‘Women Crime Writers: Eight Suspense Novels of the 1940s and 1950s’

1101-BKS-McDermid-1444859829678-jumboThis post was intended as a private note, a reminder of books I’m looking forward to reading soon. However I thought it might be of some interest to readers of this blog. I came  across ‘Women Crime Writers: Eight Suspense Novels of the 1940s and 1950s’ by Val McDermid, in The New York Times here. Which led me to Women Crime Writers: Eight Suspense Novels of the 1940s & 50s by Sarah Weinman and, next, to visit the special Women Crime Writers companion website for complete information on the eight novels and their authors, along with appreciations by contemporary writers and a wealth of contextual material. A website I recently discovered when looking for biographical information of some of these authors.

So far I’ve read ­Margaret Millar’s Beast in View, I’ve seen several times Laura directed by Otto Preminger and In a Lonely Place directed by Nicholas Ray, but I haven’t read the books and even though I’ve read several books by Patricia Highsmith –mainly all the Ripley’s in my pre-blog days– I I’ve not read The Blunderer.

The rest of the books are: Helen ­Eustis’s The Horizontal Man, ­Elisabeth Sanxay Holding’s The Blank Wall, Charlotte Armstrong’s Mischief, and Dolores Hitchens’s Fools’ Gold.

Stay tuned.

Elisabeth Sanxay Holding (1889 – 1955)

again_480x480Elisabeth Sanxay Holding (1889-1955) was born and brought up in New York and educated at Miss Whitcombe’s and other schools for young ladies. In 1913 she married George Holding, a British diplomat. They had two daughters and lived in various South American countries, and then in Bermuda, where her husband was a government official. Elisabeth Sanxay Holding wrote six romantic novels in the 1920s.

After the stock market crash, she turned to the more profitable genre of detective novels, starting with Miasma (1929). Holding published an additional seventeen detective novels, including Dark Power (1930), The Death Wish (1934), The Unfinished Crime (1935), The Strange Crime in Bermuda (1937), The Obstinate Murderer (1938), The Girl Who Had To Die (1940), Who’s Afraid? (1940), Speak of the Devil (1941), Kill Joy (1942), Lady Killer (1942), The Old Battle Ax (1943), Net of Cobwebs (1945), The Innocent Mrs. Duff (1946), The Blank Wall (1947), Too Many Bottles (1951), The Virgin Huntress (1951) and Widow’s Mite (1953).

In a letter to Hamish Hamilton, his British publisher, Raymond Chandler wrote: “Does anybody in England publish Elisabeth Sanxay Holding? For my money she’s the top suspense writer of them all. She doesn’t pour it on and make you feel irritated. Her characters are wonderful; and she has a sort of inner calm which I find very attractive. I recommend for your attention, if you have not read them, Net of Cobwebs, The Innocent Mrs. Duff, The Blank Wall.”

The Blank Wall was adapted into the films The Reckless Moment (1949), directed by Max Ophüls and starring Joan Bennett and James Mason, and The Deep End (2001), directed by Scott McGehee and David Siegel and starring Tilda Swinton.

After her husband’s retirement the Holdings lived in New York City. Her series character was Lieutenant Levy. Holding also wrote numerous short stories for popular magazines of the day. She died in 7 February 1955.

Praised by Raymond Chandler as “the top suspense writer of them all,” Elisabeth Sanxay Holding excelled at the exploration of domestic unease. The Blank Wall exemplifies the drama of the sheltered housewife forced to take charge. While her husband serves overseas during World War II, Lucia Holley finds herself in the midst of a situation involving blackmail and manslaughter. She becomes quickly aware that the habits of her life, the domestic expectations that surround her, make it difficult for her to act with the slightest independence, and she must herself begin to behave like a criminal in order to deal with a threat to her family of which they must never know. In the course of the action she becomes involved with a man who is a prototypical fallen angel, adding the possibility of forbidden romance. The ambivalence with which Holding depicts the household sphere that Lucia works so hard to protect is matched by her subtle exploration of questions of guilt and responsibility in a middle class facade of harmony. (Source: Women Crime Writers)


(Source: Facsimile Dust Jackets LLC. Simon and Schuster (USA), 1947)

The Blank Wall has been reviewed, among others, by John Grant’s review at Goodreads, Bernadette Bean at Reactions to Readings, Curtis Evans at The Passing Tramp, Marta Marne en Leer sin Prisa (in Spanish), NancyO at The crime segments .

Further reading:

The Godmother of Noir: Elisabeth Sanxay Holding by Jake Hinkson

Elisabeth Sanxay Holding page at Golden Age of Detection Wiki

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