‘Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives – Stories from the Trailblazers of Domestic Suspense’ (2013) – 352 pages
All of the crime stories in ‘Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives’ are written by women, and all were written between 1940 and 1979. This time frame corresponds somewhat to the noir era, but extends beyond it.
One landmark in crime fiction written by women must have been when Alfred Hitchcock in 1951 purchased ‘Strangers on a Train’, the first novel by Patricia Highsmith. As usual, Hitchcock kept his name out of the negotiations to keep the purchase price low, and he paid just $7,500 for the novel. Highsmith was quite annoyed when she later discovered who bought the rights for such a small amount. The film is now considered a classic. Patricia Highsmith does have the first story in this collection.
I was familiar before with only four of these fourteen story writers: Patricia Highsmith (‘Carol’), Shirley Jackson (‘The Lottery’), Vera Caspary (‘Laura’), and Dorothy B. Hughes (‘The Expendable Man’). One of the nice things about the collection is that a short biography is included for each author before their story.
Here is a list of the woman writers who were unknown to me in this collection: Nedra Tyre, Barbara Callahan, Helen Nielsen, Joyce Harrington, Elisabeth Sanxay Holding, Charlotte Armstrong, Dorothy Salisbury Davis, Margaret Millar, Miriam Allen Deford, and Celia Fremlin.
So who were these women mystery writers? Most of them wrote short stories for mystery magazines such as Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, or Manhunt. They competed to win Edgar awards. When television became popular, scripts were needed for the weekly shows, and some of the early series such as Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Twilight Zone, and Perry Mason bought scripts from independent writers. If a writer was successful writing short stories and/or scripts, they might produce a novel. I suppose crime fiction was a way for woman authors to write about the rough side of life.
For me, reading a good anthology of stories is a delectable experience. I deliberately read the stories out of order, juxtaposing short stories with long stories, stories by familiar authors with unfamiliar authors, until I complete the whole book. Each story is a new adventure just waiting for me.
Not every story in ‘Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives’ was a total winner for me. Some of the stories are heavy on plot but thin on character development. In some of the stories the authors seem to be so busy dealing with the contortions of the plot that the characters remain rather sketchy. I am not going to rank my reactions to each story since part of the fun of reading an anthology collection is deciding for yourself which stories you like and which you don’t care for so much.
Overall, I consider ‘Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives’ a good anthology experience, and if you are at all interested in the evil that females can do or can imagine, you will enjoy it.