Monday, June 23, 2008

Mary McMullen

My friend Steve Lewis at the most excellent site Mystery-File. com last night reviewed a novel called Welcome To The Grave by Mary McCullen.

While he took several exceptions to it he also noted:

If ever there was an author proficient in domestic (suburban Connecticut) malice, it was Mary McMullen, who wrote nearly a score of similar mysteries, mostly in the 70s and 80s. There is murder about to happen, and the only questions are: when is he going to do it, is he going to get away with it, and how?

McMullen is also very witty, and she jabs the socio-economic pretensions of the lower corner of the state quite nicely. But she also seems to lose her way after a third of the way through, and she allows Harley’s grandiose plans to fizzle away in a largely mystifying manner. It leads to an unsatisfactory and (upon some reflection) rather unpleasant conclusion.

— Jan 2002

[UPDATE] 06-22-08. It’s over six years later, and for the life of me, I do not remember either the ending of this book or what I found in it to be displeased about. Either way, I don’t believe there are many authors today who write with the same kind of domestic malice in their books as Mary McMullen did, along with a number of female authors of the 1950s, 60s and 70s, such as Ursula Curtiss, Genevieve Holden, Margaret Millar and others. They didn’t necessarily write noir fiction, but there was a lot of bite to their books.

Ed here:

I enjoyed Welcome To The Grave much more than Steve did and I can pull rank by saying that I've reread it in the last year. But that's my opinion only.

Back in the Seventies and Eighties, when I was reviewing mysteries for two different newspapers, I always turned to McMullen when so many other writers got dull. As Steve suggests, she had a dead-on wit. She also had a dark but comic view of people who considered themselves important. I've still got a few of her novels and before I started writing this I looked through a few of them.

She was true to her time and her own style. Her admiration for Margaret Millar is clear in every book but McMullen developed her own voice, a very feminine dry anger that sometimes turned without warning into a strange compelling melancholy.
I still remember opening those Crime Club packages and hoping one of them would be a McMullen. Though I don't have them here and can't even recall the titles, she had her protagonists trek to New York in at least two books. In her quiet way she nailed the Me decade as well as anybody.


pattinase (abbott) said...

Just got a copy of Millar's Iron Gates in the mail. It's so pretty I don't know if I can crack the back to read it.

Anonymous said...

How's this one for you, Ed? My library where I currently live has none of Ms. McMullen's books, but my old library (which is also much smaller, a town library really) has eight titles, including the one you and Steve commented on. ILL is probably the way to go for me on this.

Ed Lynskey