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Sara Paretsky on Women Crime Writers

Women Crime Writers: Four Suspense Novels of the 1950s

Mischief, Charlotte Armstrong | The Blunderer, Patricia Highsmith | Beast in View, Margaret Millar | Fools’ Gold, Dolores Hitchens
cover image of the book Women Crime Writers: Four Suspense Novels of the 1950s


Library of America
Publication Date
Sep, 01 2015


In place of the mean and violent streets evoked by Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, the pioneering women crime writers of the 1940s and ’50s uncovered the roots of fear and mania in a quiet suburban neighborhood or a comfortable midtown hotel or the insinuating voice of a stranger on the telephone.

This volume, the second of a two-volume collection, brings together four classics of the 1950s that testify to the centrality of women writers in the canon of American crime fiction. Each in its own way examines not only an isolated crime but the society that nurtures murderous rages and destructive suspicions.

Charlotte Armstrong’s Mischief (1950) stages a parental nightmare in a midtown Manhattan hotel, as an out-of-town mother reluctantly leaves her child in the care of a stranger so that she can accompany her husband to a banquet where he is the guest of honor. This fateful decision unleashes the barely submerged forces of chaos that haunt modern urban life.

In The Blunderer (1954), Patricia Highsmith tracks two men, strangers to each other, whose destinies become intertwined when one becomes obsessed with a crime committed by the other. Highsmith’s gimlet-eyed portrayals of failed marriages and deceptively congenial middle-class communities lend a sardonic edge to this tale of intrigue and ineptitude.

In Beast in View (1955), Margaret Millar’s intricately constructed tour de force of insidiously mounting tension, a voice from a woman’s past unleashes a campaign of terror by telephone. As the threats mount, the facades of ordinary life are stripped away to reveal unsuspected depths of resentment and madness.

Two teenagers fresh out of stir after a bungled robbery set their sights on what looks like easy money in Dolores Hitchens’s Fools’ Gold (1958)—and get a painful education in how quickly and drastically a simple plan can spin out of control. The basis for Jean-Luc Godard’s film Band of Outsiders, this sharply told tale is distinguished by its nuanced portrait of a sheltered young woman who becomes a reluctant accomplice and fugitive.

Visit the companion website for more on these works and writers, including jacket art and photographs, chronologies of crime novels by women and movie adaptations, and new appreciations by Megan Abbott, Charles Finch, Laura Lippman, Sara Paretsky, Lisa Scottoline, Karin Slaughter, Duane Swierczynski, and Lisa Unger.

This Library of America series edition is printed on acid-free paper and features Smyth-sewn binding, a full cloth cover, and a ribbon marker.

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