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Women of Mystery Hardcover – 11 Dec 2000
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As it is, this book is divided into three primary sections: In the Beginning presents Anna Katharine Green and Mary Roberts Rinehart. I'm not sure I'd ever heard of Green, but have certainly read many of the Rinehart books, and I found it very enjoyable to learn a bit more about this nearly-indomitable author, who certainly paved the way for many of her followers. The second section--A Golden Era--presents the five doyennes of that time: Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Ngaio Marsh, Josephine Tey and Margery Allingham. In addition to a biography, which provides a bit of info (explanation or background) for nearly every title in each author's canon, there is a wonderful reference list included that not only includes the books by year published, but also mentions the US and UK publishers, and even those books with alternate titles for each country. There is also mention (when applicable) of film and television versions, plus mention of any biographical works devoted to the author.
Third--Modern Motives--are smaller tributes to Patricia Highsmith, P. D. James, Ruth Rendell, Mary Higgins Clark, Sue Grafton, Patricia Cornwall, Minette Walters, Emma Lathen, Margaret Millar, Lilian Jackson Braun and Anne Perry. A final few pages devotes a paragraph or so to some seventeen of today's mistresses of mayhem.
The concluding pages are occupied by a chronology, references and resources and very comprehensive index. This is a BIG book, but I can't help thinking that a 468 page reference work devoted to women mystery writers in which Charlotte Armstrong and Dame Daphne de Maurier are relegated to a footnote each, is definitely in need of being two volumes. Or even three! We can but hope.
Dubose makes some very interesting points: She delinates how well-regarded, best-selling authors still felt they had to "rationalize" or apologize for their careers -- as women, they weren't supposed to have one unless they were the sole support of their family; or a "serious" writer shouldn't be writing mysteries (although many mystery writers' efforts to "go straight" were resounding failures). She notes that Miss Marple's claustrophobic village riddled with seething resentments and petty crimes, which Raymond Chandler ridiculed, is actually more "realistic" than the world Chandler depicts, in which his detective is the lone man of integrity in a corrupt environment. She also points out the social-commentary aspect of many writers' books, e.g., P.D. James' unflattering delineation of the modern work place.
I felt that the final section was comparatively weak: the profiles of contemporary writers are uneven, and Dubose's one-paragraph summaries of "other notables" are rather a waste of paper -- if you've read anything by that author, you KNOW this stuff already; if you haven't, one paragraph of sketchy biography won't convince you to! Still, I found most of the book informative as well as entertaining, and it's a worthy addition to the library of any mystery lover.
Anyone who wants a few tidbits about their favorite female author will relish Martha DuBose's biography. No question that the insights are well written, intriguing, and that Ms. DuBose pays homage to the greats. However, readers must understand that this is a tickler and that if they want to really get inside an individual's mind and learn their history, they will need full-length book, of which many of these writers have none. A superb collection for those fans that relish the best female mystery authors.