Newton Gayle (Muna Lee & Maurice Guinness)

Newton Gayle was a pseudonym used by the writing team of Muna Lee and Maurice Guinness for five books written in the 1930s.

muna-leeNewton Gayle is one of the most obscure writers to have been elected to membership of the Detection Club during the Golden Age. In fact, the pseudonym conceals the identities of two writers: the American poet Muna Lee and the British businessman Maurice Guinness. From 1934 to 1938,  they teamed up to write five detective novels under the pen name Newton Gayle. In fact, as Newton Gale, Muna Lee was the second American citizen to become full member of the Detection Club.

Muna Lee (1895-1965) was a poet, historian, translator, activist and essayist. She was the oldest of nine children. She grew up in Mississippi and Oklahoma and attended Blue Mountain College and the University of Mississippi. She became a teacher in Oklahoma and then moved to New York to work as a translator for the Secret Service during World War I. She learnt Spanish and wrote and translated poetry in Spanish, Portuguese and English, marrying Luis Muñoz Marín, a poet, journalist, and future governor of Puerto Rico, in 1919. They moved to Puerto Rico and had two children. Her five murder mystery novels were co-authored with Maurice Guiness. “Gayle” is a Lee family surname. The novels, featuring British detective James Greer who solves crimes in Britain, the United States, and Puerto Rico, are notable for their bilingual dialogue. Lee took up an administrative post at the University of Puerto Rico and became a prominent figure in the National Women’s Party. In 1941 she left her husband and moved to Washington D.C., to work for the State Department. She wrote several non-fiction books about Spain and Latin America, and was a friend of William Faulkner. She retired to Puerto Rico shortly before her death in 1965.

Maurice Guinness (1897- 1991) was a Shell Oil executive stationed in Puerto Rico. He wrote three mystery novels by himself under the pseudonym Mike Brewer, featuring series character Brendan Wallace. Nothing more is known about him other than that he received a letter from Raymond Chandler in 1958. (Source: Golden Age of Detection Wiki)

The books by Newton Gayle published in the US by Scribner’s and Sons, and in Britain by Gollancz were: Death Follows a Formula (1935), The Sentry Box Murder aka Murder in the Haunted Sentry-Box (1935), Murder at 28:10 (1936), Death in the Glass (1937) and Sinister Crag (1938). The series character James Greer, appears in all the books.

The Sentry Box Murder has been reviewed by J F Norris at Pretty Sinister Books

Murder at 28:10 and Sinister Crag have been reviewed by Martin Edwards at ‘Do You Write Under Your Own Name?’

‘The name of Newton Gayle concealed an unusual writing partnership, between Muna Lee and Maurice Guinness. Lee was an American poet and activist, and Guinness a British oil executive. Although they made an odd literary couple, their co-authored mysteries are distinctive. Sinister Crag is unique among Greer’s  recorded cases in taking place in Britain. The quality of writing was no doubt due to Lee, while Guinness was primarily responsible for supplying plot material – particularly in this book, where he made good use of his own enthusiasm for mountaineering. Lee spent many years living in Puerto Rico, which supplied the background for an unorthodox Newton Gayle novel, Murder at 28:10 (1936), set at the time of a devastating hurricane. Lee later joined the US State Department as a cultural affairs specialist, while in the Sixties, Guinness wrote three thrillers under the name Mike Brewer.’ (Martin Edwards, The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books, The British Library Publishing Division, 2017)


(Source: Facsimile Dust Jackets LLC. V. G. Gollancz (UK), 1938)

Description: A good yarn with a distinctive background, — mountain climbing in the English Lake district. Three climbers have died — accident or murder? The suspects are at the inn where Greer, home from a wild goose chase to Switzerland, uses his knowledge of climbing lore, technique, etc. to clear up misunderstandings and confront the killer with his dead. Top flight tale. (Source: Kirkus)

Sinister Crag has been reviewed at ‘Do You Write Under Your Own Name?’

Sinister Crag is hard to find, to my knowledge, is out of print and only available in the second hand market.

Arthur Morrison (1863 – 1945)

95961Arthur George Morrison (1863 – 1945) was an English author and journalist, known for his realistic novels about London’s East End and for his detective stories. In 1890, he left his job as a clerk at the People’s Palace and joined the editorial staff of the Evening Globe newspaper. The following year, he published a story titled “A Street”, which was subsequently published in book form in Tales of Mean Streets (1894). Around this time, Morrison was also producing detective short stories which emulated those of Conan Doyle about Sherlock Holmes. Three volumes of Martin Hewitt stories were published before the publication of the novel for which Morrison is most famous: A Child of the Jago (1896). Other less well-received novels and stories followed, until Morrison effectively retired from writing fiction around 1913. Between then and his death, he seems to have concentrated on building his collection of Japanese prints and paintings. (Source: Goodreads)

As Martin Edwards points out in his book The Golden Age of Murder, (Harper Collins Publishers, 2015. pp. 99  – 100):

Arthur Morrison, son of an engine fitter, exploited his literary gifts to escape London’s slum. A journalist, he hit his stride with Tales of the Mean Streets, but could scarcely have guessed that ‘mean streets’ would become a phrase associated with American private eyes. Morrison depicted the East End with an insider’s expertise, but became embarrassed by his humble origins. He even falsified data on the national census to conceal his date and place of birth. It is a pity he was so sensitive, since the strength of his writing lies in an understanding of working class life that Berkeley, Sayers and Christie could never match.

Morrison’s Martin Hewitt, a lawyer turned private investigator, was meant to fill the gap left by Holmes’ plunge into the Reichenbach Falls. Portly and good nature, Hewitt was too ordinary to outshine the sage of 221b Baker Street, dead or alive. More distinctive was Horace Dorrington, a suave villain who plans a murder at the start of The Dorrington Deed-Box. His scheme fails, and although he escapes justice, his intended victim discovers the records of several cases in which Dorrington combines work as a private inquiry agent with shameless criminality. Morrison abandoned Dorrington after one book, but had created the literary ancestor of the murderous charmer To Ripley, created by Patricia Highsmith, herself a member of the Detection Club, and of Jeff Lindsay’s serial killer Dexter Morgan.’

Further reading:

dorringtondeedboxartmor__82124.1486494261.500.659From Wikipedia: The Dorrington Deed Box is a collection of short stories by the British writer Arthur Morrison published in 1897. It contains six stories featuring cases of the unscrupulous London-based private detective Horace Dorrington, told from the viewpoint of one his clients and potential victims, James Rigby. It was part of a general boom of detective stories in the wake of Arthur Conan Doyle’s creation of Sherlock Holmes. Morrison had previously written stories about an honest private detective Martin Hewitt, but with Dorrington he created a more cynical character who does not hesitate to commit armed robbery or murder to suit his ends.

The 1970s British television series The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes featured two episodes based on Dorrington stories, with Peter Vaughan portraying the detective.

Product Description: Meet Horace Dorrington, Detective…
In 1897 Morrison published seven short stories detailing the exploits of Horace Dorrington. In contrast to Morrison’s earlier character Martin Hewitt, who one critic described as a “low-key, realistic, lower-class answer to Sherlock Holmes,” Dorrington was “a respected but deeply corrupt private detective,” “a cheerfully unrepentant sociopath who is willing to stoop to theft, blackmail, fraud, or cold-blooded murder to make a dishonest penny.” These stories were collected as The Dorrington Deed Box (1897).  (Source: Wildside Press)

The Dorrington Deed Box has been reviewed, among others, at Vintage Pop Fictions and the crime segments.

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