Mystery Monday: Who was Milton Propper?
I’m always intrigued when I discover an author who has written multiple books (in this case fourteen), and yet I’ve never heard of him.
A native of Philadelphia, Milton Morris Propper was born in 1906, yet almost nothing is known of his upbringing. He attended the University of Pennsylvania where he obtain a law degree, and upon graduation in 1929, he was admitted to the Bar.
That same year, his first novel, The Strange Disappearance of Mary Young was published. A police procedural, the book features Tommy Rankin, a specialist detective in the Philadelphia Homicide Bureau. Scholars and critics often compare Milton’s books to those of Freeman Wills Crofts, an Irish writer whose career spanned nearly forty years. Not surprising as Milton admitted he was a great fan of Crofts’s work.
There are conflicting reports as to whether Milton practiced law, but it is certain that by the mid-1930s he worked for the Social Security Administration and wrote his mysteries on the side, all of which take place in Philadelphia.
Most of his novels are formulaic: the discovery of a body under unusual circumstances, suspicion scattered among lots of characters with lots to hide, the police are above the law, and the rich and powerful can do now wrong. Estate issues and legal questions are an integral part of many of his stories which speaks to his Law degree. Toward the end of each book, Detective Rankin puts together some piece of the puzzle not formerly revealed to the reader and determines the killer is part of the victim’s life and avenging something from the past. A chase entails in order to catch the murderer.
Despite his literary success, Milton’s personal life was difficult and “messy,” as one scholar put it. He was estranged from his family, had run-ins with the police, and mismanaged his funds to the point he was living in poverty. Sadly, he lost his writing markets and deciding that life was no longer worth living, killed himself in 1962.