Winifred Peck (1882-1962)


peckLady Winifred Peck (née Knox), born 1882, was a member of a remarkable family. Her father was Edmund Arbuthnott Knox, the fourth Bishop of Manchester, and her siblings were E. V. Knox, editor of Punch magazine, Ronald Knox, theologian and writer, Dilly Knox, cryptographer, Wilfred Lawrence Knox, clergyman, and Ethel Knox. Peck’s niece was the Booker Prize-winning author Penelope Fitzgerald who wrote a biography of her father, E. V. Knox, and her uncles, entitled The Knox Brothers. She read Modern History at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford. Her first book was a biography of Louis IX in 1909. In 1911 she married James Peck, a British civil servant, who was awarded a knighthood in 1938. They had three children. Knox’s first book, written in 1909, was a biography of Louis IX. Ten years after writing her first book, Winifred Peck began a novel-writing career which saw the publication of twenty-five books over a period of forty years, including two detective mysteries [The Warrielaw Jewel (1933) and Arrest The Bishop? (1949)]. Lady Peck died on 20 November 1962. (Source: Goodreads with some minor alterations).

Further reading: Winifred Peck (1882-1962) by Carol Westron.

That the famous Anglo-Catholic theologian Ronald Knox had a sister, Winifred Peck, who wrote novels too is little known today.  However, Peck’s first novel, a mystery story titled The Warrielaw Jewel, in my opinion is superior to any of the half dozen that her distinguished brother produced. Set in Scotland in the year 1909, The Warrielaw Jewel is a murder mystery, but also a rich novel of character. Essentially it’s dark tale of a decaying gentry family devastatingly impacted by murder.  It’s a good corrective to the view that the Golden Age of detective fiction produced “merely” puzzles.  The Warrielaw Jewel would not shame the best modern “crime novels” in my view.  I really hope that eventually some small press sees fit to reprint this title.  I think it would find an appreciative audience. (The Passing Tramp)

The Warrielaw Jewel deserves reprinting as well.  Jewel is notable as an early example of a Golden Age mystery that, in its shifting of emphasis from pure puzzle to the study of character and setting, helped mark that gradual transition from detective story to crime novel which Julian Symons celebrated in his influential history of the mystery genre, Bloody Murder. (Continue reading at The Passing Tramp)

Note: Winifred Peck went on to produce mostly mainstream novels, though after World War Two she returned to genre, writing a supernatural tale, Unseen Array (1951), and one additional mystery, the provocatively titled Arrest the Bishop? (1949).  Judging from The Warrielaw Jewel, both of these later novels would be worth seeking out.–The Passing Tramp.

Peck, Winifred - Warrielaw JewelBook Description

‘Listen! I see I’d better take you into my confidence.’

‘I’d rather you didn’t,’ I said.

Betty Morrison, a lawyer’s wife, is flung into the society of an ancient Edinburgh family, the Warrielaws. There’s Neil the Rip, Cora the Siren, Rhoda the Business Woman, and Alison the little Beauty – not to mention the formidable, elderly Jessica and her meek sister Mary. The family all possess unusual gold-green eyes – and harbour a precious and historic jewel, a bauble under constant threat of theft. The alarmed Betty will become a crucial witness in a case that includes mysterious disappearances of gems and people, as well as wholesale murder.

The Warrielaw Jewel was originally published in 1933. This new edition features an introduction by crime fiction historian Martin Edwards. (Dean Street Press)

The Warrielaw Jewel has been reviewed, among others, at Mystery*File, Ontos, ‘Do You Write Under Your Own Name?’, Beneath the Stains of Time, Cross-Examining Crime, Classic Mysteries, and Northern Reader.

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