Wednesday, April 6, 2022

Fitt to be Tried (Again): The Mary Fitt Mysteries of Kathleen Freeman Are Being Reissued by Moonstone

People who have followed my career in this field will know that I have been involved in getting a lot of vintage mystery authors reprinted over the last decade.  I have made a specialty over the years in members of the Detection Club, and, among prewar members of the Club I have spearheaded the reprinting of:

JJ Connington (1930)

Ianthe Jerrold (1930)

John Rhode (1930)

Henry Wade (1930)

E. R. Punshon (1933)

Christopher Bush (1937)

Now I'm pleased to report that two important postwar women members of the Detection Club are being reprinted this year, by respectively Dean Street and Moonstone: Alice Campbell (1946) and Mary Fitt (1950).  I talk about these members of the Detection Club, and many more, in an essay by me at Crimereads, published originally in pamphlet form in 2011, under the title Was Corinne's Killer Clued?  Please give it a look.  Some of the material may seem familiar from another, rather better known source, but, believe me, the material was included in my essay first.

I wanted to include this 
newly discovered likeness
though it's a poor copy 
leaving Fitt to look a bit

The first of the Mary Fitt reissues, Death on Heron's Mere (1941) (Death Finds a Target in the US) will be out shortly now, followed by four more titles this year: Death and Mary Dazill (1941) (Aftermath of Murder in the US), Requiem for Robert (1942), Death and the Pleasant Voices (1946) and Three Sisters Flew Home (1936).

Mary Fitt was the primary pen name of classical scholar Kathleen Freeman (1896-1959), who lived most of her life in Wales and taught at the University College of South Wales.  She wrote thirty mystery novels, which were published between 1936 and 1960, as well as a book of short crime stories.  Most of her mystery novels featured her series characters Superintendent Mallett and his friend Dr. Fitzbrown, although she also wrote a significant number of non-series works.  

While she wrote more traditional detective novels as well, Freeman/Fitt in her day was deemed a major innovator in the Golden Age form and much lauded by reviewers, especially in the United Kingdom.  (Like madcap eccentric Gladys Mitchell, Fitt was sporadically published, but never really took hold in, the United States.)  

Fitt's reputation may have suffered somewhat when her penultimate mystery, Mizmaze, an admittedly subpar effort written when her health was fast failing, was reprinted in paperback by Penguin and became for years one of her most easily accessible titles.  Fitt's partner Liliane Clopet, who survived Fitt by nearly thirty years, seems not to have made a great effort to keep the Fitt novels in print over the years; and Mary Fitt was mostly forgotten after her death, although Kathleen Freeman the classical scholar was, and still is, remembered.

One of Fitt's fans was perspicacious American crime fiction critic Anthony Boucher, who, in an introduction to a 1962 reprint of Fitt's crime novel Pity for Pamela, identified her as a key exponent of the psychological suspense novel, "which comes so close to the straight novel in its serious values without losing the appeal of the mystery story."  

There's a lot to this.  I can't help thinking that Death and Mary Dazill, for example, influenced Shelley Smith's classic Fifties suspense novel An Afternoon to Kill, and, with its plot centering on the havoc provoked by the presence in a country house of an enigmatic Victorian adventuress, it bears a certain resemblance as well to the Thirties and Forties crime novels of Marjorie Bowen

On the other hand, Death on Heron's Mere is a more traditional country house detective novel--albeit one in which the personalities of the characters are pivotal.  Don't think that Fitt entirely rejected traditional detection--she was a member of the Detection Club, after all, back when detection still meant something!  "Detective story writing is a disciplined art," Fitt once declared, sounding like Dorothy L. Sayers at one time.  "You must not cheat and you must give fair clues; you must state a problem fairly; and you must work out a satisfying solution."

I'm very pleased to be involved with this project, for which I am writing introductions.  Cover art of the first five reprints follows below-TPT


  1. Excellent news. I am eager to read these. I think Moonstone has done a good job with the covers too.

    Incidentally, the authors you have
    helped to revive are well up in my list of favourites, so thank you for that

    1. Yes, they commission actual artwork so that's nice, though we do have one "shadowy figure"!

      I'll keeping working at it!

  2. I have read two Fitt novels to date. I loved Three Sisters Flew Home, but didn't get on with Requiem for Robert. The reprint covers look brilliant!
    Weirdly I have also read two by Alice Campbell and also really enjoyed one (The Travelling Butcher), but didn't get on as well with Spider Web.

    1. I'll have to read your review of Robert. In some ways it repeats her very successful Death and Mary Dazill, though the latter is much leaner.

  3. This is really splendid news. I have posted a review of Heron's Mere . Yes ,Moonstone press are doing first class work and the covers are eye catching . Keen GADreaders may wonder about the names of the detective here ,and that of Cyril Hare's series policeman . With Hare ,it was Inspector Mallett and here we have Superintendant Mallett. Have any bloggers got any knowledge as to whether these authors ever met ?!

    1. No clue! To be honest I had kind of forgotten about Hare's Mallett. My all time favorite cop surname is the Coles' Inspector Bulkhead, but Alice Campbell's Inspector Headcorn runs it close.

      It's been my aim to get all the vintage members of the Detection club reprinted and we are making good headway.

    2. Oh, yes, will check out your review. The publisher is publishing the Fitts at a rate that makes doing individual intros possible so I am trying to comply. I would have liked to have done them for some of the later Bushes too, like the cases of the Careless Thief and Good Employer.

    3. I agree with you, Alan, there should be a list of characters, I recommended to the publisher. They told me they would add to the eBook editions, I believe.