Welcome to the 1st 'kay's favorites'! I'm so glad to be talking about an author that I first discovered when I was about 10 years old. Her name is Phyllis Ayame Whitney, otherwise known as Phyllis A. Whitney - multiple Edgar award winner, lifetime achievement Grand Master Award in 1988 by the Mystery Writers of America and also a lifetime acheivement award by Malice Domestic, who present the Agathas. These are very big deals in the mystery community.
|Photograph © Malice Domestic
Phyllis Whitney, who was born in Yokahoma, Japan, in 1903, spent the first 15 years of her life in Japan, China, and the Philippines. Her first visit to the US was when she and her mother traveled home to America by ship after her father's death. She lived with her mother in California and Texas until her mother died and then lived with her aunt in Chicago. Interestingly enough, all the places mentioned served as a setting for at least one of her books. Her jobs included journalist, college writing teacher, and book editor. She also worked in libraries and bookstores. And she wrote and wrote.
Ms. Whitney had many short stories published and finally, in 1941, her first book for young people. An adult suspense novel, Red Is For Murder (later renamed The Red Carnelian) was published in 1943. Over time, this prolific author wrote over 75 books, which included adult mysteries, juvenile mysteries, books on writing, and juvenile novels. She served as the President of The Mystery Writers of America in 1975. Her last book was published in 1997 (when she was 94!) and she died in 2008 at the age of 104!! She was survived by a daughter, three grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. Amazing!
I currently own 17 of her adult mysteries and 11 of her juvenile mysteries. They are mostly hardback copies, but a few of the juvenile books are paperbacks. I'm going to talk a little about 4 of them - 2 adult and 2 juvenile. For a complete list of her books go here. I'll start with kid books.
At the age of 10, bored at my grandmother's house, I ran across a copy of the Mystery Of The Haunted Pool - owned by an older cousin. I begged to read it and was completely caught up in the story of Susan, visiting her aunt in upstate New York. While wandering near her aunt's house, she comes across a woodland pool and then she sees a face staring up at her from the bottom! It disappears, but where did it go? There's an old sea captain, a treasure, and naturally a mystery. It scared and delighted me (I was that kind of kid) and from then on I was on a mission to find more books by this author.
Another juvenile mystery that I enjoyed completely was the Secret Of The Samurai Sword. In it, Celia and her brother, Stephen, travel to Kyoto, Japan to visit their grandmother for the summer. There is a lovely garden that apparently holds the ghost of an ancient Samurai warrior. Lots of Japanese culture and I think this was one of the books that got me interested in reading mysteries set in other countries and far-flung places. I still love that.
As I moved on to Phyllis Whitney's adult mysteries, I found that she included a bit of romance, along with the thrills and chills. One of my favorites is her first adult book, Red Is For Murder or the title on my copy, The Red Carnelian. By the way, a carnelian is a red gemstone. This one is set in Chicago where Linell works for a large department store as a sign copy writer. How do you feel about a large store after closing hours - when the lights are out and employees scurry around changing things in the big show windows? Spooky, especially when a body is found in one of the windows and Linell knows who it is. This book had the first reference I ever saw to Cole Porter's tune, Begin The Beguine, and that song playing over and over on a record player is part of the creepy, shadowy story. I found the info about dressing the windows fascinating.
The last book I'll mention is Hunter's Green, published in 1968. Eve returns to the great estate of Athmore to try to mend her marriage to Justin after 3 years. However, someone is conspiring against her - her husband's brother, his ex-fiance, a mystery man? The gardens contain a topiary garden carved out of black yew - a chess set (who could resist that?) in the midst of play - the rook ready to capture the king. Old Daniel tells her, 'It's the black rook's play!'. This book has sort of a Rebecca type feel to it. Spooky, dark, things that go bump in the night. Can't you just see the chess pieces ready to move? Ha!
I hope you've enjoyed this little show and tell session. Join me again in two weeks for the next 'kay's favorites from the keeper shelf...' when I'll be talking about Rosamunde Pilcher.