Disney, Dorothy Cameron

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Dorothy Cameron Disney (1903-1992) was an American writer. She was born in the Indian Territory (Oklahoma) in 1903 and educated at Barnard College, New York. She married Milton MacKaye, and worked as a stenographer, copy writer, journalist and night club hostess before becoming a full time writer.


Mike Grost on Dorothy Cameron Disney


Dorothy Cameron Disney is one of Rinehart's most gifted followers. Her books have long since been out of print, and she was not very prolific either, publishing 9 mystery novels. She deserves to be revived today.


One can summarize Disney's career, which falls into some distinct periods. Her first two mystery novels are exercises in pure mystery plotting. These are Death in the Back Seat (1936) and Strawstack. These books have very ingeniously constructed, complex plots. They are the Disney books closest to the Golden Age tradition. The Strawstack Murders is particularly impressive, and is Disney's masterpiece, considered as a puzzle plot mystery.


Then Disney veered off into social commentary for two books. The Golden Swan Murder (1939) denounces Hollywood. It has interesting social comment and is quite readable, but the mystery elements are skimped and perfunctory. The Balcony (1940) is much better. This book looks at the American Old South, including its dismal heritage of slavery. This is a much more profound target than Hollywood misbehavior, and is a remarkably forward looking work for its era. The story also returns to Disney's skilled approach to puzzle plot construction. The puzzle plotting does not achieve the heights of Disney's first two novels, but it is still most satisfying and well crafted. The Balcony is one of Disney's most important books, one in which intelligent social commentary and skilled mystery construction are fused.


Thirty Days Hath September (1942) (written with George Sessions Perry) is an oddity. It is full of Disney's imaginative puzzle plot construction. However, none of the ideas here are as plausible as those in Disney's earlier books. Some of the ideas in the finale seem like complete non-starters, in fact. Still, it is an entertaining read.


Next comes a period of decline. Crimson Friday (1943) is a mystery novel somewhat in the tradition of Death in the Back Seat and Thirty Days Hath September. It seems poor to me, however. Disney tried a complete change of pace with The Seventeenth Letter, a spy story featuring a Bright Young Couple. I didn't like it at all. Explosion (1948) is a depressed book, one in which weary characters ooze gloom. It is a pure mystery, but one in which the author uses a different and less creative technique than her earlier classics. Four chapters dealing with the explosion itself are interesting, however. Disney's last book, The Hangman's Tree (1949) attempts to imitate Disney's earlier style, with plot ideas borrowed from Strawstack and a Southern setting recalling The Balcony. But nothing here is very good.


Despite the similarities in their names, the mystery writers Dorothy Cameron Disney and Doris Miles Disney do not seem to be related. Disney is the maiden name of Dorothy Cameron Disney; Strawstack is dedicated to the memory of her father, L. G. Disney. By contrast, Doris was born Doris Miles, and married George J. Disney in 1936, according to the invaluable Encyclopedia of Mystery and Detection. I have seen a brief quote from Dorothy Cameron Disney praising the books of Ngaio Marsh. Otherwise, almost no non-fiction writings by Dorothy Cameron Disney seem to be available today.



Death in the Back Seat (1936)

Strawstack (1939)

The Golden Swan Murder (1939)

The Balcony (1940)

Thirty Days Hath September (1942) (with George Sessions Perry)

Crimson Friday (1943)

The Seventeenth Letter (1945)

Explosion (1948)

The Hangman's Tree (1949)


Comments (1)

Julia Brandner said

at 8:17 am on Mar 9, 2013

I am also quite a fan of this author, including the wonderful Strawstack - but think much more highly of Explosion than did Mr. Grost. The ending perhaps is a letdown, but the overall atmosphere, the suspenseful beginning, and one chapter about a party girl and her plans to improve her life, are unforgettable, in my opinion. In fact, this is my favorite book by this author, and one of my favorite mysteries by anyone. Julia Brandner, March 8, 2013

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