|Christopher St. John Sprigg|
And for good reason. As far as I know she appeared only in two unpublished short stories: "The Case of the Misjudged Husband" and "The Case of the Jesting Miser."
The original typed manuscripts of these two stories are found in Sprigg's papers at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin.
Both are longish short stories of around 6000 words apiece. While neither is a classic of the form, they have a certain appeal and certainly the detective in them, Mrs. Bird, is worth noting.
Although Miss Marple and Miss Silver often are referenced as prominent Golden Age female detectives, in fact most of the books about them were written by their creators after 1940.
Of the twelve Miss Marple novels, only one, The Murder at the Vicarage, was published before World War Two (Miss Marple also appeared in a short story collection, The Thirteen Problems, in 1932). Similarly, of the 32 Miss Silver novels published by Patricia Wentworth, only three appeared before 1940.
To be sure, both Christie and Wentworth were well-known mystery writers before 1940. However, in the 1920s and 1930s Christie won her fame primarily as the creator of Hercule Poirot, while Wentworth was best-known for her numerous non-series mysteries and thrillers (her biggest pre-WW2 novel, a bestseller in the United States, was a thriller called Mr. Zero).
In the United States, the Oklahoma Choctaw mystery writer and reviewer Todd Downing reviewed both the pre-WW2 Miss Marple books and highly praised the "no end quick-witted spinster" Aunt Jane (who likely reminded him of his Iowa grandmother, Awilda Miller), but how many mystery readers in 1935, say, would have recalled either Miss Marple or Miss Silver, compared to readers in, say, 1960? Many, many fewer, doubtlessly (it was at this time that Dorothy L. Sayers flatly declared that Gladys Mitchell's Mrs. Bradley was the greatest woman detective).
Interestingly, however, Christopher St. John Sprigg's seems to have been influenced by Christie's Miss Marple when he wrote his two Mrs. Bird short stories.
|the inspiration to nosy amateur village detectives everywhere|
Mrs. Bird, obviously, was married, though she is now a widow. Mrs. Bird also once was employed outside the home, working as a nurse before her marriage. And Mrs. Bird is a comparative youngster compared with Miss Marple, being only forty-five.
However, there is considerable similarity between the two women. Like Miss Marple, Mrs. Bird lives in a village (Mirtleham in the latter's case). Like Miss Marple, Mrs. Bird has insatiable curiosity, and makes it her mission in life to know the affairs of everyone in the village. And like Miss Marple, Mrs. Bird is quite adept at solving murders.
Of Mrs. Bird's two cases, the purer detective story is "The Case of the Jesting Miser," which revolves around the strange doing of a village recluse. I, however, preferred "The Case of the Misjudged Husband," the story of Mrs. Bird's confrontation with a professional ladykiller. Both stories have some clever lines that I can't quote, for fear of violating the Ransom Center's policy. But I thought it would worthwhile mentioning these stories, for we now have another instance of a woman detective from the 1930s. Maybe someday they will be published, if only for historical sake.
|marker for the English dead at Jarama|
Those of us who admire Sprigg's detective novels would have preferred a few more of them, but such was not to be, sadly.
Fired with revolutionary ardor, Sprigg joined the Republican cause in the Spanish Civil War and was tragically slain at the Battle of Jarama in February 1937.
The attitude that Sprigg came to have about his genre writing can be found in other writers of detective fiction (if not so extreme and negative).
Arthur Conan Doyle killed off Sherlock Holmes because he thought he was a distraction from his "serious" work (of course he relented and brought him back again).
R. Austin Freeman thought the significance of his Dr. Thorndyke tales paled in comparison to his supposed masterpiece, Social Decay and Regeneration, a tome on eugenics.
|Lord Peter Wimsey|
Dumped for Dante?
In a 1949 letter she impatiently complained of "sentimental Wimsey addicts" imploring her to write another Lord Peter mystery.
Todd Downing too, I found, had ambitions to give up detective novels for mainstream fiction, even though he genuinely loved detective fiction and continued to read it long after he stopped writing it.
I discovered another expression of this attitude recently in correspondence of the English author Eden Phillpotts.
Phillpotts was tremendously prolific writer who wrote quite a few mystery novels but was most highly-regarded for his highly serious Thomas Hardy-esque mainstream regional novels set in Dartmoor. He is best known today, within the mystery field, for urging a certain young neighbor of his, Agatha Christie, to stick with writing.
In a letter that is undated but that probably comes from the 1920s, Phillpotts writes:
"But then I write miles of tripe...'Shockers' amuse me and rest me. They take the place of 'golf' or other distractions. America has no use for my serious folk books....But for murder, detectives and nonsense of that sort grown-up children are always avid."
What a disappointing attitude from someone who wrote 26 crime novels between 1921 and 1944! But not altogether surprising (perhaps Phillpotts excepted from the category of "tripe" his 1930s Avis Bryden trilogy, quite a fine piece of work, in my estimation, from a purely literary standpoint).
Tripe! Trash! Do many modern mystery writers have this sort of "inferiority complex" about their mystery writing today? What do you think?