In his review of the novel influential mystery critic Anthony Boucher declared that Strangle Hold "is surprisingly successful--as a novel, if not as a detective story."
At the Mystery Writers of America gathering the next year McMullen was awarded the Edgar for best debut crime novel, not altogether surprisingly given Boucher's influence with that organization. Oddly McMullen did not publish another crime novel for 23 years, when The Doom Campaign appeared in 1974. (I'll be looking at McMullen's later books later this month.)
The plot, concerning the strangulation murder of a woman at Wade and Wallingford, a prominent New York advertising agency (she's done in with a tweed tie, a sample from one of the advertising firm's clients), is solid and the police investigation credible, but there are no remarkable feats of detection or stunning twists.
However, throughout the novel the narrative is smooth and engrossing and the setting fascinating. As I've indicated I was especially intrigued by the novel's depiction of gender roles in the workplace. Let me quote a passage from the novel, which is told primarily though the perceptions of Eve Fitzsimmons, who has just come to work for Wade and Wallingford:
She had a special mental file for art directors who thought women had no place in advertising. These unamiable creatures lumped women--all women-- under Woman, and assigned to the most sensible female all the frivolity and nonsense they connected with the sex in general. This type of art director regarded the most well-founded suggestion or request as "just typical of a woman" and listened with an air of ironical patience to anything the enemy had to say.
McMullen has a knack for depicting both character and place, and one really feels one knows these ad execs and their offices, with their plush carpeting and pickled oak furniture, and their endless rounds of cigarette smoking!
At one point Eve gets what surely is a candidate for Worst Marriage Proposal in a Mystery Novel and it's interesting to compare her response to it with that of a character in Margery Allingham's The Fashion in Shrouds (1938), a crime novel about women in the fashion industry in Thirties England.
Mary McMullen herself studied at art school and worked on a small-town newspaper and in a war plant before getting a job at Macy's, where she became a divisional advertising manager. She got her younger, mystery-writing sister, Ursula Curtiss, a job there too--more about that soon!