Now Coachwhip has reissued, as a twofer volume, her first mystery, Death Brings a Storke (1938), and her last, Cradled in Fear (1942). For this volume I have written a 4600 word introduction, "Dance of Death: The Crime Fiction of Anita Boutell."
Boutell led a most eventful life during the Jazz Age, witnessing the birth and demise of three marriages between between 1917 and 1931. Her husbands were all men of literary accomplishment, but her marriages to two of them were filled with strife, catapulting her into divorce courts and newspaper headlines. Anita Boutell had more in common with Agatha Christie than a fondness for writing mysteries.
Born Anita Day in Newark, New Jersey in 1895, the author was the daughter of businessman Waters Burrows Day and his wife Anne May Burr. The Day family owned a successful confectionery and catering company with ice cream "gardens" in Ocean Grove, Asbury Park, Morristown and Newark. (One of these gardens, or ice cream parlors, is still in operation today, though no longer under family ownership.) Waters B. Day ran the family's Newark store and when Anita was a teenager he became President of the Newark Trust Company, one of the city's most important financial institutions.
|Greenwich Village Players |
program for the play
Pan and the Young Shepherd
the cast of characters includes
"Miss Anita Day" as Dryas,
one of the Daughters of the Earth
In 1917, when she was 21, Anita wed a young playwright, Patrick Kearney; the couple had a daughter, Monica, two years later. Kearney, who also wrote pieces for H. L. Mencken's The Smart Set, scored his first stage success in 1925 with the play A Man's Man, which he followed the next year with a hugely successful stage adaptation of Theodore Dreiser's novel An American Tragedy. Two years later he enjoyed another success with a stage adaptation of Sinclair Lewis' novel Elmer Gantry.
Unfortunately, Kearney's marriage with Anita deteriorated as he was rising to great career success. The playwright obtained a divorce from Anita in 1924, citing a dashing decorated Great War veteran and writer, George Alexander Porterfield, as co-respondent. Two years later Anita, objecting to her ex's plan to take young Monica with him and his new wife on a long trip to Europe (her husband had been awarded custody of the child), fled, with Monica in tow, from her parent's New Jersey home to Pennsylvania's Pocono Mountains.
A furious Kearney obtained a warrant for Anita's arrest on a charge of kidnapping, and the affair made national newspaper headlines in the the early summer of 1926, six months before Agatha Christie's notorious disappearance in England (e.g., "Broadway Playwright Hunting Hills for Child").
After several days Anita resurfaced and a court was able to settle matters between the feuding former husband and wife. Kearney married two more times, the second marriage ending in divorce and the third in estrangement, and he lost his sizable fortune in the Depression. He committed suicide in a rented room in New York in 1931, a sad end to a once glittering career.
|Greenwich Village Theatre in 1929|
Anita married her co-respondent in the divorce suit, George Alexander Porterfield, and the new couple moved to England; but this marriage quickly foundered, Porterfield, according to newspapers, being a "Continental playboy" who soon deserted Anita to "play about" on the French Rivera.
(Continuing Anita's marital links to literary notables from the Twenties, Porterfield's mother owned a boarding house in St. Paul, Minnesota which was often visited one year by a young F. Scott Fitzgerald, then writing This Side of Paradise and a friend of another writer staying at the boarding house; while Porterfield's father's second wife was a relation of the writer Octavus Roy Cohen, recently profiled by John Norris over at his Pretty Sinister blog.)
|Anita Boutell in her early forties, at the|
beginning of her brief literary career
Anita and Henry wed in 1930, shortly after Anita's divorce from Porterfield, who died in Paris the next year. (Like Patrick Kearney, he was 39 at the time of his death.) Tragically for Anita, Henry passed away as well in 1931, at the age of 26. (One can but conclude that Anita had unusually ill fortune with husbands.)
During their brief marriage Anita and Henry Boutell had settled in London with Monica (retrieved from Patrick Kearney); and Anita remained in England until the outbreak of the Second World War, when she returned to the US, settling in Santa Barbara, California, where Henry's parents owned the Tecolote Bookshop, still in existence today. (Anita remained close to Henry's parents, dedicating one of her novels to them.)
The last of Anita Boutell's crime novels, Cradled in Fear, which the author wrote in Santa Barbara, shares affinity with Daphne Du Maurier's Rebecca and Dorothy Macardle's The Uninvited (British title, Uneasy Freehold), all suspense genre novels that achieved higher literary recognition.
After publication of this last novel, Anita Boutell wrote no more fiction that we know of for the rest of her life, even though she lived for another three decades; and her name was forgotten. However, for several years she was considered one of the up-and-comers of more literary mystery and it is exciting, I think, to see a couple of her books now back in print. Fans of both traditional detective fiction and psychological suspense should check them out.
Murder in a Walled Town, a fine mystery I discussed here, which is now available as well.