Monday, April 06, 2015

Marvin Lachman on Chain of Witnesses by Phyllis Bentley

A mystery reader since 1943, Marvin Lachman is co-author of the Edgar-winning Encyclopedia of Mystery and Detection (1976). His A Reader’s Guide to the American Novel of Detection (1993) was nominated for the Edgar, Anthony, Agatha, and Macavity Awards. Marv's The American Regional Mystery(2000) won the Macavity Award.  His The Heirs of Anthony Boucher: A History of Mystery Fandom (2005) won the Anthony Award. Marv's latest book,The Villainous Stage, a history of crime plays on Broadway and in London's West End, was published by McFarland in 2014.

Tell us about Phyllis Bentley
1. At a time when it was unusual for women to obtain a college degree, Bentley received a B.A. from the University of London in 1914. She was unhappy as a teacher and worked for the Ministry of Defense during World War I and also was a volunteer ambulance driver then. She had long wanted to be a writer and in a tradition still being followed today, she self-published a collection of short stories with money borrowed from her family. She lived in Yorkshire and mostly wrote about that region of England.

2. Did she have a following as a detective novelist?
2. She never did become a detective novelist. She only wrote one crime novel, a Gothic suspense story. She also wrote a juvenile mystery that was nominated for an Edgar. Her detective writing consisted almost entirely of short stories.

3. What were her strengths as a writer?
3. Her strengths as a mystery writer were her ability to plant physical and psychological clues leading to a fair and interesting solution. She wrote of believable settings.

4. Was she in the mainstream of UK mystery writers?
4. She was virtually unknown in the mystery world in the UK in the 1930s. She wrote a few detective stories and Frederic Dannay as the editor of EQMM read one of these, which he enjoyed. He encouraged her to write and submit more stories to EQMM. She eventually had 24 stories published there, most after the mid-1950s.

5. What about her detective?
5. Her series detective Miss Phipps displays a deep knowledge of human nature, allowing her to help her friend Detective-Inspector Tarrant to solve many of his cases. Many of her cases depend upon a fair-play presentation of evidence that allows the perceptive mystery reader an opportunity to arrive at the solution before Miss Phipps.

6. Did she write till late in her life?
6. She did write until late in life, but mainly the Miss Phipps stories and juvenile novels during her last ten years.

7.  If you were to recommend her to casual mystery readers what would you say? 
7. Since I assume that even “casual” mystery readers know Miss Marple, I would say, “If you like Miss Marple, you’ll like Miss Phipps.” Having said that, I’d also say that I think Phipps is a more fully realized character, one with a sense of humor who does not suffer fools gladly. The settings for the Phipps stories are more varied, including theaters, art festivals, and movie sets. She even visits the United States in at least one story.

Thanks very much, Marvin Lachman.

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