Jean Potts, Jean Catherine Potts in full, was born in Saint Paul, Howard County, Nebraska on 17 November 1910 to Lola (née Law) and Will Potts. After graduating from St Paul Hugh School Jean worked briefly as a stenographer before going to work in 1929 as the “cub” reporter and compositor for the St. Paul Phonograph for a brief period. After a year at the Colorado Women’s Collage, she returned to her home state to enrol at Nebraska Wesleyan University, whence she graduated in 1936. While on a visit to New York City the next year to see her older sister Edith –an accomplished pianist who was in New York to study at Juilliard School of Music–, Jean became entranced by the city and lived there ever since. It was there that Ms. Potts started her writing career, beginning with a mainstream novel—Someone to Remember in 1943—and stories for magazines like Collier’s, McCall’s, Cosmopolitan and Redbook. Her first mystery novel, Go, Lovely Rose, set in a small Midwestern town, won the Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Award as the best first mystery novel by an American published in the United States in 1954. After her success, Potts concentrated on crime fiction, eventually writing fourteen mystery novels, translated into over seven languages. Charles Scribner’s sons were her publishers in the US, and Gollancz in the UK. Besides, over 37 short stories appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Alfred Hitchcock’s Magazine and Women’s Day, just to name a few. Though never made, The Evil Wish (an Edgar runner-up in 1963) was optioned for a film with Barbara Stanwyck and Sir Ralph Richardson. Potts died in New York City on 10 November 1999. Edward D. Hoch, a past president of the Mystery Writers of America, said of Ms. Potts that ”characterization was perhaps her strongest suit, and she was especially good with her small-town, middle-American settings.” After her death, her works fell into oblivion until recently, when Stark House Press started to make them available to the reading public again. (Sources: Howard County Historical Society, Wikipedia, and Curtis Evans introduction to The Footsteps on the Stairs / The Troublemaker)
Mystery Novels by Jean Potts: Go, Lovely Rose (1954); Death of a Stray Cat aka Dark Destination (1955); The Diehard (1956); The Man With The Cane (1957); Lightning Strikes Twice aka Blood Will Tell (1958); Home Is the Prisoner (1960); The Evil Wish (1962); The Only Good Secretary (1965); The Footsteps on the Stairs (1966); The Trash Stealer (1967); The Little Lie (1968); An Affair of the Heart (1970); The Troublemaker (1972); and My Brother’s Killer (1975).
A recent post by Kate Jackson at Cross-examining Crime sparked my interest for the oeuvre of Jean Potts (1910 – 1997). I’m currently reading Go, Lovely Rose but, following my habit, I decided to inquire further over the author and to share with you my findings.
‘As an examination of a horrible woman’s vindictive lifestyle and its effect on not just two families, but an entire town, “Go, Lovely Rose”, is easily one of the most arresting and perceptive crime novels of the 1950s. Potts succeeds in finding the balance between attack and compassion in her critique of the small-mind and malicious Rose and the long lasting wounds she has caused. The murder investigation, as is the case in many of these domestic suspense novels, is both a revelation and healing for all. But the restitution of well-being and equanimity for all families involved always comes at a costly price.’ (J.F. Norris in the introduction to Go, Lovely Rose / The Evil Wish)