Todd Downing was born in Atoka, Oklahoma in 1902. Downing was a quarter Choctaw, the Popular Library informed readers in its paperback edition of Downing's best-known detective novel, The Cat Screams, and his paternal grandmother was a survivor of the Trail of Tears.
|Atoka in 1900, two years before Todd Downing's birth|
|Todd Downing in the 1930s|
Published in the United States by Putnam's, Murder on Tour enjoyed only modest success, but his second Mexican mystery novel, The Cat Screams, won him greater attention. It was published in the United States by Doubleday, Doran's prestigious Crime Club, which would produce the rest of his novels in the United States as well.
The Crime Club was quite emphatic that it saw The Cat Screams as something of an event:
"Only in exceptional instances is the first book of a new writer on the Crime Club list made a Crime Club Book of the Month. Here is the exception. The author, as a creator of atmosphere, suspense, and horror, is reminiscent of Mignon G. Eberhart. His plot, though exotic, is plausible and logical and, stylistically, he is far superior to the average mystery writer."The bookplate (designed by Juanita Gould in 1933) featured below is found in a copy of The Cat Screams.
Downing went on to publish six more detective novels, including the excellent The Last Trumpet (1937) and Night Over Mexico (1938). Most of these novels featured as investigator the intrepid U. S. Customs Agent Hugh Rennert.
Downing returned to the small town of Atoka, where he taught high school and later the Choctaw language at Southeastern Oklahoma State University. He resided in the old family home with his mother, staying on in the house after her death in the 1960s.
While being treated at the local hospital in early 1974, he died suddenly of a heart attack, at the age of 71.
|Todd Downing in the 1960s|
Todd Downing also attained some popularity in Great Britain, where, for example, the esteemed crime fiction critic Torquemada proclaimed Downing "a born detective writer."
Overall, Downing probably is most important in the history of the crime fiction genre for being a notable American "local color" mystery writer of the 1930s. An admirer of Agatha Christie and John Dickson Carr, Downing attempted to put both atmosphere and narrative dash in his books, along with the Mexican "exoticism" for which he was most celebrated.
The Todd Downing Detective Novels:
Murder on Tour (1933)
The Cat Screams (1934)
Vultures in the Sky (1935)
Murder on the Tropic (1935)
The Case of the Unconquered Sisters (1936)
The Last Trumpet (1937)
Night Over Mexico (1938)
Death Under the Moonflower (1939)
The Lazy Lawrence Murders (1941)