Phoebe Atwood Taylor (1909 –1976)

Phoebe Atwood Taylor (1909 –1976) was an American mystery author. She wrote mystery novels under her own name, and as Freeman Dana and Alice Tilton. Phoebe Atwood Taylor was born in Boston, Massachusetts. Her parents, John D. and Josephine Atwood Taylor, were both natives of Cape Cod; her father was a physician. Taylor graduated from Barnard College in 1930, published her first detective novel in 1931 and published up to three detective novels a year, every year afterwards for almost 20 years. She wrote between midnight and 3:00 a.m., “after housekeeping all day,” usually “beginning three weeks before the deadline for the novel to be delivered to her New York publishers.” (Her Leonidas Witherall novels include heart-felt depictions of the harried popular author, besieged by telegrams from his publisher, struggling to meet his deadlines.) Taylor married a prominent Boston surgeon of the same surname and lived in Newton Highlands and then in Weston, suburbs of Boston, always keeping a summer home at Wellfleet on Cape Cod. She died of a heart attack.

Her first novel, The Cape Cod Mystery, introduced the “Codfish Sherlock”, Asey Mayo, who became a series character appearing in 24 novels. Taylor’s work was light in tone, a bit more serious than screwball comedy, but fun and easy to read. According to critic Dilys Winn, “Mrs. Taylor is the mystery equivalent to Buster Keaton.” She borrowed heavily on her own background (being born in Boston, and very familiar with Cape Cod) to produce books full of local color. “As a whole the Asey Mayo books are a treasure trove of humor and local culture of the Cape in the 1930s and ’40s.” Taylor adopted the pseudonyms of Freeman Dana and Alice Tilton for her other books because her publisher did not want her known as a writer of potboilers. Like many who lived through the Great Depression, she was in constant need of money, and one of her letters to her publisher was printed in a recent edition of one of her books as an explanation of why she adopted the pen name of Alice Tilton for the popular Leonidas Witherall novel series.

Asey Mayo series as Phoebe Atwood Taylor: The Cape Cod Mystery (1931); Death Lights a Candle (1932); The Mystery of the Cape Cod Players (1933); The Mystery of the Cape Cod Tavern (1934); Sandbar Sinister (1934); The Tinkling Symbol (1935); Deathblow Hill (1935); The Crimson Patch (1936); Out of Order (1936); Figure Away (1937); Octagon House (1937); The Annulet of Gilt (1938); Banbury Bog (1938); Spring Harrowing (1939); The Criminal C.O.D. (1940); The Deadly Sunshade (1940); The Perennial Boarder (1941); The Six Iron Spiders (1942); Three Plots for Asey Mayo (1942); Going, Going, Gone (1943); Proof of the Pudding (1943); The Asey Mayo Trio (1946); Punch With Care (1946); Diplomatic Corpse (1951)

Leonidas Witherall series as Alice Tilton: Beginning with a Bash (1937); The Cut Direct (1938); Cold Steal (1939); The Left Leg (1940); The Hollow Chest (1941); File for Record (1943); Dead Ernest (1944); The Iron Clew (1947) aka The Iron Hand.

As Freeman Dana: Murder at the New York World’s Fair (1938)


(Source: Facsimile Dust Jackets LLC. Collins The Crime Club (UK), 1937)

From Wikipedia: Beginning With a Bash is a novel that was published in 1937 by Phoebe Atwood Taylor writing as Alice Tilton. It is the first of the Leonidas Witherall mysteries and it sets the tone which was continued in the other seven. A murder occurs under embarrassing circumstances, and Leonidas forms a motley crew of assistants together in order to track down clues, chase around the town, and solve the mystery. There is a strong vein of humor and the plot is fast-moving.

Beginning with a Bash has been reviewed by Les Blatt at Classic Mysteries, Kate Jackson at Cross-Examining Crime and Laurie Kelley at Bedford Bookshelf.

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