Jessie: Feverishly working away on her next novel between trips to take the puppy out at his insistence.
As we continue to mark Women’s History Month I wanted to ask you all about your favorite or most admired female crime writers of the past. How have those women laid a path for each of us to follow? Which of their work ranks amongst your favorite?
Julie: Need you ask? Agatha Christie. Not only was she an early on favorite of mine, I did a lot of research into her for a thesis I wrote about her use of POV. She was a remarkable woman. She had a tough time when her husband Archie wanted a divorce, and in her autobiography talked about writing The Mystery of the Blue Train (not one of her best), and how she realized she had to make a mindset shift, that it was now up to her to support her family. That was in 1928. And Then There Were None, Murder on the Orient Express, the Tommy and Tuppence novels, countless stand alones, and The Mousetrap were to come. A remarkable woman.
Edith: Of course, Christie. Years ago I read through all of Dorothy L. Sayers’ crime fiction and loved it, but it’s been a while, so I am hazy on details. Must be time for a re-read! Let us not forget Carolyn Keene – aka Mildred Wirt Benson for the first eight Nancy Drew books. I was deeply influenced by reading those as a child.
Barb: I, too, am a huge fan of Christie, Sayers, and Nancy Drew, and all three influenced me as a crime writer. But since they’ve been mentioned, I want to plump for Mary Roberts Rinehart, often called “The American Agatha Christie.” (Jessie mentioned Rinehart in her original post for Women’s History Month.) Rinehart originated the phrase, “The butler did it,” and invented the Had-I-But-Known structure for mystery writing. Her books sold millions of copies, rescued her family financially after the stock market crash of 1903, and made them rich. She was a war correspondent on the Belgian front during World War I, leaving her husband and children at home. She was a long-term breast cancer survivor who went public about her mastectomy in 1947, when almost no one did. When she was seventy-one, the chef who had worked for her for twenty-five years fired a gun at her and tried to slash her with knives. She was rescued by her other servants. (The chef did it?) I’ve stayed at the inn that now stands on her property in Bar Harbor, Maine and it was a treat.
Jessie: I love Ngaio Marsh! She published between 1934-1982 and was voted a Grans Master by MWA as well as a Dame Commanderof the Order of the British Empire. Her detective Roderick Alleyn is suave yet approachable. Her plotting is solid, her characterizations well-rounded and the period charm of her work has held up delightfully over time.
Sherry: With a house full of mysteries there were plenty of women writers I loved. But prolific writer Phyllis A. Whitney stands out for a couple of reasons. I loved her books and one of my favorites was Hunter’s Green. My mom found a reprint and gave it to me for Christmas a couple of years ago. Phyllis A. Whitney also wrote an open letter to MWA pointing out that women weren’t being nominate for awards. That letter, among other things, inspired Sara Paratesky and a group of women to start Sisters in Crime.
Readers, do you have a favorite female crime writer of the past?