Everything you ever wanted to know about the lives of the leading women of mystery—though precious little about the books they wrote.
Eschewing “academic footnotes [and] feminist folderol” from the outset, DuBose, who owns a marketing and research firm, produces substantial, readable, derivative summaries of the memoirs and published letters and interviews of Anna Katharine Green, Mary Roberts Rinehart, Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Ngaio Marsh, Josephine Tey, and Margery Allingham—and briefer overviews of such recent luminaries as Patricia Highsmith, P.D. James, and Ruth Rendell. The subjects she champions emerge as surprisingly alike in their independence, their early sense of their writing vocation, and their frequent use of mystery fiction to support deeper interests like Rinehart’s family and Marsh’s theatricals. But DuBose’s decision to turn her back on the higher criticism carries a heavy price: there’s very little criticism of any sort here, except of the authors’ husbands (who with a few notable exceptions come across as a sorry lot). DuBose devotes a good deal of attention to what made her heroines write, much less to what made them write the particular books they did, so that each of their careers, except for the variables of autobiographical elements and popular success, sounds remarkably homogeneous. The longest chapters plod indiscriminatingly through biographical territory diehard fans will already know; the capsule summaries of Mary Higgins Clark and Anne Perry are little more than extended blurbs. DuBose is weakest on James and Rendell, writers whose work cries out for more thoughtful analysis, and strongest on Tey and Allingham, offering passing comments (“In the gentlest possible manner . . . Miss Pym Disposes is an angry book”) that shed more light on their novels than reams of biography.
Conscientious chronologies, bibliographies, and checklists of detective-hero trivia round out a survey as cozy as any of its subjects.