Pat McGerr (1917 – 1985)


mcgerrA fourth-generation Nebraska daughter, Patricia “Pat” McGerr (December 26, 1917 – May 11, 1985) made her literary reputation as the writer of seventeen novels (most of them mysteries, but a few telling stories of women of the early Catholic Church), and more than fifty short stories. She won an Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine/MWA prize for her 1968 story “Match Point in Berlin,” the Grand Prix de Litterature Policiere in 1952 for her 1951 novel Follow, As the Night, and her first novel, Pick Your Victim (1946), was selected as one of the Fifty Classics of Crime Fiction, 1900-1950.

Although she was born in Falls City, Nebraska, her family settled in Lincoln, where McGerr graduated from UN-L with a Bachelor of Arts. Her mother was one of the seven Dore sisters, well known in Lincoln, and this is alluded to jokingly in the title to one of her first books, The Seven Deadly Sisters (1947). After graduation, Patricia and her three sisters moved to Washington, D.C. and eventually New York City.

Earning a masters in journalism at Columbia University in 1937, she worked in public relations and as an assistant editor of an industry magazine in New York City. In her thirteenth novel, she had finally reclaimed her full first name — Patricia. “My publisher thought that the name ‘Pat’ sounded masculine and many male readers of mysteries would be put off by a woman author of such fiction unless she were a Mignon Eberhart or an Agatha Christie.” A television series, based on McGerr’s recurring character, Selena Mead, starring Polly Bergen, was planned for CBS Television in 1965-66 but never got to the air. Patricia McGerr died May 11, 1985 in Bethesda, Maryland, at the age of 67. (Source: City of Lincoln Nebraska Libraries)

McGerr is principally known for having created a hitherto-unknown twist on the traditional whodunnit. Her best-known novel, Pick Your Victim (1946), tells the story of a small group of American soldiers in an isolated Arctic base who are desperate for reading material and diversion. They find a torn scrap of newspaper which has arrived as the cushioning for a parcel. The torn scrap tells part of the story of a man who has been convicted of a murder, and who is known personally by one of the GIs—the murderer is identified, but the name of the victim has been torn away. The GIs form a betting pool and pump their informant for every bit of information about any potential victim to enable them to better place their bets, and the story told by the informant is the body of the novel. At the end, the name of the victim is revealed. McGerr’s other novels were sometimes ingenious but rarely commercially successful. The Seven Deadly Sisters (1947) attempts a similar inversion of the whodunnit formula, with less success. Near the end of her writing career, McGerr created a continuing character, Selena Mead, who became involved in espionage-based plots in and around Washington, D.C. (Source: Wikipedia)

Bibliography: Pick Your Victim (1946); The Seven Deadly Sisters (1947); Catch Me if You Can (1948); Save the Witness (1949); Follow, As the Night (1949) aka Your Loving VictimDeath in a Million Living Rooms (1951) aka Die Laughing; Fatal in My Fashion (1954); Is There a Traitor in the House? (1965); Murder is Absurd (1967); Stranger with My Face (1968); For Richer For Poorer Till Death (1969); Legacy of Danger (1970); Daughter of Darkness (1974); Dangerous Landing (1975) (Source: Golden Age of Detection Wiki)

To the best of my knowledge Pat McGerr books are out of print, difficult to find in the second hand market at a decent price and no electronic editions exist.

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(Source: Facsimile Dust Jackets LLC. Collins The Crime Club (UK) 1947)

Synopsis: A group of Marines in the Aleutians learn of a murder from an incomplete newspaper. They know who confessed to the crime but not the identity of the victim. Pete, one of the Marines once knew the suspects. They have a lottery based on the victim’s identity while Pete tells what he remembers about them.

Pick Your Victim has been reviewed, among others, by Marvin Lachman at Mystery File, TomCat at Beneath the Stains of Time, Xavier Lechard at Golden Age of Detection Wiki, Pietro De Palma at Death Can Read, Noah Stewart at Noah’s Archive, Rusty at Justice for the Corpse, Kate Jackson at Cross-examining Crime, and Jim Noy at The Invisible Event.

Patricia McGerr by Micahel E.Grost

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