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Ashbrook, Harriette

Page history last edited by J F Norris 6 years, 10 months ago

Harriette Cora Ashbrook (1898-1946) was an American author who also wrote under the name Susannah Shane. Under her own name her series detective is Spike Tracy, a ne-er-do-well playboy who decides amateur sleuthing might be fun for a lark.  He is an obvious imitation of Philo Vance. Tracy's brother Richard (no they don't call him Dick!) is the D.A. of New York City and it is through his brother he first becomes involved in crime solving.  In his first case he upstages both the police and his attorney brother in the puzzling murder of socialite Cicely Thane.

 

Ashbrook somehow was never taken seriously in the mystery arena. She got short shrift by most of the book reviewers of her time who failed to see the ingenuity and humor in her books. In one of her books she skewers The Saturday Review because of this oversight. Though she was published by Coward McCann, a leading second tier American fiction publisher, she was never picked up by any of the leading paperback houses for reprints. Why? The books are entertaining, smart, witty and never dull. They should've been part of Dell Mapback series, if not part of Pocket Books' or Bantam's equally successful mystery paperback line. Only her last four titles in the Tracy series were reprinted in paperback editions (two by the obscure Green Dragon digest imprint and her last, The Purple Onion Mystery, by Penguin) during her lifetime and not one book has ever seen the light of reprinting since the 1940s. I have not come across any Susannah Shane books in paperback, so conceivably she continued to get the shaft even after she abandoned using her own name.

 

Her early books are populated with lively characters and show an obvious love of the genre but derision for its tried formulae which she often spoofs in humorous asides. We get realistic detection with clever plot mechanics, neat insights into forensic police work not often seen in any of the American books of her contemporaries, and a smart alecky likeable playboy detective who is much more interesting and funny than Philo Vance.

 

Writing as Susannah Shane she started out creating the kind of thing Eberhart and others did so well -- women in peril suspense thrillers. Lady in Lilac even dares to start with a Woolrichian plot device: two strangers meet and one woman asks the other to impersonate her. But she as she continued her offbeat sense of humor took over and she wrote books that bear comparison with Alice Tilton and Craig Rice.  But the mystery plots often surpass the story mechanics of those two better known writers.

 

Bibliography

 

Philip "Spike" Tracy Detective Novels  

The Murder of Cicely Thane (1930)

The Murder of Stephen Kester (1931)

The Murder of Sigurd Sharon (1933)

A Most Immoral Murder (1935)

Murder Makes Murder (1937)

Murder Comes Back (1940)

The Purple Onion Mystery (1941) (AKA Murder on Friday)

 

As Susannah Shane

(most of these featuring Christopher Saxe)

Lady in Lilac (1941)

Lady in Danger (1942)

Lady in a Wedding Dress (1943)

Lady in a Million (1943)

The Baby in the Ash Can (1944)

Diamonds in the Dumplings (1946)

 

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