Saturday, August 10, 2013

Mystery Anglophilia: A Case Study from Allentown, Pennsylvania

"Mother's Anglophilia also led her to abhor and reject any writer of detective novels who would dare to situate their mysteries in the United States of America.  Even the well-known John Dickson Carr was rejected by Mother in favor of authors who were the real article: born, reared and published entirely in the Old Country.  As a Carr biography that I gave Mother revealed [heads up Doug Greene!--The Passing Tramp], though American born he lived out much of his life in England and based most of his novels in Agatha Christie country.  Not good enough for Mother.  In her late-in-life reading, she now enjoyed most of all those cloying "country house" murders--pioneered with considerable success by Christie in the 1920s--which declined into self-parody by the middle of the 20th century, though new ones continue to be published right up to our own time.

Only a few examples survive today from the post-postmortem distribution of her book collection.  One fine exemplar of the type of English mysteries she collected is an old copy (a rare hardback member of her largely paperback collection) of Anthony Berkeley's The Silk Stocking Murders....Other survivors of this obsessive phase of Mother's mystery collection are two works by J. S. Fletcher: The Time-Worn Tower [sic; it is Town] and The Yorkshire Moorland Murder....From the once vast collection also a work by the prolific Francis Beeding, followed by Paul and Mabel Thorne's The Sheridan Road Mystery and Milton M. Popper's The Strange Disappearance of Mary Young.  Unusually for my Mother's collection, the latter volume is an American novel, with the action situated in Philadelphia, but I quickly find the explanation for this odd exception to her rigid rule.  The book had been given to my Aunt Tinsie on February 24, 1936, just over a year before her death."

This is an except from Robert Sidney Pace's Finding My Father: The Lifelong Quest by an Iwo Jima's Marine's Son to Know the Man Who Was His Father (2009), available on Amazon.

Do you know anyone like Mr. Pace's mother?  Are you like Mrs. Pace's mother?  I believe she was born in 1919, lived in Allentown, Pennsylvania and started on her Anglophile British mystery book binge in the 1990s.

Mr. Pace's (Great) Aunt Sarah Matilda "Tinsie" Sweitzer (1877-1937) was, interestingly, the Assistant Treasurer of the Pennsylvania Power & Light Company in Allentown.  Milton Propper, about whom I have blogged, set his detective novels in Philadelphia.

Can murder in Jazz Age Chicago be cozy?
Anthony Berkeley [Cox] was one of the better known British mystery writers in the Golden Age. Crime writer Martin Edwards has contributed an essay about ABC for the collection of essays written in honor of Doug Greene that I am editing.

Oddly enough, I have read both those J. S. Fletcher murder mysteries!  I didn't find either of them cloying, nor were they country house mysteries.

I had never heard of Paul and Mabel Thorne, however, let alone read them.  The Sheridan Road Mystery was first published by Dodd, Mead in 1921. You can get it for FREE on Kindle, it seems, or in a pb edition from a micro-publisher, Resurrected Press.  It is set in Chicago--maybe another of Aunt Tinsie's?


  1. I was (still am) a bit like Mr. Pace's mother, but my prejudice was more Germanic. Only pure-bred, fair-play detective stories from the pre-1950s period until I discovered the great William DeAndrea. I still have my prejudices, like a preference for plots and a soft spot for American GAD writers like Kelley Roos, Rex Stout, Clyde Clason, Stuart Palmer and Craig Rice.

    Ooh, I have not forgotten about the Resurrected Press and their "shenanigans."

  2. Good Lord, wasn't aware of that from Resurrected Press! They looked legit to me, but your story gives me considerable pause! They have quite a good range of copyright-free books and the book I got from them looks quality. I hope they have stepped up since 2011.

    I will always love a classic British mystery, but, yeah, I've loosened up as well.