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Wednesday 6 January 2021

Mary McMullen (1920-1986)

 by Marjorie Eccles

Mary McMullen was following a family tradition when she turned to crime writing after a career in fashion designing and advertising. daughter of one distinguished and prolific mystery writer, Helen Reilly, and sister of another, Ursula Curtiss, she herself came late to writing, apart from one early book, Stranglehold, published in 1952 and for which she received the Mystery Writers of America Edgar Allen Poe Award. later work was not begun until twenty-two years later, after which she produced eighteen outstanding mystery stories before she died in 1986.

All of these novels are distinctive, elegant creations, fast-paced and peopled by sophisticated, literate and amusing characters.They follow no set pattern; each is different, although she often drew heavily on the advertising and fashion world she knew so well for her backgrounds.But she also widened her scope to explore, with the same sharp edge, closely-knit family groups, their relationships and the tensions arising within them.

Her writing style is dry, sparing, ironic; witty and often very funny, and it is this, together with the richness of her characters and in particular her unique ability to evoke the essence of a location, that helps to make her books as enjoyable today as they were then.Her sense of place is unerring.Whatever the setting for her stories, whether it be Philadelphia, Cape Cod or London, the stormy coast of Maine, an elegant Irish country house in its soft, rainy landscape, New York in winter or Albuquerque in the sweltering heat of summer, they form an integral part of the plot, their brilliant and haunting evocation underlying the growing sense of menace.

They are well worth searching out, just as readable today as they were when they were first published.

Welcome to the Grave
        The Pimlico Plot               
But Nellie was so Nice
        Funny, Jonas, you don't look dead       
My Cousin Death
        A Dangerous Funeral               
Something of the Night
        Death by Bequest               
The Other Shoe
        Prudence be damned              
 Better Off Dead
        he Man with Fifty Complaints          
 Until Death us do Part
        A Grave Without Flowers          
The Gift Horse

                The Bad News Man                
A Country Kind of Death

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