Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Thynne Is In! The Dean Street Press Molly Thynne Mystery Reissues

Molly Thynne's mother was a niece of
James McNeil Whistler, painter of
Whistler's Mother

As I reported here a few months ago, Dean Street Press is reprinting all of the Golden Age detective novels by English mystery writer Molly Thynne.  They will be out in September, both in paper and electronic form. 

Mary Harriet Thynne (1881-1950) , who authored a half-dozen detective novels between 1928 and 1933, had a distinguished family lineage, being not only a great-granddaughter of Thomas Thynne, 2nd Marquess of Bath, but a great-niece of American artist James Whistler, creator of the enduringly evocative "Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1" (popularly known as "Whistler's Mother").

Longleat, the family seat of the marquesses of Bath, is one of the most famous stately homes in England, and the current marquess, Alexander Thynn (he dropped the "e" from his surname to make its pronunciation--thin"--clearer), is one of the UK's most colorful aristocratic eccentrics.  His father, Henry Thynne, first opened Longleat to the public in the late 1940s, an action necessitated by the imposition of crushing postwar death duties (a subject to which English crime writer Henry Wade, a landed baronet, devoted a crime novel, Too Soon to Die, to denouncing).  

In 1966 Henry Thynne opened a safari park at Longleat, an action which probably inspired the classic 1969 crime novel A Pride of Heroes (in the US, The Old English Peep Show), by the late author Peter Dickinson (1927-2015).  For his part Alexander Thynn, an artist and mural painter, designed the hedge mazes which dot the estate. (Golden Age crime writer J. J. Connington used a hedge maze at a country estate as a bravura murder setting in his 1927 detective novel Murder in the Maze.)

Molly Thynne grew up not at Longleat, however, but in artistic circles in London.  Her father was Assistant Solicitor to His Majesty's Customs, but her mother, Anne "Annie" Harriet Haden, was not only Whistler's niece but a daughter of the English etcher Sir Frances Seymour Haden, at whose studio young Molly spent much of her time.  There she met such luminaries as Rudyard Kipling and Henry James.

Molly Thynne published her first novel, The Uncertain Glory, in 1914, when she was 33.  The novel concerned, appropriately enough, the love affairs of a young artist in London and Munich. Thynne's great-uncle Whistler had had a violent falling out with her grandfather Haden over what the elder man viewed as Whistler's dissolute lifestyle. 

Thynne's short-lived mystery writing career commenced in 1928, with the publication of The Red Dwarf (in the US, The Draycott Murder Mystery) and terminated but five years later with the appearance of her sixth detective novel, He Dies and Makes No Sign, one of the rarest of Golden Age mysteries.

Both The Draycott Murder Mystery (the title under which DSP is reissuing Thynne's first mystery) and The Murder on the Enriqueta, Thynne's second mystery, are murder affairs implicating England's well-off and well-born, the latter being particularly enjoyable to me on account of its bold plot (see my review here.)  Thynne's third detective novel, The Case of Sir Adam Braid, is a well-plotted puzzler about the death of an artist, again drawing on Thynne's family background. 

With her final three detective novels, Thynne employed as sleuths an enjoyable detective duo, the chess-playing Greek intellectual Dr. Constantine and his attendant Scotland Yard policeman, Inspector Arkwright.  The two men appeared first in The Crime at the Noah's Ark, a Christmas mystery set at a classic "enclosed location," a rambling, snowbound country inn.

After this auspicious debut, the crime-fighting duo went on to solve dastardly murders in Death in the Dentist's Chair (DSP's slightly altered title for the reissue), a mystery which anticipated Agatha Christie's One, Two, Buckle My Shoe in its used of a dentist's office as the setting for its first murder, and He Dies and Makes No Sign. The title of the latter novel draws on this exchange from Shakespeare's history play Henry VI, part 2:

King Henry IV: He dies, and makes no sign; O God, forgive him!

Earl of Warwick: So bad a death argues a monstrous life.

King Henry IV: Forbear to judge, for we are sinners all.

Molly Thynne, a Catholic who proudly dubbed herself a "spinster" at the age of 24, never married and later in life resided at Crewys House in Bovey Tracey, Devon, where she passed away in 1950 at the age of 68, seventeen years after the publication of her last detective novel.

I'll have more to say about the two later Thynne mysteries soon.  I'm most pleased to have the chance to welcome Molly Thynne to the burgeoning ranks of rediscovered Golden Age crime writers.


  1. I mentioned this before but will do it all again. I had a copy of THE RED DWARF and bought it thinking it would have some kind of weird/macabre element. But the dwarf is not a person it turns out to be a fine point pen with a patented non-leaking cartridge. The pen was marketed as the Red Dwarf Ink Pencil in the US ages ago. I was very disappointed that the story had no Titian-haired little man committing evil deeds. Anyway, I didn't really like the book, never finished it, and sold my copy. Then I stumbled across ANOTHER copy of the book, again with a DJ, and decided I probably ought to read it all the way through. So I bought that 2nd copy. But guess what? Still unread.

    1. I had the same experience! I think that's why DSP used the American title. It's a first mystery and I personally prefer the later ones. I quite liked the three Dr. Constantine mysteries but she stopped after just three. The Red Dwarf is one of her more available books as it was reprinted in 1948. The last two are very rare indeed, especially the last.

  2. The London Gazette (the official journal of record of the British Government) says the address of the deceased Mary Harriet Thynne was 'Crewys House, 69 Fore Street, Bovey Tracey, Devon' which is just over 30 miles from Dartmouth. She died 10th May 1950

    1. Thanks, Jamie, that is right, my memory slipped up on me there. It's correct in the introduction!

  3. Does anyone know why Molly Thynne stopped writing? After all, she seems to have enjoyed some success with the six books in six years, then nothing, it seems, in the 17 years from then till her death in 1950.