The author of seventy-five novels, published over a span of fifty years from 1956-2006, Gwendoline Butler died last week at the age of 90. Educated at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford University, where she took a degree in history, she married Dr. Lionel Butler, a medieval historian at St. Andrews University, in 1949. She published her first novel seven years later. Receipt for Murder was the first of eventually thirty-four novels featuring London policeman John Coffin. In 1962 she adopted her grandmother's name, Jennie Melville, as a pseudonym and created policewoman Charmian Daniels who featured in twenty-two novels. She also wrote stand-alone suspense, romantic suspense, and historical fiction.
Here I will quote what my friend and co-author Jean Swanson and I wrote about Butler in two editions of our reference book By a Woman's Hand (Berkley, 1994 and 1996):
"Both Charmian Daniels and John Coffin are intelligent, intense, and curious about their fellow human beings. Whether writing as Butler or Melville, the author has a style quite different from any of her peers. She creates a chilling sense of unease unlike anyone else, except perhaps Ruth Rendell. The murderer's presence is tangible throughout each novel, like a goblin hovering on the periphery of vision. Readers looking for an unusual variation on the traditional English mystery will find Butler worth a visit."
I once wrote Gwendoline Butler a fan letter, and she replied with a charming response and included a signed paperback copy of one of her novels. A few years later I met her at the St. Hilda's Crime and Mystery Weekend at Oxford. When I introduced myself and related the story of the letter and her generous gift, she smiled and said she must really have liked my letter to have sent me a book. She was striking in person, elegantly dressed, warm and entertaining. In creating Charmian Daniels she gave the genre perhaps its first realistic policewoman, and for this and her own inimitable creations she deserves to be remembered and read for years to come.