Monday, April 15, 2024

Three million blog views and a new post--Airing out the Linington: The Crime Novels of Elizabeth Linington, aka Dell Shannon, aka Lesley Egan, aka Anne Blaisdell

First off, as of today I have had over 3 million views on the blog, a milestone I wanted to mention.  The blog started slowly in late 2012, shortly after Thanksgiving, and it took a good while to reach a million views, but now those additional millions pile up faster than one might think.  I don't blog nearly as much as I would like to anymore, and have had thoughts of doing a podcast or such, but will will see how things play out in this new year, already almost a third over.  

I have written a long article on crime novelist Elizabeth Linington--and I mean long: about 28,000 words.  It's really intended especially for the election year, looking at her political views, her crime fiction and her personal life and background.  Her politics infuse the whole thing.  

Linington disliked the 
wayward youth of the Sixties.
The fetching cover girl is supposed  
to be a runaway thirteen-year-old.

You see, if you have read the fine review posts by the late Noah Stewart or John Norris, you will know that Linington was a member of the notorious John Birch Society, interest in which has risen markedly lately among political historians due to the JBS's resemblance to the modern MAGA movement. 

Founded in 1958 as an anti-Communist group, the JBS was a highly paranoid organization that saw the subversive Communist conspiracy and its minions everywhere: President Dwight D. Eisenhower himself, the civil right movement, the Supreme Court, etc.  

Linington wrote a propaganda book for the organization in 1965, a year after GOP presidential candidate Barry Goldwater was crushed by 20 percentage points in the presidential race contest with Democrat Lyndon Johnson because he proved such a cranky right-wing extremist.  (Naturally, the JBS loved him.)  

The Civil Rights Act outlawing segregation and racial discrimination became law in 1964 and the Voting Rights Act, which prohibited racial barriers to the franchise, was enacted the following year.  The JBS opposed both, as did Goldwater.  The only states Goldwater won were his home state of Arizona (and that was by less than 5000 votes) and five then arch-conservative states in the Deep South: Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina, where blacks faced said racial barriers to the franchise.  

In Mississippi Goldwater got 87% of the vote and Johnson 13%, though blacks made up 43% of the population, which just shows how fraudulent the vote was in that state.  Yet Linington incredibly insisted that for some time there had been no real prejudicial treatment of blacks until the civil rights groups stirred up white resentment as part of the Communist plot to turn racial and ethnic groups against each other.  Things were just fine between the races before that, you see.

In retrospect it's clear that the years 1964-65, now nearly six decades in the past, was the high tide of modern liberalism in America.  The John Birch Society once was cast on the ash heap of history, even by many conservative Republicans, but it lives on today in MAGA.  If you look at Elizabeth Linington's reactionary political beliefs, which often found their way into her crime writing, it's obvious she would be right at home in MAGA today.  I can see her as a great trollish tweeter online.  

Alas, the author died over thirty-five years in 1988 at the age of 67.  At least she went out when conservative Republican Ronald Reagan was still president, though she might have detected Communist tendencies even in him.  She once denounced Democratic President Jimmy Carter in a newspaper letter as "Comrade Carter" (not that she liked his Republican opponent Gerald Ford either).  

Linington was in her mid-thirties, still lived with her parents in Glendale, California and had never held an actual paying job for any significant length of time or accomplished anything of note when she got a historical romantic novel published in 1955.  By 1960, however, she turned, like many others before her, to the potentially more successful venue of crime fiction.  

A great admirer of the Los Angeles police force (this not long before the Watts Riots), she became the first woman, as far as I know, to write a so-called police procedural novel, putatively realistically detailing police efforts to investigate crimes.  Linington's connection to the LA police was through a fellow John Birch Society member who belonged to the force's public relations department.  She also read a lot of true crime magazines.  By the early Seventies, reviewer Allen Hubin had dubbed her the "Queen of the Procedurals"--the Agatha Christie, as it were, of the police novel.  

Linington was much praised by critics from her first very first crime novel, Case Pending (1960), which she published under her best-known nom de plume, Dell Shannon, a year before the rock singer of the same name scored a big hit with the single RunawayCase Pending was nominated for an Edgar, as was another Dell Shannon novel, Knave of Hearts (1962), and a standalone Gothic thriller called Nightmare (1961), which she published under the pseudonym Anne Blaisdell.  

This latter book was filmed in England as Fanatic (1965) (Die! Die! My Darling! was the subtle title in the US), a so-called "psycho-biddy" melodrama starring Tallulah Bankhead as the titular religious maniac.  One thing setting Linington apart from a lot of her fellow conservatives was that she was a religious agnostic, if not an atheist, rather hostile to organized religion, though she later modified her views and was always personally moralistic and highly censorious of the behavior of others, especially youth and the lower classes, whom her cops frequently dub "louts" and "thugs."  

Linington loved the police, however, and essentially divided society into two classes: the police and the citizenry.  The citizenry she subdivided further into two groups, the honest, if dumb, ones (usually middle class and white) and the actively venial ones (usually the poor, blacks and queer men). 

Linington honestly did not see herself as a racist and criticized racism in her books, but the blacks and hispanics she portrays positively tend overwhelmingly to be middle-class, college educated and assimilated in what the author termed American culture, meaning by this White Anglo-Saxon Protestant, or WASP, for the most part.  Linington made her Dell Shannon series hero, police detective Luis Mendoza, a native Mexican (and lapsed Catholic), but he's essentially no different from her conservative white cops, aside from peppering his speech with Spanish tags.  He allows that he might have some Native American blood, but it's so far back, going to Aztec times, it's a meaningless allowance.  

Mendoza is essentially a posh, romantic great detective, who intuits solutions like Lord Peter Wimsey, Roderick Alleyn and Albert Campion, the group British writer Joanna Cannan derisively termed the "glamour boys."  (Unsurprisingly, Linington was a huge reader of classic crime fiction.) 

Mendoza literally inherited a fortune from his grandfather, but he stays in the police because he likes the mental work of solving problems.  It's certainly not because he is a do-gooder or likes people, because he, like Linington's other cops, to the contrary despises people, "the citizenry" as he eye-rollingly terms them, who are either criminally debased or pretty dumb, not measuring up to the standards of the police who have to strive ceaselessly to save them from the depraved criminal menace that threatens to engulf the country in lawless chaos.  

Linington thought of herself as a great civil libertarian and she denounced big government for social legislation like the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act and Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid (she had no belief whatsoever in a social safety net), all of which she deemed part of the massive Communist conspiracy to destroy America and enslave its citizens.  (How she would have hated "Obamacare.") Yet when it came to limitations upon police authority, she opposed these in toto.  Invariably anyone who tried to restrain the freedom of police to do whatever they deemed necessary in battling criminals is condemned as naively soft hearted if not worse.  

From my perspective, Linington seems like a monstrous concoction of Victorian Social Darwinism and modern authoritarian fascism, but in fairness I have to allow that her books charmed even liberal reviewers like Anthony Boucher and Dorothy B. Hughes.  It was not until Linington revealed in a 1970 interview that she was a staunch John Birch Society supporter and that she deliberately filled her books with right-wing "propaganda" (her own term for it) and had voted for George Wallace for president in 1968 that some writers in fanzines, like Marvin Lachman, began noticing and commenting on her reactionary conservatism themselves.  

Critics started losing interest in her afterward, in part as well because she was just so damn prolific, often publishing three or four novels a year, but she maintained a devoted fan following right up until her death in 1988; and she was brought back in print again in the States around a decade ago.  Recently Case Pending was reprinted in the Library of Congress crime classics series (though it's not one).  Some of her fans will comment that Linington tells unfashionable "truths" in her books, but a lot of her readers just seem to feel she tells a good story.

Noah Stewart in his fascinating and utterly scathing blog post on Linington simply eviscerated the author for her extreme conservatism and I can't really do much to defend her on this score.  She opposed prejudice against blacks, provided they sounded like US Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas or the blacks in the film Get Out if you get me, but she was also horribly misogynistic (like today's incels she hated independent, single, successful career women, though she was one herself) and viciously anti-gay (lesbians she mostly ignored), at least until an unexpected partial mea culpa concerning the latter in her penultimate book in 1986.  

Like the late conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly, she celebrated women performing "traditional" domestic roles while eschewing to do this herself.  Over her life she may never have had an intimate relationship with another human being, let alone a subservient wifely one.  After her mother died in 1975 (her father having died a dozen years earlier), she built her own ranch house in Arroyo Grande, living alone there behind a chain link fence with her cats, dog and goat, writing more books as well as agitated letters to the local newspaper about how the country faced imminent collapse due to Communist conspiracies and the inability of the deluded, naive citizenry to appreciate the grave danger.  MAGA much?  

As mentioned, Linington got ideas for her book plots from true crime magazines, which became increasingly tabloid trashy and uninteresting (to me) over the Seventies and Eighties.  And so went her own fiction, the pages of which are filled with rape-murders of women and young children, though incongruously the author never uses four letter words, of which she prissily disapproved.  That she and much of her audience reached for their fainting couches when they saw words like "shit" or "fuck" in crime fiction, believing use of these blunt four-letter words more discomforting than writing about the brutal sexual violation of tiny children is so weird to me.  

Although Linington always lectures us about the horror of these sordid and stupid crimes she details (most crimes, she says, are committed by stupid people), she never makes me feel horror, because like her cops she doesn't really like anyone besides cops and (maybe) their wives and children and pets, the doings of which are cutely and cozily detailed.  (Most of her cops are men, of if women, they constantly pine about getting married to men.)  She can't make us care about people whom she doesn't really care about herself.  Her overriding emotion when it comes to other human beings is disgust.  

If I were evaluating Linington solely on the basis of her Seventies and Eighties books that I have read, I would write her off completely as a worthwhile crime writer.  Ed McBain, King of the Procedurals, I find a far better and more sympathetic writer, and he's also a better plotter, more on the level with the Golden Age classics that Linington liked reading but could not duplicate herself.  (Her book Greenmask! steals the plot of a very famous classic mystery, as John Norris details at his blog.)

And yet I have found that in the Sixties, at least, Linington was capable of coming up with a decent mystery plot.  In her best books, from this standpoint, she's like a more modern-day female Freeman Wills Crofts, a workmanlike "Humdrum" mystery writer (to use Julian Symons' terms for Crofts, John Rhode, JJ Connington and other Golden Age greats) capable of pleasing intricacy in problem setting.  To be fair to the hateful old hag I'll try to review some of her better books here.  Fair is fair, though often reading her books feels to me like getting spat in the face.

Now lemme tell ya....
Linington in the 1980s
lays it all out for us

I have never read a popular crime writer so hateful to gay men over the course of a long writing career.  Did Mickey Spillane keep that shit up over his writing life?  Maybe he did.  

All the ostensibly sympathetic characters in Linington's books, people she at least greatly admires, call gay men "fags" (or, in her odd lingo, "the fags") and they are deemed degenerates and criminals.  Her cops keep this up into the 1980s and illustrate precisely why people did not trust the police, if this was the sort of thing they read about them.  Did she honestly think that queer people expected fair treatment from her ideal sort of cops?

Yet Linington apparently had no clue that she was making her police look unsympathetic in her books, doubtlessly because she viewed gay men as sub-human, like she did poor, and poorly-educated, people.  

On the other hand, some people read these books and then praise the author for upholding what they euphemistically term traditional values.  Well, please count me out of your "traditional values," if your traditional values mean hating and othering anyone who isn't white, straight, male and middle class.  

It's not just her cops either.  In her Lesley Egan books her non-religious Jewish defense attorney hero Jesse Falkenstein in the Seventies calls gay men "the fags."  Jesse's beautiful fashion magazine editor sister calls gay men "the fags" too and, resurrecting an old canard, speculates that they hate women and design clothes to make them look bad.  

This noxious stuff is all just hateful, hurtful garbage, but the author kept it up year after year after year.  And she was not a stupid woman.  Nor was her liberal editor, Joan Kahn, a neglectful one.  But this was all just allowed to pass.  And please don't tell me it was just typical for its day.  I don't believe that it was. I can honestly say I've never read an author I've disliked as much as Elizabeth Linington, on a visceral personal level.  Yet she wrote some decent mysteries.  In this case, though, it's like saying Leni Riefenstahl took some cool photos.  Maybe so, but she was still an awful person, as far as her politics went. 

Queen of the procedurals?  Try Archie Bunkerette or Anita Bryant of the procedurals.  Please don't tell me that no one in the Seventies besides the late Norman Lear knew that it was wrong to hate on gay men like this.  

In my article I try to give as sympathetic look as I can at Elizabeth Linington, to figure out why she became the way she was.  When it's published let me know what you think.  


  1. Many deserved congratulations on such a milestone in the " blogosphere". Even when the subject may not be of interest to me, I do read your thoughts on so many crime writings. Look at the GAD landscape of 2012 , and now see just how many readjustments have happened. Thank you and keep up the good work .

    1. Thank you, Alan. Probably the police procedural is not one of those things of great interest to you, but I'll try to get back to some classic style detective fiction soon. After all, that's how it all started with this blog. I myself am not a great Linington fan (obviously) but some of her earlier books weirdly resembled Freeman Crofts in plotting, at least to my mind. I like that kind of methodical mystery plot.

  2. I remember that I read a Dell Shannon book ages ago but don't remember anything about it, except that it did nothing for me. Could be that I never even finished it. It has always been frustrating for me when I like someone's writing and then found out something about that writer that really turns me off. Brings up up the old question of whether an artist's work can be really separated from his or her life.

    1. Well I think even with hack writers their personalities usually come into it. As much as I dislike her as a person, I feel like I have come to understand her better. I think she was probably pretty lonely and frustrated. If you look at her physical decline over the years, I don't think she treated herself well. (She must have been a chain smoker, for example.) And some of her mysteries are worth reading. I'll point out of the better ones in future.

    2. People say you shouldn't get political on your blog, but honestly you can't write about Linington without ot that, she was a very political writer. Her hero worship of the police and dislike of, or disgust for, American society, it comes through loud and clear in her books, ever more so over the years she wrote. It's all the same things Trump talks about, anticipating him by decades. He tells people today the country is collapsing, can't survive without him, crime is out of control--it's the same thing Linington was saying fifty and sixty years ago. Every decade of out history you likely has huge numbers of people thinking the country was collapsing, only now they are galvanized and given voice by social media.