Saturday, April 11, 2015


I found out about this anthology from the excellent Classic Mysteries podcast, and and glad I did. This is good stuff.

"Domestic suspense" is a subgenre of mystery/thriller fiction that focuses on family relationships, either spousal, parental or a mix, and is normally regarded as the purview of women writers. I've some across scornful remarks that it was the "kitchen sink" school, but as Edna Buchanan once wrote, the person most likely to murder you is sitting across the breakfast table, and she knows her business.

My favorites from the collection? There's Patricia Highsmith's early story "The Heroine," about an unstable woman who's hired as a governess for a well-to-do family, with tragic results. I mean, c'mon, it's Highsmith, of course it's exceptional.

Another good one is "Louisa, Please Come Home" by Shirley Jackson, an incredible tale of a girl who runs away from her wealthy family, covers her tracks, and starts a new life in another city. The exact reasons for her leaving are nebulous, and she's on the verge of forming a new family, when someone from her past shows up and wants to take her home. It's a great tale, full of psychological depth and devastating irony.

Barbara Callahan's "Lavender Lady" is a story of a singer who's growing tired of her most requested song, which her fans don't realize is a tale of the loss of a beloved childhood friend, a nanny who liked to wear lavender. But as the story progresses you realize the singer has filtered the tale through a very sentimental lens, and there's a lot of darkness lurking.

"Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree" by Helen Nielsen is a great noir story of a woman, married to a prominent businessman, who is being harassed by a former lover, a pianist. She hatches a scheme to be free of him once and for all, but it takes an unexpected twist.

Some of the others are pretty good but didn't leap out at me as much. Nedra Tyre's "A Nice Place to Stay" is a tale of a woman who prefers life in prison to a hardscrabble, chancy life on the outside. "Sugar and Spice" is a nice tale from Vera Caspary, but I was more enthused by finding out more about Caspary's feminist leanings, which means I have to re-watch "Laura" and view it through a feminist lens instead of the usual gay-rights lens I employ. "The Purple Shroud" by Joyce Harrington is a good psychological tale of a long-suffering wife who's finally had enough. Miriam Allen Deford's "Mortmain" is a ferociously nasty tale of a nurse who plans to rob her dying patient after poisoning him, and of the patient who has his own ideas.

Of the others...well, they're good, but some seemed a little out of place. Dorothy B. Hughes's "Everybody Needs a Mink" hardly seems like it belongs here, as there's no real crime or suspense going on. "The Stranger in the Car" by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding is a rather run-of-the-mill murder story, at least to my eye, as is "The Splintered Monday" by Charlotte Armstrong. "Lost Generation" by Dorothy Salisbury Davis is hideously nasty, and not as much about domestic relations as it is about racism and prejudice in small towns. "The People Across the Canyon" is memorable and good, but it has a supernatural twist at the end and comes across as a lost episode of "The Twilight Zone" than something from a mystery anthology. The collection closes with "A Case of Maximum Need" by Celia Fremlin, a nasty psycho-thriller that is quite good but doesn't quite strike me as domestic.

Even with a few stories that seemed like they didn't belong, I still had a fabulous time with this collection, and I've added quite a few of the authors' works to my shopping list. (I picked up a lovely vintage Armstrong title, "Murder's Nest", a couple of weeks ago during a used-book expedition.) I know there's a move lately for folks to read less works by white male authors, so this at least will have you reading more female authors! (I don't pay much attention to such campaigns myself; I read what interests me and the author's sex or ethnicity doesn't come much into it, although I do find I read a lot by female authors anyway.)

So seek this one out, folks, it's a great collection, even if there's a few that seem off, and like any good anthology, it will clue you in to other authors to seek out. Get it and have a blast.

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