Friday, October 24, 2014

The Mysteries of Medora Field: Who Killed Aunt Maggie? (1939) and Blood on Her Shoe (1942)

The Georgia journalist Medora Field (1892-1960) was a close friend of Margaret Mitchell, author of Gone with the Wind, as documented most recently in The Scarlett Letters, the new book about  Mitchell and the famous Hollywood film made from her famous novel.  An assistant editor on the Atlanta Journal Magazine, Field had hired Mitchell as a staff writer back in 1922.  Field had urged Mitchell to submit her manuscript of Gone with the Wind to the publisher Macmillan in 1935; Mitchell in turn encouraged Field to write her own novel, a mystery called Who Killed Aunt Maggie? in 1939, which was turned into a film the following year.

Three years later, Field published an additional mystery novel, Blood on Her Shoe, which was also filmed, in 1944.  Both novels were very popular in their day, selling well in hardcover and in paperback reprints by Popular Library.

As mentioned previously on this blog, Field was classified (along with such authors as Mignon EberhartLeslie FordMabel SeeleyAnita Blackmon and Margaret Armstrong) by Howard Haycraft in his classic mystery genre study Murder for Pleasure as one of the best students in the Mary Roberts Rinehart school of suspense mystery.  This mystery subgenre has been derided, often unfairly I think, as the HIBK (Had I But Known) school of mystery fiction. I now prefer to call it simply suspense. One could also use Sarah Weinman's term "domestic suspense," since usually books by these authors are home-centered.

Certainly that's the case with Medora Field's two mysteries, both of which are set, classically, at country house parties in Georgia, the one outside Roswell (near Atlanta), the other in southeastern Georgia, on St Simons Island.

Both of these novels are entertaining and, yes, suspenseful mysteries and I'm pleased to say they are being republished, like the two mystery novels by Arkansas' Anita Blackmon, by Coachwhip, with a 5000 word introduction by me, on Medora Field and her mysteries. The books of an additional southern woman mystery writer are going to be reprinted by Coachwhip this year, but I'll have more to say about these books, as well as Medora Field's, a bit later!


  1. All sounds very fascinating Curt - thanks chum. So when are they coming out?

  2. They will be available by Christmas, so if you can't get a Christie for Christmas think maybe Medora!

  3. Replies
    1. Thanks, Peggy. I'll post the covers as soon as I get the files!

  4. Many thanks for the information about these two, and for the news that they're being reprinted -- and so soon! And congrats on the intro gig.

    I'm embarrassed to say I've seen neither of the two movies.

    1. I think the books are better in this case! The films were Republic so there's that consideration. I didn't like the first one (they changed everything), but I thought the second was decent.

    2. By great good fortune a pal had copies of both movies, so I'm going to be posting about them both as a sort of Halloween Special Double Bill on my Noirish site on Friday -- with a link to here and a thankyou, of course!

      One quick pick of your brains, if I might. The two movies share quite a few situations in common. My first guess was that the moviemakers had picked some material from the second novel to put into the first movie, but the dates don't bear that out. Could it be that Field swiped some stuff from the first movie to put into her second novel? Obviously I've read neither novel, so I'd be grateful for your expert advice!

    3. I thought the first film had practically nothing in common with the book, aside from the idea of a "secret room" in an old southern house. It seemed a standard old dark house film with a family elimination plot (I did the gravestone salesman Stuart Palmer added). The second one follows the book pretty closely, though the book is more developed of course. Interestingly the first one is better rated on imdb, though I thought the second one was better. But people like those old dark house plots!

      In the films you have Willie Best doing his bit as comic relief. In the books the black servants, while they present issues for a modern-day audience, are more roundly portrayed!

      Both of Field's books are house parties, so I think that is part of the similarity, clearly. In the second one they get out of the house a bit, while the first one is confined to the house.

      I'll check out your piece (which reminds me, I need to add you site to my links!). Sounds good!

    4. Thanks! That's very useful. The similarities I was thinking of were the secret passage from the grounds to the house, the rigging of the cars so Andrew/Woodrow can't drive into town to fetch the cops, the stealing of the corpse(s) to be hidden in the secret passage, the murderer eavesdropping on the good guys in the passage, the intruder among the family proving to be a detective . . . If those are from the second novel, then I wonder if indeed Field "borrowed" what she'd decided were the more effective bits from the earlier movie.

      I very much agree with you that the second is better than the first. So does my long-suffering wife, who bravely sat through both movies by my side!

      Agree with you too about poor Willie Best. He actually makes an excellent job of the role; it's just that . . . uck.

    5. Okay, in order:

      No secret passage in the second book (by the way, was that the same house/cavern set in both films?).

      Cars are disabled in the first book, phone line cut and there's a thunderstorm. So to be fair part of the book is old dark house-ish for a time.

      No corpse stealing in books, though there is corpse rifling in the first. There is a a dumb cop in the first book and that coroner, though he is blind and bright and has a much bigger role to play in the book.

      There are no masquerading detectives in the books. In fact, that character in the first book is completely made up (in additional fact, there is a different murderer in the film, you don't have that character either). In the second book Rufus Blair is very similar to the film character, except he's not a detective. I was interested to learn, by the way, that he was played by Beatrice Straight's longtime husband. I thought he and Lorna Gray made a good couple!

      So, I don't really believe the first film influenced the second book too much. Both books have nice mysteries, I think, but the first film changes practically the whole story line. You setting seems very generic too. At least with the second they had the bit with the ghost hunt and the Georgia Sea Islands setting, which is faithful to the book (although I thought the mystery was better concealed in the book).

      I'm glad you and your wife like "The Girl Who Dared" better too and that it's not just me! I actually wouldn't mind owning that one on DVD.

    6. Oodles of thanks for all this! Again very helpful. The big difference between the two movies is that, of course, the first is done primarily as a comedy; the second is played far straighter, albeit with the occasional snappy line and with Best's character offering occasional "humorous" relief. When you look at the cast list of the first movie (Compton, both Barries, Abel, Patterson), you can't help thinking they wasted a lot of talent.

      I thought he and Lorna Gray made a good couple!

      It did cross my mind that they might be an off-screen item. Certainly good chemistry. Hey, maybe, ya know . . .

      I actually wouldn't mind owning that one on DVD.

      Likewise. And that's even before I start thinking about the double dose of Veda Ann Borg! It'd also be fun to find an uncut copy; the only versions of both movies that seem still to be available are the ~53-minute edited ones done for TV in (at a guess) the early 1950s. IMDB and TCM say the original of The Girl who Dared was only slightly longer, at 56 mins, but there's enough evidence in the TV cut (the occasional non sequitur/continuity error, a couple of clumsy edits) to suggest the cinema version was a bit longer than that.

    7. I liked Veda Ann Borg too. I thought they pulled off the film twins pretty well.

    8. I thought they pulled off the film twins pretty well.

      Much agreed. I was initially puzzled as to why two of the characters were played by actresses who looked so similar, and then realized that . . . duh. It's a credit to Borg that I suffered this initial confusion, and to the director that the whole twins trick was pulled off so effectively.

    9. My notes are now posted. May I put a link here?

    10. By all means. I'll check it out and add you my list of blogs. Should have done so a while back!

  5. Ooooh, 'domestic suspense' - I like that very much. Trust Sarah to come up with just the right term. :) I can't wait to see these in reprint. They sound like just my cup of tea.

  6. I have pinned the two book jackets you have provided on my Pinterest Book Shopping List. Hope they do make it by December. Would love to have them both. I can't help myself….when I read this blog, I have to say AGAIN. This is the BEST!

  7. Yvette and Stepheny, I will keep you posted about Medora Field! I think they will be out, as one volume, next month.

    And Stepheny, thanks so much, that really is appreciated by me, it means a lot to know my own work writing about writing is appreciated.