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.

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