The sisters Little make this list not once, but twice. Why, because their books are that funny, that convoluted, and that smart–that makes them mandatory. LOL. If you’ve read my article on the screwball comedy novels the two sisters produced between the late 1930s to the early 1950s, you are already familiar with their output and story. If not, I’ll give a quick overview and then if your curiosity is piqued, you can view the article.
The two sisters settled in East Orange, New Jersey and were from a middle class family. Born in Australia, one of their books was set there. They traveled around the world several times.
The late Ellen Nehr author of The Doubleday Crime Club Compendium wrote : “Constance thought up the plots and outlined them fully, chapter by chapter, and even included clues and snips of conversation.” Gwenyth wrote the final draft. Although they lived close by for many years, Constance moved to Boston and their writing was done via telephone. “Constance called Gwenyth to complain ‘You’ve had the murderer sitting in the living room while the crime was being committed in the upstairs hall.’ She stated to Gwenyth, “I don’t care what you do, only don’t mess with my clues!” It has also been noted that they did much of the actual writing from their respective beds.”
I consider that a screwball way of writing, but whichever way they got the job done, and done well, is swell by me. They wrote a total of 21 titles, which thankfully have been reprinted recently by Rue Morgue Press under the guidance of Tom and the late Enid Schantz. Their dedication to the Golden Age of Mysteries has given a new lease on life to many authors unheard of today, or known, but out of print.
The Black Thumb is a favorite for many reasons. One being the heroine is a snob, and an annoying one to boot. At least in the beginning of the novel where she takes up residence in a house as a maid. She and the owner have quite some scathing conversations such as the following after she is caught rummanging through his drawers—furniture, that is.
“He looked me over coolly and spoke again. ‘Handsome-looking garment you’re wearing, where did you get it, fourteenth street? ‘I opened my mouth but no sound came out. So he added, ‘Or was it Fifth Avenue perhaps?’ Something that passed as an idea stirred in my brain and I blinked. ‘Where am I?’ Allan put the cigarette in his mouth and continued to regard me through the smoke. I tried to look dazed and stammered out, ‘I’m very sorry sir. I must have been sleepwalking. Been a bad habit since a nipper, sir.”
Later they had this exchange:
‘What’s your name?’
‘Callie Drake,’ I sighed
“Callie? That’s odd. What’s it short for?’
I felt anger stirring in me again. My mother had picked my name–I had always thought it rather pretty–and it wasn’t short for anything. I tried to keep my temper and said sulkily,
He half closed his eyes and regarded me from under the lowered lids.
‘I don’t care much care for nicknames. So if you don’t mind, I’ll call you by your full name.”
As is the case in many a mystery, Callie becomes the chief suspect in a number of murders that occur right after she arrives. However, she’s the one who sees the black paw marks in the house where no pets live, and she’s also the one that comes across chairs rocking without a human nearby.
The Little sisters books are never easy rides, the solved mystery can and does come as a surprise many times, and even if figured out by some strange quirk, it’s always worth continuing to the end. You never know what unusual bump may be on the road!
To read my article on the Little Sisters mysteries go here: https://bookshopblog.com/2011/08/01/little-did-we-know/
If you are interested in the Golden Age mysteries reprinted by Rue Morgue Press go here: