another, do you want to hear about it?

– Slightly revised from Mystery*File 26, December 1990.

      The Psi-Man series —

1. Mind-Force Warrior (1990)
2. Deathscape (1991)
3. Main Street D.O.A. (1991)
4. The Chaos Kid (1991)
5. Stalker (1991)
6. Haven (1992)



STEPHEN SOLOMITA – Damaged Goods. Stanley Moodrow #6. Scribner, hardcover, 1996.

   Solomita writes New York City crime novels that are as down and dirty as you’re likely to find. His protagonist, Stanley Moodrow, was a Big Apple cop for the first few books, but is now a private eye of sorts. At nearly 60 he’s still a pretty bad dude, too.

   Jilly Sappone was one of the wiseguys who was a little too much of a mad dog for them, even, and they allowed him to be sent to prison. His wife testified against him, and he hasn’t forgiven them or her. Now he’s been paroled after 14 long ones, still crazy after all these years, and he starts off by putting his wife in the hospital with a beating and then kidnapping her child by another man.

   A woman’s organization comes to Moodrow for help in finding the child before Sappone kills her, and soon he’s tracking through his old East Side haunts in hot pursuit. Jilly’s just starting, though, and the dying’s about to begin.

   I keep reading these because I like Stanley Moodrow. He’s violent and profane — which is a pretty good description of the books — but still one of the good guys. Solomita does really good over-the-top psychos and hoods, and peoples his stories with characters that you wouldn’t want to know but are fun to read about These aren’t for the delicate of sensibilities or the faint of heart, but I like ’em. Sometimes, anyway.

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #22, November 1995


      The Stanley Moodrow series

1. A Twist of the Knife (1988)
2. Force of Nature (1989)
3. Forced Entry (1990)
4. Bad to the Bone (1991)
5. A Piece of the Action (1992)
6. Damaged Goods (1996)


NIGEL MORLAND – Mrs. Pym of Scotland Yard. Mrs. Palmyra Pym #13. Vallancey, UK, hardcover, 1946. No US edition.

   In his anthology The Female of the Species, Ellery Queen disapprovingly quotes some unnamed “students of the genre” to the effect that “Edgar Wallace never wrote a first-rate story.” Whatever the case about Wallace, I think that the criticism is valid for Wallace’s friend and follower Nigel Morland. I have yet to read a memorable story by Morland, but he did maintain a high level of competence — despite having written one novel that received attention in Bill Pronzini’s Gun in Cheek.

   Mrs. Pym of Scotland Yard   contains nine short stories in very small type — Vallencey press seems to have continued the “raid” pamphlets in cloth, and with the post-war paper shortage Vallencey crammed as many words as possible onto each page.

   The first two stories, though not first rate, are quite clever. In “The Perfect Valet,” Mrs. Palmyra Pym (Scotland Yard’s only woman Inspector) uses her knowledge of bath-salts and syphons to solve a case of drowning. “The Rotherhithe Miracle” explains how there can be constant sounds of commotion in a room occupied only by a paralyzed woman. The other tales are less original.

   What is most interesting about Mrs. Pym of Scotland Yard is Morland’s contribution to the concept of a female detective. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, the idea that a woman would actually lower herself to become a professional  sleuth was almost unthinkable.

   Many authors, therefore, said that their female detectives had been forced into that occupation by family reverses or by unfair accusations against a husband; certainly they wouldn’t have detected if they had any other choice. In this pattern, we have among others Mrs. Paschal (1864), Lady Molly (1910), and Constance Dunlap (1916).

   The main exception is Fergus Hume’s Hagar Stanley, the gypsy detective (1898). The authors emphasize the femininity of their detectives, as the cases are solved by intuition or, as in F. Tennyson Jesse’s Solange Stories (1931), by an innate feeling for the presence of evil. (Not even Jesse’s writing ability masks the silliness of that concept.)

   Much more convincing and perhaps the best woman detective of all time is Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple (1930). All of these sleuths are distinguished by, as Mrs, Paschal’s anonymous chronicler put it, their “ladylike conduct.” Mrs. Pym represents the other extreme from these feminine ferrets, intuitive investigators, and ladylike Lecoqs.

   When Nigel Morland, with Edgar Wallace’s assistance, invented Pym around 1930, the detective was first a “he,” one “Ignatius Pym.” “Ignatius” became “Palmyra,” but his/her masculine characteristics still predominated. Although Morland mentions her “dormant maternal instincts” and “feminine illogicality,” it is difficult to find any stereotypical womanly characteristics in her actions.

   She is “as hard as nails” and “her tongue’s rough on both sides.” She uses such phrases as ”Let’s grill Ma Forrest; she looks like a talker,” and when she is disgusted she “snorts malevolently.” She obtains a confession by threats of torture, and she allows an innocent suspect to be executed because she is certain that he is guilty of unpunished crimes. It is difficult to know why Torquemada in The Observer described her as “that perfection of a woman.”

   In his article about Mrs. Pym in Murderess Ink, Morland describes “her often ruthless ways” as “a curious sign-post to a slowly emerging woman’s lib.” Certainly Mrs. Pym needs no assertiveness training.

   Mrs, Pym is indeed an important development toward the modern female sleuth, but her aping of men seems to me less a signpost than a detour. The current direction is toward capable women who have not given up all womanliness, by whatever definition.In the traditional detective story we have finally gotten the proper balance in P.D. James’ Cordelia Gray, and in the private-eye story a similar balance is maintained in Sara Paretsky’s V. I. Warshawski. Neither of these sleuths would be cowed by Mrs. Pym.

– Reprinted from The Poison Pen, Volume 6, Number 1 (Spring 1984). Permission granted by Doug Greene.


   Contents (alphabetically) —

The Curious Death
The Golden West
The Hungry Duchess
The Missing Forger
The Obvious Flaw
The Perfect Valet
The Rotherhithe Miracle
The Sorrowful Duke
The Stolen Heart

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