Joanna Cannan (1898 – 1961)

persephone_books_joanna_cannan1-516x600Born in 1898, Joanna Cannan was the youngest daughter of Oxford don Charles Cannan, and his wife Mary Wedderburn. Part of a family of authors, Joanna Cannan was cousin to novelist and playwright Gilbert Cannan, sister to poet May Wedderburn Cannan, mother to fellow pony-book authors Josephine Pullein-Thompson, Diana Pullein-Thompson and Christine Pullein-Thompson, as well as to screenwriter and playwright Denis Cannan, and grandmother to cookbook author Charlotte Popescu. Cannan worked as a VAD (Voluntary Aid Detachment) nurse during WWI, meeting her her future husband, Captain Harold J. “Cappy” Pullein-Thompson, in Oxford, during the course of that work. They were married in 1918, and Cannan (who never published under her married name) became the primary breadwinner for the family, after he was severely injured during the war, publishing approximately one book per year. Cannan suffered from ill health in the 1950s, and eventually diagnosed with tuberculosis. She died in 1961.

Prior to writing detective fiction, her books primarily explored the aftermath of World War I and life in England during the Great Depression. In 1932, she settled in rural Oxfordshire with her husband and four children; all four of her children went on to become writers themselves. She began to write fiction for young readers, and published nine books for children between 1936 and 1957. During the same period she wrote two novels featuring Inspector Guy Northeast, They Rang Up the Police (1939) and Death at The Dog (1941); following a nine-year hiatus from detective fiction, she returned to the genre in 1950 with the introduction of Inspector Ronald Price in Murder Included (1950), The Body in the Beck (1952), And Be a Villain (1958), Long Shadows (1955), and All Is Discovered (1962). (Source: Fantastic Fiction)

I came across Joanna Cannan name for the first time thanks to Curtis Evans very personal selection of 150 Favorite Golden Age British Detective Novels, here. Later on, Martin Edwards included Joanna Cannan’s No Walls of Jasper (1930) in his book The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books, unfortunately this book is out of print and quite rare, though it is available in a few libraries. It has been reviewed at ‘Do You Write Under Your Own Name?’ and at Dead Yesterday. Thus, I will content myself reading instead They Rang Up the Police, which is more readily available.


(Facsimile Dust Jacket, V. G. Gollancz (UK), 1939)

There’s a new detective on the scene…

When murder strikes in the quiet English countryside only Inspector Guy Northeast of Scotland Yard sees the vital clue.

When Delia Cathcart and Major Willoughby disappear from their quiet English village one Saturday morning in July 1937, it looks like a simple case of a frustrated spinster running off for a bit of fun with a straying husband.

But as the hours turn into days, Inspector Guy Northeast begins to suspect that she may have been the victim of foul play. On the surface, Delia appeared to be a quite ordinary middle-aged Englishwoman content to spend her evenings with her sisters and mother and her days with her beloved horses. But Delia led a secret life – and Guy turns up more than one person who would like to see Delia dead. Except Delia wasn’t the only person with a secret…

Never before published in the United States, They Rang Up the Police appeared in England in 1939 and is the first of two books to feature young Inspector Guy Northeast, who, as critics Jacques Barzun and Wendell Hertig Taylor point out, “marks a departure from the norm of the thirties.” (Source: Lume Books)

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