Molly Thynne (1881-1950)
by Carol Westron
Mary Harriet Thynne (pronounced ‘thin’), who wrote under the name Molly Thynne, was one of the highest-born detective story writers of the Golden Age. She was a great-granddaughter of Thomas Thynne, 2nd Marquess of Bath, and also descended from the 4th Earl of Jersey and the 2nd Duke of Portland. Thynne’s father was Assistant Solicitor to His Majesty’s Customs and she was brought up in Kensington, London. Through her mother, Thynne was related to some notable artists: her maternal grandfather was the outstanding English etcher Sir Francis Seymour Haden, and James McNeill Whistler, the famous American artist, was Thynne’s great-uncle. However any contact between Whistler and Haden’s family was brought to an abrupt end after Haden condemned his brother-in-law’s dissolute life-style, and the disagreement between them culminated in a violent altercation, during which Whistler knocked Haden through a plate glass window.
The second of Thynne’s murder mysteries, The Murder on the Enriqueta, was published in 1930. The action starts on board ship when a man is found strangled. At first it is assumed that the killing is associated with the victim’s shady activities in Beunos Aires and Detective Chief Inspector Shand, who is on board while returning to England following an extradition case, is annoyed that he cannot discover the culprit. Arriving in England, Shand encounters his old friend Jasper Mellish, who is meeting the ship to greet Lady Dalberry, a recently bereaved widow who is related by marriage to Mellish’s ward, Carol Summers. When Carol comes of age she will be one of the wealthiest women in the country. Soon it becomes clear that the danger is not confined to the Enriqueta. Somebody is in ruthless pursuit of Carol’s wealth and is willing to kill to achieve their ends.
The Murder on the Enriqueta has a clever, intricate plot and a strong, attractive and courageous heroine. When it was first published it had the unusual tribute of a review in Punch that was written in rhyme. The review is two verses long but may be summed up in the following three lines:
To lay aside a yarn so crammed with situations thrilling.
(To say nothing of a villain with a gruesome taste in killing.)’
It is impossible to know why Thynne abandoned writing when her detective stories had been well received and she seemed happy with her series detective. Certainly her description of Constantine, seen through the eyes of Mrs Voller, in Death in the Dentist’s Chair, shows an attractive and vibrant character that should have been good for a long run of books.
It is clear that whatever other authors Thynne read, she knew her Agatha Christie. There are references to The Big Four (1927) and Murder on the Links (1923) thrown casually into her books, as well as a reference to Belgians who had come to Britain as refugees during the First World War and remained afterwards.
It is strange that a writer who critics described as equal to Christie should have been so totally forgotten, but it seems probably that Thynne, having built up her detective story readership, simply gave up and, without new
stories, the readers gave up on her. Unlike the wealthy American artist and writer Margaret Armstrong, Thynne does not seem to have been driven to lifelong creative activity. And, unlike Christie and Sayers, she had no
financial constraints to write more books, which is a pity as her detective books are very pleasurable reads.