Thursday, March 20, 2014

Who Was That Lady by Jeffrey Marks - Biography

          I guess I can say that after reading this book, I don’t understand Craig Rice even more.  For someone who was the Queen of the Screwball Mystery during the 1940's, I thought in many ways that her life and death were tragic in many ways.  

           You can start with the fact that she had no relationship with her parents.  Not that it was her her fault.  Her mother wanted to study the arts in Europe and she didn’t want to be tied down so she just let the relatives take care of her first daughter. 

           Her mother would come back and reclaim her daughter and move to Chicago.  For some reason, her mother didn’t like Chicago so she went back to Europe and left her daughter with her relatives again.  Craig Rice was three years old. 

            If you can believe it, her mother came back a third time but at this point, Craig resented her mother and refused to go back with her.  By this time, Craig’s mother had two more children so they left Craig behind. 

             Yet what would baffle anyone’s mind is why Craig followed the same pattern years later when her daughter.  Craig was writing novels by then and she thought it was perfectly normal to turn her children over to relatives.  

              Much of the rest of the book focuses on her books.  Her main character was John Malone, a lawyer who also solved murders.   It was a great analysis and if you’re a writer or a reader, I think you get a lot out of it.  I thought it was funny when Craig said that if you want to be a writer, the best advice I can give you is to put the paper in the typewriter. 

              It was said that Rice never followed a synopsis, outline, or a character sketch  Instead, she just wrote the novel in a few nights flying on the seat of her pants.  She would go many sleepless nights doing this. 

              I didn’t see a lot of the pulp fiction writers of the era mentioned in this book as people that she knew.  She had a very good relationship with Dorothy Hughes.  There was a point where Rice turned in a novel and Hughes turned in a similar one and that was picked over Rice’s book.  She was devastated by this. 

              There were the rumors that she wrote the G-String murders, not Gypsy Lee rose.  She was friendly with her as well.  The rumors were never confirmed. 

               She had one of the highest honors as a writer when she was on the cover of Time Magazine for her book The Big Midget Murders.  That was supposed to define her as the Queen of Screwball Comedy as her best work.  

                The other tragic parts of her biography are her bouts with alcoholism.  She had three husbands and was abused in one of her marriages.  Her drinking only got worse because she was lonely and couldn’t be without a man in her life. 

               It seemed kind of odd to me that the writer who took over her books after her death was Evan Hunter.  One of the books he wrote with Craig was called the April Robin Murders.  She never completed that book.  Hunter felt he knew what Rice would write so he completed the work.  

               I would give this book five stars.  It was an interesting read with a lot of surprises that I didn’t expect out of a woman during that time period.  

Ron Hummer

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