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Eberhart, Mignon G

Page history last edited by Jon 11 years, 9 months ago

Mignon G EberhartMignon Good (1899-1996) was born in Lincoln, Nebraska. She studied at Nebraska Wesleyan University from 1917 to 1920. In 1923 she married Alanson C. Eberhart, a civil engineer. After working as a freelance journalist, she decided to become a full-time writer. In 1929 her first crime novel was published featuring 'Sarah Keate', a nurse and 'Lance O'Leary', a police detective. This couple appeared in another four novels. In the Forties, she and her husband divorced. She married John Hazen Perry in 1946 but two years later she divorced him and remarried her first husband. Over the next forty years she wrote a novel nearly every year. In 1971 she won the Grand Master award from the Mystery Writers of America. She also wrote many short stories featuring banker/amateur sleuth James Wickwire (who could be considered a precursor to Emma Lathen's John Putnam Thatcher) and mystery writer/amateur sleuth Susan Dare.



For the most exhaustive and authoritative Eberhart bibliography on the planet (even better than the one in this wiki), visit http://www.richardaylesworth.ca/eberhart/ .


Commentators have noted that ME's novels fall into two groups: the Whodunits with nurse/amateur sleuth Sarah Keate; and the Romances, which have no serial characters (except for Chicago policeman Jacob Wait who appeared a few times).



What I have not seen mentioned is the fact that the romances all have the same core plot. A young attractive woman finds herself married to, or engaged to be married to, the WRONG MAN. A strong handsome alternative love comes along, sometimes anew, sometimes from her past, and wins her heart. The extraneous husband/fiance is conveniently disposed of either by being the victim of the murder, or by being the murderer.


The fact that she wrote some forty-odd books with the identical theme suggests she spent her entire lifetime working out on paper her feelings about Mr. Eberhart.  A reading of her biography, America's Agatha Christie, provides confirmation for my thesis.



There is very little detection in ME's novels, except by the police, mostly offstage. Even Sarah Keate, the supposed amateur sleuth, functions more as a narrator than anything else. Except for some minor ineffectual snooping, she rarely contributes anything significant to the solution of the crime.


In the romances the heroine was largely of the helpless sort, needing to be rescued by the Big Strong Man. As Eberhart aged, her heroine gradually became a bit more spunky and sometimes even raised a finger to help herself. But amateur detective she was not. Mostly she stood around wringing her hands, going over and over the possibilities, and saying "it COULDN'T BE so-and-so".


The unravelling of the mysteries in ME's novels happens mainly through successive revelations, not by any serious detection. The short stories are another matter. Susan Dare and James Wickwire can actually claim the status of amateur detective.




Mike Grost on Mignon G Eberhart


Suspense passages in Eberhart often show the heroine with a heightened sensory awareness of her surroundings, and are almost hallucinatory in their intensity. Sometimes these concern the heroine's driving during bad weather: see the thunderstorm in "Murder Goes to Market" (1943), and the fog in Chapters 1 and 2 of The Dark Garden (1933). There can be unusual effects of hearing as well: see the humming and the Gombies and their music in "Bermuda Grapevine" (1938). These passages are written with remarkable literary skill. The Dark Garden evokes modern art to describe both the effects of the fog, and the buildings that the fog conceals. Clearly, Eberhart felt that modern art was a high energy expression of powerful social and cultural forces, currents affecting the lives of everyone in society. She also conveyed the idea that it was a little frightening, involving the breakdown of normal perception, and the transfer of the viewer to a different kind of consciousness. The Dark Garden uses all the senses to express the heroine's perceptions: hearing, sight, touch and heat and cold perception. It also uses words: the strange sentence the heroine hears out of the fog. This sentence seems completely nonsensical. It derives from the forms of modernist literature, such Symbolist influenced writers as T.S. Eliot and, especially, Gertrude Stein.


Eberhart's view of modern architecture also includes the technological forces used to build it, and the laws of physics that lay behind them. Like Rinehart and most of the HIBK writers, she was fascinated by science and technology. In a memorable passage, Eberhart describes the world as being built up out of energy. This is both scientifically sound, and an almost mystic vision of a hidden reality under the everyday appearance of things.


If The Dark Garden draws on Modernism, both literary and visual, to express its altered states of perception, it also builds upon the Golden Age mystery, HIBK concern with landscape architecture. The estate in the book is drawn with the complex geographical patterns of the classic mystery tradition. Nor is the drive into the estate from downtown Chicago separated from the landscape architecture of the estate itself. On each stage of the drive, Eberhart supplies precise geographical coordinates, showing her heroine's progress through the city and the fog. This turns both the cityscape of the drive, and the estate it finally reaches, into one large geographic entity, described with the full precision of Golden Age mystery's fascination with landscape. Similarly, the architecture of the hotel in "Bermuda Grapevine" (1938) plays a key role in the plot. Eberhart's stories often open with a landscape, showing the scene where the crime will take place. This landscape often shows the route and means of arrival: how people actually come to the landscape itself. This arrival route is an integral part of the landscape. It often shows vivid weather: the train and car journey through a blizzard in Nebraska's Sand Hills in The Mystery of Hunting's End (1930), the foggy roads leading to the estate in The Dark Garden (1933), the boat journey through the lake in The Pattern (1937). Such transportation is natural in the early parts of stories - after all, the characters have to get there somehow, as part of their entrance into the narrative. But Eberhart often makes such routes a key part of the landscape itself, one that adds to the complexity of the overall pattern.


The House on the Roof (1934-1935) is a non-series novel. Its best part is its opening chapter, depicting the heroine's visit with a retired opera star. This grand dame and her music are vividly conveyed. Such opera singers are far more commonly found in Agatha Christie, than in HIBK writers, who tend to avoid the arts in favor of science, technology and politics. Eberhart made a mistake in not having this colorful lady appear after the opening chapter. The singer's penthouse apartment, the "house on the roof" of the title, also typifies the Golden Age's love of spectacular architecture. The music, and the stifling heat and perfumes of the penthouse, do convey a different world of perception in the Eberhart tradition.


Eberhart's The Unknown Quantity (1953) mixes spy and thriller elements in with its mystery puzzle plot. The book starts out terrifically, and Chapters 1 - 7 are full of imaginative plotting. From this point on, however, thriller elements unfortunately begin to prevail over plot. Eberhart eventually provides some logical and fairly inventive solutions to her mysteries, but these are embedded in long drawn out suspense passages of little interest.


The Sarah Keate novels


Eberhart began her mystery career with a series of novels featuring nurse Sarah Keate and police detective Lance O'Leary. They are not exactly a team - they keep stumbling against each other accidentally when Sarah's nursing cases turn into murder mysteries. None of the books is a triumph, considered as a pure puzzle plot mystery. Yet several of them have opening sections with imaginative storytelling. Sarah tends to be the central character of the stories, as well as the narrator. She often takes care of helpless young male patients in a female, nurse-run world: a reversal of the social roles often prescribed for men and women of the era. The first five Sarah Keate books appeared at the start of Eberhart's career (1929-1932); the last two followed after long intervals. There is also at least one short story about the character, "The Old Man's Diamond", which appears in Mignon G. Eberhart's Best Mystery Stories.


The Patient in Room 18 (1929) is Eberhart's first mystery novel. It is not very inspired. The excellent 1938 film version is discussed in the article on its director, Crane Wilbur.




Eberhart wrote three American Magazine novellas about Bland, a butler and amateur detective: "Deadly is the Diamond" (1942), "Murder Goes to Market" (1943) and "Murder in the Garden" (1945). Bland's "Watson" is his employer, a refined middle-aged society lady who is a nice person, but clueless about solving the murder cases into which she keeps stumbling . Although this sounds like a formula for screwball comedy, the tales actually tend to be fairly solemn, in the HIBK mode. In "Murder Goes to Market" we learn that the woman narrator is a writer, like Eberhart's short story detective, Susan Dare - and Eberhart herself.


"Deadly is the Diamond" is a story about a seeming curse on a fabulous diamond, and is full of atmosphere. It can make good escapist reading. Eberhart is especially good at keeping sinister, unexpected events coming. There are also some decent mystery ideas here. The diamond recalls the real life Jonker diamond, discovered in the 1930's. A fine short film, The Jonker Diamond (1936), directed by Jacques Tourneur, describes three stages in the Jonker's history: its discovery in a remote region of the world; its purchase by a jewel dealer in New York; and its cutting by experts into a series of smaller stones. All three of these phases play a role in Eberhart's plot.


"Murder Goes to Market" is set in that then new concept, the supermarket. The supermarket, like the diamond cutting business in "Deadly is the Diamond", and the hospitals of some of the Sarah Keate tales, exemplifies Eberhart's interest in complex institutions.






The Patient in Room 18 (1929)

While the Patient Slept (1930)

The Mystery of Hunting's End (1930)

From This Dark Stairway (1931)

Murder by an Aristocrat (1932) {UK title: Murder of My Patient}

The Dark Garden (1933) {UK title: Death in the Fog}

The White Cockatoo (1933)

The Cases of Susan Dare (1934) {US collection of 6 ss}

    see also The Collections

The House on the Roof (1935)

Fair Warning (1936)

Danger in the Dark (1936) {UK title: Hand in Glove}

The Pattern (1937) {aka Pattern of Murder}

The Glass Slipper (1938)

Hasty Wedding (1938)

Brief Return (1939) {novelet publ. separately}

The Chiffon Scarf (1939)

The Hangman's Whip (1940)

Strangers in Flight (1941) {novelet publ. separately}

Speak No Evil (1941)

With This Ring (1941)

Wolf in Man's Clothing (1942)

The Man Next Door (1943)

Unidentified Woman (1943)

Escape the Night (1944)

Wings of Fear (1945)

Five Passengers from Lisbon (1946)

The White Dress (1946)

Another Woman's House (1947)

House of Storm (1949)

Five of My Best (1949) {Br. collection of 5 novelets}

    see also The Collections

Hunt with the Hounds (1950)

Never Look Back (1951)

Deadly is the Diamond (1951) {novelet publ. separately}

Dead Men's Plans (1952)

The Unknown Quantity (1953)

Man Missing (1954)

Postmark Murder (1956)

Another Man's Murder (1957)

Deadly is the Diamond (1958) {US collection of 4 novelets}

    see also The Collections

Melora (1959) {aka The Promise of Murder}

The Crimson Paw (1959) {Br. collection of 3 novelets}

    see also The Collections

Jury of One (1960)

The Cup, the Blade, or the Gun (1961) {UK title: The Crime at Honotassa}

Enemy in the House (1962)

Run Scared (1963)

Call after Midnight (1964)

RSVP Murder (1965)

Witness at Large (1966)

Woman on the Roof (1967)

Message from Hong Kong (1969)

El Rancho Rio (1970)

Two Little Rich Girls (1972)

The House by the Sea (1972) {novelet publ. separately}

Murder in Waiting (1973)

Danger Money (1975)

Family Fortune (1976)

Nine O'Clock Tide (1977)

The Bayou Road (1979)

Casa Madrone (1980)

Family Affair (1981)

Next of Kin (1982)

The Patient in Cabin C (1983)

Alpine Condo Crossfire (1984)

A Fighting Chance (1986)

Three Days for Emeralds (1988)

Mignon G Eberhart's Best Mystery Stories (1988) {US collection of 3 novelets, 11 ss}

    see also The Collections

Dead Yesterday (2007) -- short stories collected posthumously


Additional Information

The Collections

Characters, Settings, Periods


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