Monday, May 7, 2018

The Secret Identity of Roger Scarlett

The Secret Identity of Roger Scarlett

It was not unusual for female authors to use male pseudonyms during the Golden Age of Detective Fiction – think Anthony Gilbert or Ngaio Marsh – but Roger Scarlett is actually the nom de plume of two women who met while working at the publisher Houghton Mifflin in Boston. Graduates of Bryn Mawr and Vassar respectively, Evelyn Page and Dorothy Blair came from well-to-do, prominent families.

Evelyn was from Philadelphia and Dorothy from Bozeman, Montana where her physician father had recently brought the family from Bridgewater, MA. (There’s a story there, but I couldn’t find it!) Not much is written about Dorothy, but it appears that Evelyn was quite active at Bryn Mawr. She was both Vice President and Treasurer in her senior year while serving as editor for the school paper, The Lantern. In addition, she also wrote for The Sportswoman, the first periodical devoted exclusively to women’s athletics.

After working at the publisher for several years, the women must have felt they could be successful as authors, because in 1929 they left their jobs and created the name Roger Scarlett. The following year, the first of their five “puzzle box” mysteries was published. Set in Boston, as is the entire series, The Beacon Hill Murders is about the murder of a member of the nouveau riche, Frederick Sutton. The protagonist, the intelligent Inspector Kane, does not have the usual accoutrements of the typical Golden Age detectives such as a waxed mustache or walking cane.

Scarlett’s works have been compared to those of S.S. Van Dine and Ellery Queen and have recently been reprinted by Coachwhip. In addition to their popularity in the States, the books also garnered a following in Japan. Disappointingly only five novels were published before Roger disappeared into obscurity.

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