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12 August 2013

For once this isn’t about a particular book, it’s about the author of a whole lot of them – of which I have most and am currently in the process of re-reading them all.  Barbara Elizabeth Linington was an American writer of Police Procedurals, described as the Queen of Police Procedurals as she was just about the first woman to write these when she started doing so at the start of the 1960s. Wikipedia describes her as ‘prolific’ and they aren’t kidding. She began writing when she was in her early 30s, and continued with a massive writing schedule from then on. She died at age 67, in April of 1988, having published at least eighty-five books. In other words,  two and a half books per year for more than thirty years, five of the books being posthumous.

Linington was interesting, she had widely diverse interests beside her writing, was a cat-lover, a member of the John Birch Society (and very right wing) and held decided views, many of which came out in her writing. I’d been buying her series written as by ‘Dell Shannon” for years when in 1987 I met Rinehart Potts. He lived with his wife Grace in New Jersey, and I began a correspondence and friendship with them that lasted until his death in 2006, and hers in June this year. In the odd way that things happen, he was also a long-time friend of Linington’s and was delighted to find another reader of her works. For some years Rinehart had been publishing a magazine – Linington Lineup – that dealt with her writing, life, and letters, and I promptly subscribed and contributed. His garage was filled with shelving containing spare copies of Elizabeth’s books (almost all the yellow Gollanzcz hardcovers.) I filled out her series’ by buying from Rinehart those I didn’t have and a number are stamped ‘bequeathed by the author to Rinehart S. Potts.’

And yes, that is ‘series’ in plural. The story goes that after publication of her first 2-3 books under her own name, Linington was at the signing of the first in a new series and was accosted by an indignant reader who’d bought the hardcover and expected it to continue with the previous characters. She’d been furious to find this wasn’t so and complained bitterly to the author. Linington, believing that what one reader felt could be so for others, and not wanting readers to feel cheated, promptly changed the ‘author’ name for the original series to “Anne Blaisdell”, to “Dell Shannon” for the second series, and to Lesley Egen for the third series.  I’d also been buying some of the books in the other two series without knowing that they were by the same author, and when Rinehart informed me I was surprised, although in retrospect I shouldn’t have been as the reason I liked them held true for all three series – the life in the round of the police officers.

This was where Linington excelled. Her officers had wives, kids, and pets, housing problems, financial worries, girlfriends if unmarried, and odd events in their private lives. Sometimes cases carried over into their private lives, as did friends, enemies, and other officers. What you got in her books was the police officer in all aspects, and it wasn’t something that had been done much before her. Of course, her officers were perhaps a little too perfect, few ran around, drank to excess, cheated, or behaved badly. But then, for the times, that was what readers wanted, and that was what they received, and Linington wrote that way because these were her beliefs too. That all officers were of this standard and that the very occasional bad apple in the Police barrel was an anomaly.

On re-reading the books I find that most remain very readable. However increasingly they are not going to appeal to younger mystery readers for several reasons. One is the massive prejudice exhibited against the gay community. Of course, when these books were written, there was that prejudice. Gay males in the books are referred to as ‘fags’ and  described as hysterical, untrustworthy, and erratic and it is also very clear that the author did not fully understand the difference between ‘homosexual’ and ‘pedophile.’ Although that problem was also common at the time she was writing. Then there is her conviction that a woman is not a ‘true woman’ unless she is married with children. Over and over this attitude crops up in the different series, that a woman may be a career woman, a police officer, but she will not be fulfilled by the work, only upon marriage and the production of children will her life be as it should be. This was particularly obvious in the ‘Lesley Egan’ series, where a female police officer who turned down a proposer because she wished to remain an officer – to please her father, a career officer himself – is described as hugely regretful, miserably living alone and unhappy at her refusal as soon as she’d had time to realize what she’d done. In the last book in that series that Linington wrote however, she gave the character another chance. She met a nice detective and it is clear that this relationship will probably lead to marriage and children. It’s oddly interesting that despite these views, so far as I know, Linington never married or had children. So why was she intent on foisting that life on others? Was she so unhappy herself?

And yet, for the times in which she wrote, Linington was oddly liberal in other areas. The series main character in her “Dell Shannon” books was Luis Mendoza, a Mexican LAPD Homicide detective and boss of the LA Homicide Squad. The first book in the series – her main one – appeared in 1960 and at least one book in this series appeared every year until after her death – forty books and a collection. When the series started I believe that a Mexican homicide detective would have been unusual, let alone one that ran that squad. She also sprinkled the series with Spanish words and phrases, and having read the books for very many years I picked up a number of those and was delighted to find on my first trip to LA in 1991, that my usage and accent was correct, and understandable by Spanish speakers. Her series’ too moved in time. Children were born and grew-up, pets died, were grieved over and replaced, officers met girls, became engaged and married. And older people related to the officers died or were killed. Linington’s books had it all, not just a procession of crimes to be solved, but real people to solve them. I re-read the books over the past couple of months and found them pleasant reading again. I can ignore the bigotry and the obsessions because when all is said and read, I liked the characters when I first started reading Linington’s books in the mid-60s, and that central fact remains. They’re well-written, with likeable characters, and interesting crimes. And if they portray now a world that is half bigotry and half wishful thinking, well, so do many of the older detective mystery/crime/thriller series. Linington wrote well, that hasn’t changed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

6 Comments »

  1. Thank you for the article on Elizabeth Linington. I am currently reading her Dell Shannon and buy them whenever I can find them, and her Leslie Egan books at used bookstores and thrift shops.

    Comment by Ed Kliska — 16 January 2016 @ 15:47

  2. you do know she also wrote under Anne Blaisdel?

    Comment by lyn — 17 January 2016 @ 11:32

  3. Are the Anne Blaisdel books mystery novels? I am reading “Death by Inches” from 1965 right now.

    Comment by Ed Kliska — 18 January 2016 @ 06:15

  4. yes, that series is another Police Procedural’ series, but thereby hangs some confusion. At various times, some of the ‘Anne Blaisdel’ books were also published under ‘Elizabeth Linington.’ I have pretty well all of the books she had published. And without trotting into my library, climbing a ladder, and checking, I can recall that Greenmask was a Blaisdel, as was, I think, No Evil Angel, along with a number of others. basically if you look for Del Shannon, Lesley Egan, Anne Blasidel AND Elizabeth Linington, you should find them all.

    Comment by lyn — 18 January 2016 @ 13:38

  5. There are some Ann Blaisdel books on eBay but they are asking too much. I set up a notification to let me know when more are listed. Thank you.

    Comment by Ed Kliska — 18 January 2016 @ 18:35

  6. I read a few of the Luis Mendoza books as a teenager in the 70’s. I was delighted to discover them available as downloads for my kindle thru Amazon and am just finishing the entire series in order. I have SO enjoyed them even though they are, as you said, dated and stereotypical in many of the attitudes portrayed I think the flashes into the characters personal lives, especially the main character, has had the greatest appeal for me, in addition to the glimpse into Los Angeles life during the novels’ time period

    I haven’t yet delved into her other books but I will!

    Comment by Star — 8 November 2016 @ 11:12

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