B: July 6, 1899 - Lincoln, Nebraska D: October 8, 1996 - Greenwich, Connecticut
Marriage & Writing
In 1923 Eberhart married her husband Alanson (in 1948 she divorced him for two years, married someone else - then divorce him and remarry Alanson- they remained together until 1974 when he passed away, they were buried next to each other after Eberhart died in 1996- so that's her complicated marital history). The role Alanson played in Eberhat's career is linked, in a roundabout way, to his own work as a civil engineer.
Because Alanson's work was project based (meaning there is a start point and end point, which could last several years, but eventually he would find himself out of work until a new assignment was found) they would move frequently all over the country from one project to another. This slow wandering proved to be beneficial to Eberhart's writing. First and foremost it gave Eberhart the impetus to write her first full length novel. She'd grown up listening to stories told to her on her mother's knee, it's where Eberhart's love of storytelling was born, and when she was younger she passed the time writing her own stories. But life intruded and Eberhart desire to write outstripped her time and her output greatly diminished, consisting mainly of short essays and articles published in the papers. So when she found herself in rural areas where distractions were few and she knew almost no one, she needed a way to entertain herself - so she picked up her writing again. She begun with short stories, essays and the odd novella, six years after she married Eberhart she saw her first full length mystery in print. Thank goodness for the benefits of boredom!
The other unexpected benefit the meandering life of a Civil engineer's wife provided was a huge variety of very different locations. Couple these lived in locations with vacations/tours she and her husband took all over the world (since he often had a bit of extra time off after a project finished and before another started), meant Eberhart was pretty well traveled. And she took full advantage of this fact in her writing, using her own observations about a place to provide the backbone of her books. Her knowledge of her settings allowed her to create a very real and accurate sense of place for her readers. Which in turn lead Eberhart's books to become known for their exotic locations, atmospheric descriptions and to have a touch of gothic ribboning its' way through them (gothic as in, when the location can be seen almost as a complete character itself in the narrative, like The Yellow Wallpaper by Gilman).
Marriage is a funny thing - for June Wright it stifled her writing career, Patricia Wentworth's husband helped significantly with her writing process and Eberhart's played an important role as well. His career helped to provide a portion of the foundation in which Eberhart built her very successful career (plus from what I understand he was super supportive of his wife’s career as well).
*An odd piece of trivia Hugh Hefner of the Playboy fame, was supposedly born in Eberhart's apartment (or born while they were residing there, the story was a bit muddled). It came about when she sublet her residence to his parents (his mother was an old college friend) while Eberhart and her husband toured Europe (PG. 56 of America's Agatha Christie).
“In dreams one beats one’s hands against doors that will not open, against walls that remain impassible, against gates that are bolted. But Deborah was not dreaming”
- The House On The Roof (Pg. 66)
Detective: Sara Keate & Lance O’Leary
1st Book: The Patient In Room 18 (1929) Last: Man Missing (1954)
No. of Book In Series: 7 (including 2 they made cameo appearances in)
Detective: Susan Dare
Short Story Collection: The Cases of Susan Dare (1934)
Detective: James Wickwire (banker by trade)
Short Stories included in mystery collections.
Non-Series Mysteries: 56
So here’s the deal, Christie is the Golden Age gold standard for what we now call traditional British mysteries (weather they were set in the UK or not, and irrespective of if the authors even lived there or not, this style of mystery and its’ authors get lumped together). She is the yard stick all others are measured by due to her skill in plotting, uniqueness of solutions, variety of detectives and the sheer proven lasting power of her books. So other authors, especially ones who published during the same period as Christie, often have their works and achievements compared to hers. But here’s the thing which gets up my nose, in the rush to claim that their favorite author beat Christie to the punch, they fail to find all the pertinent facts.
So I am going to shout into the wind and beat a dead horse - Because evidently I am at the level of Christie Nerd I feel compelled to point this out again....
The first appearance of Miss Marple was not in the full length novel Murder At The Vicarage in 1930, it was actually in a short story, The Tuesday Night Club published in the December 1927 edition of The Royal Magazine in the UK. Many, many authors back in the Golden Age published short stories in all kinds of magazines - that’s how many authors got their start. In fact this was how Eberhart gained the notice of (and contacts in) publishing houses so when she switched to writing full length novels (after her short stories stopped selling) they were snapped up. The point here is the fact Eberhart’s heroine Sara Keate didn’t step off the page until 1929 just over a year after Miss Marple’s career had started. So Eberhart did not trail blaze a path for the female protagonist in the mystery novel - nor must I add did she claim to - it is others writing about her who have tried award her this title
Here, I must admit for about a day I was really excited, because I thought I could credit Eberhart with creating the first female mystery writer/amateur sleuth thus giving this piece a happy ending so to speak.... In 1934 Eberhart wrote a series of short stories featuring Susan Dare (said author/sleuth) which were published in The Delineator magazine. However when I dug into the details, where the little devils live, I discovered that Christie had beat Eberhart to the punch once again. Because the first appearance of Ariadne Oliver (Christie’s not so subtle double) was not in the 1936 mystery Cards On The Table. Oliver actually first turns up in a Parker Pyne short story called The Case Of The Discontented Soldier in the August 1932 edition of Cosmopolitan magazine (their content sure has changed!). Which deflated my good intentions! But in all fairness Christie herself wasn’t the first to come up with the mystery author/detective combo. The first mention I can find of a mystery author/sleuth was a series of short stories about Richard Verrell by Bruce Graeme written between 1925-1947 (now I am only including the dates for the original hero Richard, Graeme went on to write about both Richard’s son and an ancestor at different points during his career, but I don’t believe they held the relevant occupations for what I am discussing here). For an added twist Graeme also included master thief on Richard’s resume as well as writer/sleuth, who the police turned to for help when they were out of their depth. While Graeme wrote his character as a male lead, the premise was still in print before the apple eating Ariadne Oliver graced us with her presence.
While Eberhart may not have been the first to write with a female heroine or mystery writer/sleuth (or pioneer the romantic suspense or had-I-but-known subgenera Mary Roberts Rinehart did this) Eberhart did add a great deal to their overall depth and flavor with her own unique and atmospheric style. She is a pot roast level of author, she isn’t credited with the tower heights of Christie or the bottom scraping lows others - she was an author whose overall contributions were very good (she wrote over 60 mysteries) and added quality & depth to the Golden Age mystery scene.
Okay now that I’ve gotten that out of my system I will try hard not to bring it up again.....
My 52 Weeks With Christie: A.Miner©2015