Welcome back, Dean (a/k/a Miranda) James! Dean lives with one elderly cat, thousands of books, and thinks frequently about killing people – but only in the pages of fiction. The fourth book in the NYT Best Selling "Cat in the Stacks" series will be out in January 2013.
Today’s Femmes offer readers a fascinating diversity of crime and mystery fiction from which to choose. Humor, suspense, detection, paranormal characters – they have it all. Some of the femmes fatales of days gone by, however, can offer current readers many hours of satisfying and absorbing reading. So, in tribute to the current Femmes, I wanted to offer up some suggestions in case readers want to check out their fascinating predecessors.
Certain names need no repeating here, perhaps. Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Ngaio Marsh and Josephine Tey seem to find readers with each new generation. Here are five, however, who are less certain to find new audiences, and I think that’s a shame.
1) Elizabeth Daly was reputedly Agatha Christie’s favorite American detective-story writer. She got a late start; she was sixty-eight when she published the first of sixteen novels, Unexpected Night, about bibliophile detective Henry Gamadge. Set in the New York City and New England of the 1940s and ‘50s, these atmospheric, clever stories are well-deserving of Christie’s interest. Most have been reprinted by Felony & Mayhem Press.
2) Juanita Sheridan created the first realistic Asian-American female sleuth, Lily Wu, who starred in four mysteries with her friend Janice Cameron between 1949 and 1953. Janice and Lily meet in New York City in The Chinese Chop. After that the setting is Hawaii, where Janice’s father is a professor of Hawaiian history and culture at the university. Rich backgrounds, strong women sleuths, and clever mysteries are hallmarks of these delightful books, reprinted by Rue Morgue Press.
3) Dorothy Bowers had only a brief career, dying tragically early at forty-seven of tuberculosis. But she left readers five gems of classic English detective fiction. Four of them feature Detective Inspector Pardoe of Scotland Yard, usually in a minor role. The final book, The Bells of Old Bailey, is a stand-alone. The fourth Pardoe book, Fear and Miss Betony is, in my opinion, a neglected classic of the Golden Age. All five have been reprinted by Rue Morgue Press.
4) Constance & Gwenyth Little were Australian sisters who lived most of their adult lives in the US. Together they penned twenty-two hilarious screwball mysteries, all but one featuring the word “black” in the title. All are stand-alones with intelligent heroines and fast-paced action. The books are the print equivalent of classic screwball films like “Bringing Up Baby” and “The Awful Truth.” A personal favorite is Great Black Kanba which involves a barking lizard and a train journey across the Australian Outback. Also reprinted by Rue Morgue.
5) Margery Allingham is generally considered, along with Christie, Sayers, and Marsh, one of the great women writers of the Golden Age detective story. Her character, Albert Campion, started out as a minor thug in his first appearance, but quickly morphed into an aristocratic sleuth with a definite taste for mystery and adventure. The Campion novels don’t always slot easily into the classic detective-story plot and eventually became crime novels, with the masterpiece The Tiger in the Smoke. Another favorite is More Work for the Undertaker, which I love for its irreverent wit and rich characterizations. Allingham is my all-time favorite mystery writer. All the books have been reprinted by Felony & Mayhem.
These femmes fatales of yesteryear still deserve to be read, just as today’s Femmes will continue to be read for years to come. Women have been a vital force in the growth and survival of the genre, and I can’t wait to see what happens next.