Mystery Monday: Todd Downing
Always on the lookout for mystery writers from the Golden Age of Detective Fiction, I have stumbled on yet another relatively unknown author. Part Choctow Native American, George Todd Downing was born in Atoka, Oklahoma in 1902. Able to speak five languages, he received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Oklahoma before securing a position there as a Spanish professor. Working as a tour guide in Mexico during the summers of the 1920s and 1930s, Downing then wrote book reviews for the Daily Oklahoman from 1930 to 1937.
His ten mystery novels were published between 1933 and 1941. Written after a local act of violence threatened to sever diplomatic ties between the US and Mexico, the first of his eight books that were set in Mexico, Murder on Tour, sold well enough for him to quit his teaching job. As with many authors, it was his second book that brought him greater acclaim.
Published by Doubleday’s Crime Club, The Cat Screams received high praise from them: “Only in exceptional instances is the first book of a new writer on the Crime Club list made a Crime Club Book of the Month. Here is the exception. The author, as a creator of atmosphere, suspense, and horror, is reminiscent of Mignon G. Eberhart. His plot, though exotic, is plausible and logical, and stylistically he is far superior to the average mystery writer.” High praise indeed.
The Cat Screams was published in England, and also translated in Italian. In 1942 it was adapted into a Broadway play, but closed after only seven shows. Downing did well with his mystery fiction, but published his last book at the age of 39. He moved back to the family home in Atoka and taught French and Spanish at Atoka High School. Never marrying, he died in 1974.