Author News Fiction

M.C. Beaton: Introductory Notes

M.C. Beaton is a pseudonym of Marion Chesney, who is known primarily for the more than 100 historical romance novels she has published under her own name and under several pseudonyms: Helen Crampton, Ann Fairfax, Jennie Tremaine, and Charlotte Ward. But M.C. Beaton is the pseudonym she reserves for her mystery novels.

Marion Chesney was born in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1936. She has worked as a fiction buyer for a bookseller, as women’s fashion editor for the magazine Scottish Field, as a reporter and theater critic for the Scottish Daily Express (Glasgow), and as a reporter for the Daily Express (London). Like her amateur sleuth Agatha Raisin, Chesney lives in a cottage in the English Cotswolds.

For more information, see her web site

According to Willetta L. Heising in Detecting Women 2, the idea for the first Hamish Macbeth novel came to Chesney while she was learning to fly cast for salmon at a fishing school in northern Scotland. Macbeth is the town constable in Lochdubh, a small village in the Scottish Highlands. He keeps a low profile, preferring to have people assume he’s of limited competence and intelligence. But, despite the intervention of more high-powered police officials, he’s able to solve crimes by careful observation of the people involved. Hamish Macbeth’s quiet but steady process of investigation has lead one reviewer to say of a novel in this series, “The pleasures of the book are akin to those of a good gossip session with a perceptive old friend.”

Beaton’s later mystery creation, amateur sleuth Agatha Raisin, is a middle-aged public relations dynamo who retires to a village in the English countryside. She’s more self-important and assertive than Hamish Macbeth, but both series deal with life in a small village. Each town presents an isolated, insular community that doesn’t take kindly to strangers—perhaps because the arrival of outsiders often causes trouble and upsets the status quo. Like Hamish Macbeth, Agatha Raisin solves crimes by observing and analyzing the people around her, but unlike Macbeth she’s pushy, nosy, and manipulative.

British readers probably prefer the Hamish Macbeth mysteries. In fact, the BBC has made the stories into a television series. American readers seem to prefer the more brash Agatha Raisin, who crashes her way through village life with more outright humor than occurs in the more subdued Hamish Macbeth books. But both series examine small-town life under the guise of a mystery. These are short books that provide the  perfect diversion when you’re in the mood for some light, amusing reading.

© 2000 by Mary Daniels Brown

Author News Fiction

Amanda Cross: Introductory Notes

Feminist critic and scholar Carolyn G. Heilbrun was a tenured professor of literature at Columbia University in New York City. She published mystery novels featuring heroine Kate Fansler under the pseudonym Amanda Cross.

I originally read In the Last Analysis, the first Kate Fansler novel, because I had frequently heard this series described as “literate mysteries.” That novel left me perplexed. Because knowledgeable mystery readers often say that the first Kate Fansler novel is not the best, I decided to try a couple of others, another early novel and a more recent one. But the other early novel, The James Joyce Murder, left me just as perplexed. The mystery in both of these books is minimal; the most important aspect of the novels seems to be the gatherings and discussions of Kate and her friends and colleagues.

At the same time that I was reading The James Joyce Murder, I also read Carolyn G. Heilbrun’s book Writing a Woman’s Life. In chapter six of this book Heilbrun explains why, when she started writing mysteries, she chose to publish them under a pseudonym. At that time she was a university professor, and she feared that having written “popular” novels would count against her when she came up for tenure. But over the years she’s come to realize that there’s more to her decision to use a pseudonym than just fear about tenure: “I think now that there are layers within layers of significance to a woman’s decision to write under a pseudonym, but the most important reason for her doing so is that the woman author is, consciously or not, creating an alter ego as she writes, another possibility of female destiny” (p. 110). “I believe now that I must have wanted, with extraordinary fervor, to create a space for myself” (p. 113).

“But I also sought another identity, another role. I sought to create an individual whose destiny offered more possibility than I could comfortably imagine for myself” (p. 114). “I created a fantasy. Without children, unmarried, unconstrained by the opinions of others, rich and beautiful, the newly created Kate Fansler now appears to me a figure out of never-never land . . . I wanted to give her everything and see what she could do with it” (p. 115). Heilbrun says she has been criticized for having Kate smoke and drink so much, “but Kate Fansler has stuck to her martinis and cigarettes as a sort of camouflage for her more revolutionary opinions and actions” (p. 122). Heilbrun hoped that younger women would imitate Kate “in daring to use her security in order to be brave on behalf of other women, and to discover new stories for women” (p. 122).

So I’ve been approaching the Kate Fansler stories the wrong way: they’re not really mysteries at all; the most important aspect of the novels IS the gatherings and discussions of Kate and her friends and colleagues. New York Times reviewer Marilyn Stasio apparently agrees; discussing Amanda Cross’s  novel The Puzzled Heart (1998), Stasio says:

Even in crisis, Kate is quotable. (Attempts to calm her down remind her that ”E. M. Forster noticed that everyone in America is always telling everyone else to relax.’’. . . Having dispensed with what serves as the action sequences, Cross (the pseudonym of the feminist scholar Carolyn G. Heilbrun) frees up her characters for the intelligent chitchat that has sustained this literate series since 1964.

(New York Times, January 25, 1998)
Author News Fiction

John Sandford: Introductory Notes

John Sandford is the pseudonym of author and journalist John Camp, who won the Pulitzer Prize in journalism in 1986 and the Distinguished Writing Award of the American Society of Newspaper Editors for 1985.

Camp was born in 1944 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He attended the University of Iowa, where he received a bachelor’s degree in American Studies in 1966 and a master’s degree in journalism in 1971. After graduating from college in 1966, Camp spent two years in the Army, including service in Korea. He then worked as a reporter in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, before returning to the University of Iowa for his master’s degree. He later worked at newspapers in Miami and St. Paul.

Camp’s many interests include archaeology, outdoor sports (hunting, fishing, canoeing, and skiing), golf, and reading history. He now has homes in Lakeland Shores, Minnesota, and Pasadena, California. 

For more information, see Sandford’s web site.

When Camp’s first two novels, Rules of Prey and The Fool’s Run, were scheduled to be published just three months apart in 1989, G. P. Putnam’s Sons, publisher of Rules of Prey, asked him to use a pseudonym. He chose the name Sandford after his great grandfather, who had fought in the Civil War.