With publication dates from 1943 to 1983 and a range of names most of us have never heard of (Nedra Tyre, Helen Nielsen, Celia Fremlin) as well as a couple of big names (Patricia Highsmith and Shirley Jackson) this collection celebrates the women who ruled over the domestic suspense genre during the mid-twentieth century. Their subjects are traditional ones: relationships with children, parents, husbands and lovers, the spoken or unspoken limits on a woman’s world, and the vulnerability of women that can curdle into violence.
Patricia Highsmith’s first published short story about a meek young nanny with a disturbing need to be loved gives you the authentic Highsmith creeps, and I loved Shirley Jackson’s offbeat tale of a young girl who runs away from home and comes back a few years later to a surprising reception. There’s a story about a mink coat and one about a magnificent hand-woven purple shroud. The forgotten Nedra Tyre (who stored books in the oven) published 6 crime novels and more than 40 short stories within twenty years. Her story A Nice Place To Stay hits quietly, but hard. Some of the stories disappoint or feel dated, but this is a really enjoyable and interesting collection. I enjoyed the introduction too, where Sarah Weinman traces the history of crime fiction from the second World War, when pulp fiction (mostly male writers) gradually gave way to magazines for a mainstream middlebrow audience. Woman began to find a place, and even to make a living, writing for the mystery magazines. It’s ironic, as Weinman says, that women like this, as talented and serious as their male counterparts, fell off the map as feminism gathered force.