Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Worse Angels of Our Nature: No Evil Angel (1964), by Elizabeth Linington

After launching her Dell Shannon and Lesley Egan series in 1960 and 1961 respectively (and penning a one-shot Gothic as Anne Blaisdell), Elizabeth Linington finally started a series under her actual birth name in 1964.  (Her full name was Barbara Elizabeth Linington.)  The primary characters in this series were LA police sergeant Ivor Maddox and policewoman Susan Carstairs.  The latter emerged as a significant character in the second book in the series, No Evil Angel (1964), the novel I discuss below.  

Ivor Maddox is a slightly undersized, nondescript fellow of, no foolin', Welsh ancestry, who is inexplicably magnetically attractive to  apparently virtually all non-lesbian women (and maybe he would "turn" them too for all I know), including our lovelorn police girl named Sue.  "It was about every female who laid eyes on him," as Linington puts it in Angel, managing to make women--excuse me, "females"--sound like a bunch of idiots.  

During Ivor's interviews with females in his investigations, Linington lets us know, the lady interviewees invariably get suddenly horned up just looking at him and simply ache to pull out their mirrors and lipsticks.  "Maddox and his women, falling all over him, damn the lot of them," thinks Sue bitterly in Angel.  And again: "And what there was about Ivor Maddox, that damned ordinary little Welshman--women falling all over him."  Maddox himself is resigned to this phenomenon, "used to seeing female eyes interested in him, as whatever it was about Ivor Maddox hit them."  Oh, those silly females!  It is indeed a man's world in man's woman Linington's novels.  

Sue (and the author) goes on and on about this in Angel because as mentioned she herself is no exception to the Maddox Male Maxim, being head over sensible police heels in love with Ivor.  But of course she knows, even though she is physically attractive, that no real man in his right mind "wanted to date a policewoman....Only men like that obnoxious Randy Sills, who was studying interior decorating."  

I assume that means our Randy is light in the loafers, or one of "the fags" as the author's heroes put it in her books.  At another time Sue despondently thinks to herself: "if no ordinary man would think twice about a lady cop, no policeman would think even once."  And policemen are the best men too!  

At 27 years of age Sue is well on her way to becoming an old maid.  Sigh!

Carstairs doesn't find consolation in her job either, alas, because she hates her job.  "Anybody was crazy to want to join any police force," she thinks.  "Talk about thankless jobs."  For six years Sue has been a "female cop" as Linington puts it, so she knows. (What was she before that, a male cop?)  Law women get "mostly used for the juvenile stuff," which is better than meter maiding but oh! so depressing these days, what with parents being so lax and incompetent and their children being little horrors.  

So ruminates Sue at the beginning of No Evil Angel, after she finishes applying her lipstick--Ivor wants to see her, don't you know.  It seems he has a missing juvenile case he wants her help with: the mother might "talk easier to another female.  You know."  ("Yes, that was what they used the females for, mostly.")  

It transpires that the missing girl, Jewel Beal, has a neglectful, cocktail-waitress single mother who has only gotten around to reporting the girl's absence after a week, even though Jewel is only thirteen.  But Mrs. Beal, a husbandless and slatternly slut (by the author's standards) with a string of boyfriends trooping in and out her door, pretty much lets her not so precious Jewel do whatever she wants.  

The interview sequence the two cops hold with dreadful Mrs. Beal simply drips with the author's disdain.  It starts with Mrs. Beal herself: hair "bleached too often amateurishly," flabby skin, bad teeth, torn pink slip, "dirty pink nylon peignoir with yards of cheaps lace" at the collar and cuffs and "a pair of fake-fur, pink-dyed scuffs.Clothes in Books, my blog turns its enquiring eyes to you.

The apartment is no better: third-rate Grand Rapids furniture, circa 1920, a dime-store gilt-framed seascape on the long wall and no other pictures, tables with overflowing ashtrays and piles of magazines.  In the 1980s a newspaper reported that Linington's house, where she lived alone with two cats, was filled to overflowing with cat toys, books and scratched furniture and carpets (Linington was a chain smoker too), yet Linington, a reader of Seventies/Eighties tabloid true crime trash, never applied the same standards to herself that she did to others.

Mrs. Beal's speech, rendered with painfully pedantic naturalism by the author, is poor as well.  She utters words like "lessee" (let's see),"hadda," "dint," "wontcha," "o'course."  "My God," thinks Sue, applying the worst insult she knows: "People."  This gets repeated over and over in Linington's books and she's definitely not using it in the sense of Barbara Streisand's hit 1964 song.  It means, my God, isn't humanity horrible?  Maybe this is true, but when you're on your eighteenth Linington/Shannon/Egan, it gets pretty wearying.  

Forget luckiest!
People...are the scummiest people.  

The author's distaste for the poor and poorly educated single mothers--the stupid people and morons, as she calls them--is especially pronounced, though to be fair she often finds people in middle-class two parent households are nitwits too.  Truly, her misanthropy contains multitudes.  She also faults not just "people" for the wayward Jewel Beals of the world, but "this damn-silly, ignorant, sex-ridden culture."  This in a book written, probably, in 1963!

Anyway, Sue being a "female cop" gets put on this case, leaving Maddox to spend his time working on the more important fatal poisoning of Steven Wray, a handsome fellow who worked at a men's clothing store.  This is the novel's most engagingly tangled plot strand.  

Then there is the matter of the string of robberies, accompanied by completely gratuitous fatal shootings, that are going on in the precinct, and the case of the independent-minded middle-aged wife and mother who has vanished.  

Making reappearances as well from the debut novel in the series, Greenmask! (1964), are cops D'Arcy (he doesn't use his first name because it's so awful we are told) and Cesar Rodriguez.  In that novel a series of serial killings cribbed from an old Golden Age detective novel is being committed (maybe sixty years ago it was a bigger surprise just which novel it is--you've probably already guessed it yourself); and Maddox finds the solution by virtue of being a vintage mystery buff.  

Personally I found the book too long and rather boring, but the one cute part in it is the author's detailing about Ivor's vast mystery collection and Cesar's gradually becoming utterly smitten with Agatha Christie and John Dickson Carr.  He is still reading them in No Evil Angel and near the end of the novel even takes up with Ed McBain, which is a nice (and deserved) salute from Linington to a fellow contemporary police procedural writer.  

Just for the record, here are the real-life mysteries which Linington mentions Rodriguez reading in No Evil Angel:

John Dickson Carr/Carter Dickson

The Judas Window ("So beautifully dovetailed.  So neat.  Everything so relevant," says Rodriguez, to which Maddox sighs: "About the last thing you could day of the real job.")

The Sleeping Sphinx 

The Curse of the Bronze Lamp

The Burning Court  ("I don't know that I just swallow all this," Cesar reflects.  "A nice intricate plot, but--."  To which Maddox responds: "You need a change of pace....Try some more Christie or Ellery Queen.")

Agatha Christie

The Pale Horse (a contemporary mystery when No Evil Angel was published)

Ed McBain

Killer's Wedge

Ten Plus One (published the previous year)

A good group of books, all better than the book that mentions them.  Linington obviously loved classic crime fiction but she chose to write police procedurals in which she repetitively--and there is a lot of repetition of utterance in her books--had her cop characters distinguish real life crimes committed by stupid brutes from the clever murders concocted by Golden Age mystery writers and their successors.  

Yet, as Linington herself was aware, these unrealistic puzzlers were damn entertaining--a lot more so, for many, than a dull as dishwater and depressing police procedural.  Ed McBain frequently was able to fuse PP realism with clever plots, yet Linington herself was less successful at this, meaning that for me the sentiments she makes above come off as special pleading.  But trading a mess of "realism" for a pot of ingenuity is a poor exchange in my book.  McBain actually could do both, but maybe I expect too much.  

Jewel's got a gun

In some books Linington could concoct a good workmanlike puzzle, but No Evil Angel was not one of these books.  I suppose you could say there are clues of a sort in the disappearance of Jewel and the robbery murders and especially the murder of Steve Wray, but in any case the police solve the crimes not through brilliant intuition or proceduralism but rather lucky breaks.  The solutions have some interest, but I can't divulge them here, unfortunately.  Let's just say a lot of the book reveals the author's equivocal view of women.  

Indeed, Linington strikes me as the most misogynistic woman mystery writer this side of Patricia Highsmith.  A reviewer at the time accurately commented that the poorest character in the book is Sue Carstairs, whom Linington just could not help but treat frivolously.  

Linington once commented to an interviewer that "I'm not much of a feminist (not at ALL)" and truer words have never been spoken.  Though an independent, unmarried woman herself, she portrays the truly blissfully fulfilled women in her books as married and jobless.  

So what happens to Sue and Ivor?  Carstairs is mostly dismissed from the book less than halfway through, after she attempts to question some teenagers by herself in a bad part of the city and almost ends up getting assaulted.  Teenage punks have no respect for a female cop.  Fortunately Ivor is able to rescue Sue, leaving her to keep pining for him in the next installment.  After several books, they get--well, plot it yourself.  

"You might have known, Sue," Ivor chastises his lady colleague on the phone when from a booth she asks him for help.  "Why do you think we save all the nice genteel jobs for you females?  You [females] just don't carry authority."  

Knowing that her knight in blue armor is coming imminently to rescue her, Sue forgets the loutish teenagers for a moment, pulls out her compact mirror and applies powder and lipstick to her face.  She may be in danger from the hooligans, but the important thing is that she doesn't have a shiny nose or dull lips when she sees the man she desperately wants to be her boyfriend.

As for the sneering, smart-alec West Side Story-ish teens, who mock the male police and menace the females, Maddox explains "kids like that just grow up naturally hating cops and nothing on God's green earth that we can do or don't do is going to change that."  The only thing cops can do with that sort "is make them respect us for being tougher than they are."  

Maddox actually gives one of them a vicious gratuitous punch in the face after he has established his authority, with the full approval of the author.  Like the modern-day Marjorie Taylor Greene, Ivor bitterly wonders "why we keep fighting all the wars to save democracy" when with the nation's debased rising generation it's not clear "we've still got any [democracy] left in this country."

the kids are not all right said Elizabeth Linington

In 1968, four years after the publication of the crime novel, a student at a girls' Catholic prep school, Ursuline Academy in Cincinnati, wrote Linington informing her that Jewel Beal, the "unwashed, immoral, atheistic and loud-mouthed girl"  in No Evil Angel, was not representative of teenagers.  She received a letter from Linington in reply, wherein the author stated that the teenager had reassured her that "girls like you...with good sense and moral integrity...are really in the majority."  (I wish the whole letter had been quoted.)  

Yet that's not really the feel you get in Linington's novels, where brutal youth crime, by middle-class kids and well as poor ones, gets a tremendous amount of the author's focus.  When Sue interviews a couple of women teachers from Jewel's school, one of them explains that the school generally gets "kids from good homes--it's an average middle class district."  Nonetheless, she herself refers to her charges as "little monsters"--"People--it makes you wonder," she snorts--and the other teacher chips in with "I sometimes think they're all potential delinquents."  And this was in 1964, before the youth revolution and hippies had Woodstocked their far-out ways into the world.  

Generally I find the crime fiction of Elizabeth Linington a long, depressing slog, not merely because the books tend to lack ingenuity, but because they utterly lack hope.  I suppose the author would have condemned me as a naive liberal and Communist dupe in not sharing her gloomy world view.  Like the MAGA movement today she seems to have been consumed with a paranoid fear of others, to have glimpsed American carnage round every dangerous corner.  

It's not a world view I find congenial to read about regularly.  I'm not demanding a thousand points of light to illuminate my mystery fiction, but I would like at least a few flickering cracked street lamps.  

In an interesting column in the Kansas City Times, a contemporary book reviewer, academic George Grella, then an English professor at the University of Kansas, was much more impressed with No Evil Angel than I was, but then he thought police procedurals were the best thing going on in the crime genre at the time, asserting that the "most successful detective fiction often has no mystery at all; instead, it shows the process of investigation...."  (He went on to spoil a good chunk of the book, which actually, contrary to his contention, did have some mysteries.)  

Contrasting Linington with English crime writer JJ Marric (John Creasey), Professor Grella observed that while Marric's procedurals were positive in their outlook on life, Linington's were negative.  Linington, in short, thought the country was rapidly going to hell in a handbasket.  Her novel, Grella noted, "displays life at its worst, unstable, decadent and corrupt, with the forces of good [the cops and no other] pitted against a real and active evil."  

My problem with this view is that conservatives seemingly have been expressing it, as Linington helps illustrate, from time immemorial.  Linington predicted the country's imminent collapse in her books for over two decades and I have no doubt that if she were still alive today (she'd be 103), she would be tweeting from behind the locked gates of her house that the end is nigh.  Apparently nothing is so deliriously addictive as doomsaying.  


  1. MAGA noir? I' m surprised her books even had a hero. (And spare me from one who is irresistible to women!) I agree about conservatives having always believed that the world was going to pot. But I think we really are still battling a "real and active evil" that's a threat to democracy--and MAGA is on the side of evil.

    1. Linington herself liked her Dell Shannon books best and I agree, they are the best of the lot, such as they are. I think a lot of her readers liked reading about his home life with his beautiful redheaded Celtic wife Alison, their twins (and another bundle of love came later in the series) and their cats. Oh and their black maid and their very Scottish nanny.

      See, Mendoza is a millionaire but he works in the LA police anyway cause he likes solving problems. Linington by her own admission was in love with this guy (she had a girlhood crush on Cesar Romero) and liked writing about him best. He's really a posh intuitive detective like Lord Peter and that bunch. Like all her cops he's a big old sexist, but since Linington hated feminism she didn't mind that, in fact it was likely a plus. Alison loves being a housewife, especially since she can live in a mansion and have all her housework and child care done by other people. Classic privileged trad wife as they say today.

      Luis is the most developed character. Maddox is a bookworm and loves classic mysteries, but I get so tired of reading about how every "female" in LA can't keep her hands off him and they don't even know why, there's just something.

      Well, a lot of people are probably going, ugh the Passing Tramp is talking about politics again, I thought this was a mystery blog; but honestly you can't really talk about Linington without addressing it. It really is the elephant in the room. Linington undoubtedly was one of the most overtly political crime writers in the biz. And it's fine for conservatives, even John Bitchers to have their own crime writers. Certainly there have been plenty of leftist ones, even a few Marxists. No one is forced to read any of them.

      But I just get bored with her cops going on and on about how horrible everything is in book after book. It's weird to me how some people get a sort of cozy pleasure out of reading this author.

      Well, yes, it won't surprise readers of this blog that I think wherever you are politically 1/6 was really beyond the pale. To me that sort of the thing, massively lying about the election results (he told so many lies) and then riling up your supporters to attack congress and try to prevent certification, it's a dagger aimed at the heart of the republic, all to placate one deeply disturbed and deranged fabulist's pathological narcissistic ego. The supporters of this creature like to lecture us about patriotism and so on, as if they know anything about it, but there's nothing the founders disliked more than a populist demagogic tyrant. They looked back to ancient Greece and Rome for such things, but we have one here with us today in this country. Our homegrown tyrant.

      And the joke is Birchers of the past like Linington I have no doubt would be supporting him, despite their preachments about liberty and libertarianism. Of course Linington was great as having one standard for herself and another for everyone else. Like Phyllis Schlafly she was an anti-feminist who rejected traditionalism only in her own case. Schlafly married and had children but she left them to nannies as I understand it while she toured the country denouncing feminism. Linington never married or had children, but she sure knew what every other woman should getting married and having children and giving up any job she might have had. And that women really wanted nothing more in life than a man. In Linington's case I think though there may have been some real dissatisfaction with her own life. To me it looks like it was very lonely. So maybe she was imposing her own frustrations on others.

  2. I have no desire to actually read any of Linington's work, but color me perversely fascinated by the socio-political trainwreck she appears to have been. (She certainly wouldn't be the first—nor the last—woman to fall prey to internalized misogyny, but still, the sheer levels of her internalized misogyny sound...impressive. 👀)

    I don't know if it's accurate to say I've enjoyed your last two posts about her, per se, but I've certainly appreciated them in a weird way. (Also, congrats on three million blog views!)

    1. Thank you. The single one I would recommend for you specifically is is her one-shot Gothic suspense novel, Nightmare, published as Anne Blaisdell or Lesley Egan.

    2. If people can stand it, I will review a pocedual by her which I liked, just to be fair. I'm being honest about my feelings of the author, but just because she riles me that doesn't mean I won't allow that her books had any worth at all. In the meantime will try to review another author as variety.

    3. I'll keep Nightmare in mind, thanks! (If a cheap copy happens to pass my way, curiosity might just win out...)

      Can't speak for anyone else, obviously, but I know I'm interested in hearing about the procedural. Don't feel you have to burden yourself if it's a chore, though, hah.

    4. Talking to you made me think of Cornell, of course, and Francis Nevins and how he always said Woolrich admired brutal cops cause of his self hatred, yadda yadda yadda. Linington genuinely admired tough cops, herp worshipped them and always apologized for and apotheosized them. Of course she didn't depict police brutality like Woolrich did. I think Woolrich was just more realistic. He also had more talent as a tale teller. Linington actually had some ability to write suspense but her PP's are very slow moving I find, more like Crofts than Cornell.