Thursday, March 11, 2010

Forgotten Books: A MURDER OR THREE

As I noted last week, I've been a bit of a roll, crime reading-wise, lately. In the past couple of weeks I've managed to find time (in amongst a pretty hectic schedule), to read several interesting books, including: HUNTING BLIND by Paddy Richardson; re-reading BLOOD MEN by Paul Cleave; 61 HOURS by Lee Child; and TALKING ABOUT DETECTIVE FICTION by PD James. Since last Friday I've also finished Leah Giarratano's BLACK ICE (my ninth of fourteen books required for the 'expert' level of the 2010 Global Reading Challenge), and read 'forgotten' Kiwi crime writer Laurie Mantell's MURDER TO BURN.

Over the past few months, I have been gradually building up my personal collection of out-of print and harder-to-find New Zealand crime, mystery, and thriller novels. As I’ve discovered more about the history and scope of the genre in this country, I have managed to progressively purchase several dozen books - many penned by authors I’ve only recently become acquainted with.

You can see from the sidebar column "Other Kiwi crime, thriller, mystery or suspense authors" (you might have to scroll down a bit), that the history of Kiwi crime fiction is quite a bit broader than it may at first seem. And while many of those names might have only ever produced one or two crime novels, there are a handful of such 'forgotten' authors that wrote something of a series (eg Edmund Bohan, Carol Dawber, Freda Bream, and Laurie Mantell). Some were even quite well-known at the time.

So as well as reading and reviewing recent Kiwi crime fiction (which seems to be growing, slowly, both in scope and stature), I've been exploring some of our local crime and thriller writing from the past.

From 1978-1984, Mantell wrote five Wellington-set murder mysteries featuring Detective Sergeant Steve Arrow of the NZ Police. She also wrote a sixth crime novel, the standalone MATES, in the late 1990s. I understand that, particularly her first five books, were actually reasonably well-received and popular, being read and published in several countries.

I read her fourth mystery, MURDER TO BURN, over the weekend. Its style is of another era in some ways, but it was a good, enjoyable read, and there were some great twists and turns in the plot, especially as it reached the conclusion. I've also got my hands on a copy of her second book, A MURDER OR THREE, which I am currently reading.

In A MURDER OR THREE, three women are murdered, each with a pair of pantyhose. Detective Sergeant Steve Arrow knows the first victim, a shy teenager who has already told the police of a flasher seen in nearby bush. The body of the second victim, older, extremely attractive, is found in this same bush, and, later, a flirtatious wife dies in her own home with the tell-tale pantyhose around her throat. Residents are in near panic...

I'm looking forward to seeing how Mantell brings this one together.

On a related point, if anyone has any idea how I can (relatively easily) get hold of any of Mantell's other four books (MURDER IN FANCY DRESS, MURDER AND CHIPS, MURDER IN VAIN, and MATES), at a reasonable price, please let me know. The same goes for any of Freda Bream's Reverend Jabal Jarrett mysteries (other than ISLAND OF FEAR, which I already have), or Edmund Bohan's 19th century-set Inspector O’Rorke novels.

As I said, I'm trying to build up my 'library' of out-of-print and hard-to-find Kiwi mystery, crime, and thriller novels. In the near future I will post a list of what I have already sourced - but I would appreciate any help tracking down other books as well.


  1. Scour the second hand book shops, Craig. But of course that has its perils, as you always end up coming out with nothing you went in for and plenty of what you didn't realise you needed.

  2. That's what I've been doing thusfar Vanda, both online and 'real' second hand bookstores. I'm sure there will be a few copies lying around somewhere - but I haven't seen any yet in the Auckland or Nelson second hand stores I've looked thusfar (or on TradeMe, Sella, or Zillion online - which I have just about cleaned out when it comes to out-of-print, hard-to-find Kiwi crime titles - that's where I got the two of Mantell's that I did find).

    Hence widening the search, and asking for a little help, in case anyone comes across any themselves.

  3. Hi Craig

    My name is Terri and I came across your article as Laurie Mantell is actually my Great Grandmother and died last night.

    I've sadly never read any of her books and now certainly feels like a great time to start.

    I remember going to Boarders a few months back and seeing if her books were in stock. On their computers they have all of her books but sadly you have to place them on special order so not 100% sure how much it would cost.

    Thank you for saying such great things about her book, made me smile. I look forward to reading them myself.

    With kind regards

    Terri Whitmore

  4. Thanks for the post Terri. I'm sorry to hear about your Great Grandmother. I'd actually been trying to track down where some of these older Kiwi authors were based now, and what they were doing (if they were still with us). Did your Great Grandmother continue to live in Wellington? I haven't yet been able to find any obituaries etc online (many of them of course aren't placed online), but if you come across any, even in hard copy, please let me know. I'd like to share a bit more about Lorraine (Laurie) Mantell with blog readers - and unfortunately as she wrote in the pre-Internet days, and is now longer in print, there is very little biographical information about her on the 'Net, as yet.

  5. Thanks for your regards, much appreciated to myself and my family. I told my family about this and they were amazed that you posted this the day she actually died, incredible!

    My Nanna has every copy of her book as she was her daughter. I've just got her first novel of her and will start that soon once I've finished a book I'm currently reading.

    Since I've been born, I am 24 this year, Laurie has lived in Wainuiomata, Lower Hutt. She was living in a home for the last year she was alive and died very peacefully I'm told.

    I'm sorry to say that I don't know where to find any of her books apart from my Grandparents place. I'm sure second hand book shops might and as I said earlier you can go to Boarders and order it but it might cost more than you are willing to spend.

    If you have any questions you'd like to know about her please don't hesitate to contact me on this as I am happy to answer anything :)

    Many thanks for your comment made myself and family very happy to hear that to this day, apart from family, others are thinking of her and enjoying her books.

    With kind regards

    Terri Whitmore

  6. Hi Craig
    I am Barry Biggins, Laurie's Son-in-law (Terri's Grandad) with a bit more bio info on Laurie Mantell.
    Born Lorraine Hosking at Pahiatua in 1916, one of four children. Her father was the local publican who was killed in an engineering accident when she was a child. The young children were raised by Laurie's Mother. She studied book-keeping and at age 19 was awarded 1st prize with honours and a medal in NZ Chamber of Commerce Exams in Book-keeping. Married Fred Mantell in 1939 in Palmerston Nth. Moved to Petone where children Linda (my wife) and Raymond were born.
    Worked as accountant for General Motors and Federal Industries. She began writing short stories in 1945 (some under the pen-name of Curtis Gray)and has published in NZ,England,USA and Australia 72 short stories and 6 crime novels, from "Murder in Fancy Dress" (1979) to "Mates" (1998). She lived in Wainuiomata for more than 40 years until she needed aged care and moved to Enliven Home Woburn, Lower Hutt, about a year ago. She passed away there peacefully on 11th of March 2010.

  7. My mother is the daughter of Lorraine Hosking. My mother was born in October 1936 and was given up for adoption. When my mother attempted to contact her birth mother, Mrs Mantell got her lawyer to advise my mother never to contact his client again. My mother respected her wishes but I think it must have been a huge disappointment to her to be rejected again(most birth mothers do want contact). My mother has met her birth father and he was most happy to see her. A reporter who has interviewed both Mrs Mantell (for her books)and my mother (for her work on adoption legistation) actually guessed who her birth mother was (evidently the way she talked gave it away). Mr Hosking did not die in an engineering accident (look up the death certificate), but obviously no one in the family have had reason to question the story they were given before now. You want to know more about this person because you are interested in her writings, how much more do you think this desire to know something about a person might be if you are aware they have contributed a good proportion of your genetic material. Although knowing she had a child out of wedlock which she spent her entire life refusing to acknowledge certainly makes reading her books more psychologically interesting. I apologise if anyone is offended by my existence. "I am, don't blame me". Don't blame my mother either she will/would be horrified when/if she finds/found out I've posted this.

  8. The family would like to hear from you. Please contact Barry Biggins's email address above.

  9. Hi there

    My Dad was Lorraine's brother. He's down from Lower Hutt (I'm in Invercargill) visiting me at the moment. If you want to contact us for further information, please feel free to do so. Dad has always known about Aunty Lorrie's baby but never told anyone in the family until this all came to light.

    Kind regards

  10. Hi Gloria & Barry

    This is just a quick note to let our anonymous relation know she also has a branch of the family in Auckland. My father (Ted) was also one of Laurie's brothers. The last conversation I had with Laurie was about her books and her love of writing. Happy to share family history and stories (of which there are many).

    Peter Hosking

  11. Another note to let our anonymous relation know she has a relative in Melbourne. I am one of Laurie's niece's - my father was her brother Ted. Peter [above] is my brother. I knew about Laurie's illegitimate child, as I'm sure most of us did. We also recently discovered the real cause of death of her father, which is something people kept quiet about in those days, and a lot more about our family history. Because I am interested in writing, Laurie sent me copies of her books and I've still got A Murder or Three and Murder in Fancydress. Yes, they are dated now but in the 70s she was very popular. I last saw her in 2007 and her memory was fading. She talked about her writing and the great joy it had given her.

  12. You were very lucky to be told Pauline as the most important people in all of this weren't. But thanks to Julia, Linda and Ray are now in contact with their half sister.

  13. Wow. Certainly not the type of comments that I usually get on the blog. Who would have known my little post on a somewhat forgotten Kiwi mystery writer would open such a Pandora's box (in a good way). I'm kind of stunned, but delighted, that my interest in mystery fiction has played a (unexpected) tiny part in something far more important (family) for other people.

    As a side note, I've managed to get my hands on 4 of the 6 Mantell novels thusfar. I've read two (MURDER TO BURN and A MURDER OR THREE), and although they do read a little of another era (in terms of style/pace etc), they still stand up today as very readable and enjoyable mystery novels. I'm looking forward to reading the others.

    As I am very interested in the history of NZ crime writing, if anyone would like to contact me with more information about Laurie Mantell, please feel free to do so via

  14. PS For those interested in my review of A MURDER OR THREE, you can read it here:

    For any of you that have read her books, please feel free to leave comments on that post too, and share your opinions on Laurie Mantell's writing there, also, if you like.

  15. I just belatedly came to this blog through googling Laurie Mantell. I have all her books, the first five bought about 25 years ago, and Mates found at an op shop in the last few years. This is in Aus. Not for sale, I'm a collector.
    The purpose of this is that after reading above, I checked ABEbooks and they have plenty of cheap copies of the first five - I didn't search for Mates.
    Hope this helps potential or actual fans. ABEbooks is a good place to look always.