Monday, October 22, 2018

Mystery Monday: Patricia McGerr and Puzzle Mysteries

Mystery Monday: Patricia McGerr and Puzzle Mysteries

Despite no longer remembered by many readers, Patricia McGerr wrote seventeen novels (most of them mysteries) and over fifty short stories. Originally from Falls City, Nebraska, she settled in Lincoln as a young child with her family. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Nebraska, then moved to Washington, DC with her three sisters. Later she relocated to New York City to attend Columbia University from which she earned a Masters in Journalism in 1937. Working in public relations and as an assistant editor for a trade magazine, she wrote stories and novels on the side.

Her debut puzzle novel, Pick Your Victim, was published in 1947. Puzzle mysteries are a subgenre of detective fiction where the emphasis is on the “whodunit” rather than character or theme development. The premise of Pick Your Victim is fascinating. A group of American soldiers are located at an isolated Arctic base and desperate for diversion. They find a torn scrap of newspaper from a parcel that tells part of the story of a man who has been convicted of a murder. The murderer is identified and known by one of the GIs, however, the victim’s name is missing. The soldiers create a betting pool and attempt to discover the identity of the victim.

Scholars feel her second novel, The Seven Deadly Sisters, is a “wink and nod” toward her mother and six sisters, the well-known “Dore sisters” in Lincoln. Another interesting plot, the story revolves around seven sisters, one of whom as has murdered her husband, but is not revealed until the end.
Winning the Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine/MWA prize for her story “Match Point in Berlin” and the Grand Prix de Litterature Policiere for her novel “Follow, As the Night,” Patricia did not gain as much commercial success with her books after Pick Your Victim. She created a series character, Selena Mead, in her later writings that was optioned by CBS for television, but the show never materialized.

Patricia playing the part of corpse
with a group of fellow Mystery Writers
of America members.
When asked about her writing method, she said, “From my reading I knew that a classic mystery included a murderer, a victim, and several suspects. So, I began by assembling the cast of characters. But when I began to assign roles, it was obvious that only one of them could commit murder, whereas any of the other ten might be his victim So, reversing the formula, I named the murdered on page one and centered the mystery around the identity of the victim.”

Patricia passed away in Bethesda, Maryland in 1985.

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