Friday, January 15, 2016

Charlotte Murray Russell and Jane Amanda Edwards

Years ago, when my “novel” was just a young thing, I went through a reading phase where I searched out authors’ first books. I wanted to get a feel for their starting points. I wanted a measuring post for where I needed to be for my first efforts as an author.

I kept at the task up until the time I joined two book clubs offered by the Davenport Public Library and had to work on their reading lists. Both approaches have their place and I’m glad I started where I did.

I mention it now because I did not start with Charlotte Murray Russell’s first book. Murder at the Old Stone House was published in 1935 as part of Doubleday’s Crime Club series. It’s difficult to get. The Rock Island Public Library has a copy in protective custody.

I had to settle for Cook Up a Crime. It was originally published in 1951 and a newer version was reprinted in 1979 by permission of her daughter, Marianne Nelson.

In 1953, Russell went to work for the Rock Island Public Library as a cataloguer and was never published again. So, I read her last book. I have to say I struggled with a large cast of characters, some of whom I guessed would be quite familiar to readers of the eleven other books that featured spinster sleuth Jane Amanda Edwards.

Jane Amanda Edwards was not a petite, polite Miss Marple by any means. I’ve read that the busybody Jane was a role model for other meddlesome amateur detectives.

Russell recast her home town of Rock Island as Rockport and navigated its streets with serious determination. I was tempted to look up some of the intersections to see how real they were, but I haven’t yet. I will stay with the small town everything-is-close-together tone she set a little longer.

Now, the ending…

The ending felt rushed. In the last four pages she designed her trap, recruited her ally, sprung the trap, caught the killer, and still had two pages left for explanations and wrapping up loose ends. If that isn’t rushed, I don’t know what is.

But then, maybe I don’t. Russell’s mysteries kept her family afloat during the Depression. An impressive feat for a writer who contributed a great deal to the cozy mystery genre and probably should be better known to today’s readers. 

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