Created by Anna Mary Wells (1906--)
She's actually a pretty interesting character. Wheras most private eyes seem to be ex-cops of one sort or another, Grace's former occupation is rather unique in crime fiction. When we first meet her, in the author's first mystery, A Talent for Murder (1942), she's a psychiatric nurse in New York.
Hell, she's not even -- really -- the main detective in the book. That would be Dr. Hillis Owen, Grace's boss, a young psychiatrist who tries -- with Grace's assistance -- to help a patient who has been acquitted of the murder of her cheating husband, but still isn't quite clear on what happened.
But by Grace's second appearance, the head-spinning Murderer's Choice (1943), there's no doubt who the detective is. World War II is raging, and Hillis is conventiently off serving in the Armed Forces, so Grace has chucked the nursing gig to become a private detective with the Keene Agency. She's assigned the strange case of mystery writer Charles Osgood, a nut job (I believe that's the clinical term) who had threatened to commit suicide and frame his cousin Frank for his murder. Frank, it turns out, isn't particularly pleased to hear this, especially when the daft bugger turns up dead. But of natural causes.There are few female private detectives in the novels and stories of the 1930s and 1940s. Some made appearances in the pulp magazines alone (Violet McDade & Nevada Alvarado,
Grace's task is to dig up the incriminating evidence before the police do, but she isn't entirely sure Charles is the only nut job involved -- parts of Frank's story don't make any sense at all.
It's no hard-boiled tale, but it's a good one. There's a big old house full of secrets and oddball suspects (shades of Clue!), and along the way, the author gets to poke some gentle fun at several of the conventions of the genre (and her fellow mystery authors), before Grace cracks the case, using her knowledge of psychiatry and human behavior to come up with one hell of a solution.
Unfortunately, in the third novel, Sin of Angels (1948) Hillis is back from fighting the good fight, and Grace has no significant role to play.
Which may be the real sin.
Report respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.
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