Sunday, May 16, 2010

Introducing Dorothy Eden - a forgotten Kiwi suspense writer?

As many of you know, I've been quietly building up information on New Zealand crime, mystery and thriller writers - both those in print now, and those that have gone before. As it turns out, and as I am realising more and more as time goes on, not only does New Zealand have far more current crime writers (based both here and overseas) than most people realise right now, but in fact there is a far richer tradition of New Zealand writing in this genre as well (as you can see by the ever-growing sidebar list of Kiwi authors).

And while many of those on the sidebar list published only one or two crime/thriller/mystery novels (often via small publishers or overseas publishers, as the bigger publishing houses in New Zealand, until relatively recently, didn't really embrace Kiwi 'popular fiction') either in amongst other writing, or in total - in amongst those sidebar names there are also far more New Zealand authors who produced several mystery novels over the years, but have been largely forgotten.

Freda Bream, for instance, wrote a mystery novel almost ever year, featuring the Reverend Jabal Jarrett, while she was in her mid 60s and 70s (having retired from working life as a teacher, amongst other things) - 13 mysteries in total during the 1980s and early 1990s. Laurie Mantell wrote five mystery novels featuring Detective Steve Arrow between 1978 and 1984, as well as publishing the standalone crime novel MATES in 1996. Edmund Bohan published five historical mysteries centred on Inspector O'Rorke (set in the late 1800s) between 1996-2003.

Yesterday when I was in Rotorua, I spent an hour or so browsing through the local library's charitable book sale, searching for any books from Bream, Mantell, Bohan, or other such overlooked and out-of-print Kiwi crime/mystery/thriller authors. Amongst my finds was LET US PREY by Dorothy Eden. When I got back to Auckland I did a little research on Ms Eden, and was stunned to discover that LET US PREY was just one of many suspense novels the Canterbury-born author had written during her lifetime. Eden in fact wrote more than 40 books (some were suspense/mystery, others romance).

Eden was born in 1912 and raised in the rural area outside Christchurch (the city where Dame Ngaio Marsh was born and raised, and where Paul Cleave now sets his thrillers). Eden worked as a legal secretary, and published her first novel, THE SINGING SHADOWS, in 1940. She eventually moved to England in 1954 following a world trip - by that time she had already published ten books, including LET US PREY (1952), which was also published as CAT'S PREY. In that book, Antonia Webb travels to New Zealand to celebrate the wedding of her cousin and the opening of a small hotel Simon and his new bride had bought with money they had inherited. But instead of lighthearted festivities, Antonia's arrival is met by danger...

After her move to England, Dorothy Eden continued to write fairly profically until her death from cancer in 1982. Her 43rd and final book, AN IMPORTANT FAMILY (a historic adventure saga and mystery set amongst the colonisation of New Zealand), was published in the same year. You can read her New York Times obituary here. According to Good Reads, she was "best known for her many mystery and romance books as well as short stories that were published in periodicals. As a novelist, Dorothy Eden was renowned for her ability to create fear and suspense. This earned her many devoted readers throughout her lifetime." According to, "Eden was best known for her writings in the historical, suspense, and Gothic genres. In addition to writing novels, she also contributed to magazines, including Redbook and Good Housekeeping."

The more I research, the more I am having 'how did I never hear about this author?' type moments. It's a real shame - I have been a crime/mystery fiction fan since I first started on the Hardy Boys books almost 25 years ago, and I was open to New Zealand authors in the genre as a young adult (I bought/read one-off books from the likes of Nigel Latta, Simon Snow, and Michael Laws, as well as some from Ngaio Marsh, Chad Taylor, and Paul Thomas) - even before I became much more interested in the subject in the past 18 months. And yet, there are so many authors I've never heard about - even though I was interested. It's not until I've done a lot (and I mean a lot) of digging, that I've stumbled across some of them - even when they'd written several books that got good reviews at the time. No wonder the general Kiwi reading population knows little or nothing about most such writers.

Have any of you read any of Dorothy Eden's books (mystery or romance)? If so, what did you think? Have you come across other Kiwi authors that I haven't mentioned much (or at all) on this blog yet? Thoughts and comments welcome.


  1. I remember reading Dorothy Eden's books when I was in junior high school. I must have been 13-15 years old. I recall preferring her books to that of other gothic suspense writers such as Victoria Holt and Phyllis Whitney. "Melbury Square" was my favorite, I know, but it must be 40 years since I read it. I can't remember anything about it, other than I liked it a lot. I had no idea Eden was from New Zealand.

  2. Craig, I've hardly heard of any of these people. Is it time for you to organize a reading challenge for those of us who'd like to check them out? Maybe like the Scandinavian challenge (which I learned about from you, thanks!) make it regional so you could include Australia as well?

    I don't know if others are interested, but I'd participate if you decided to try.

  3. Thanks for the comments Naomi and Karen. That's a great idea Karen (although the lack of availability of many Kiwi writers overseas may prove a little stumbling block) - Bernadette and Kerrie (crime fiction bloggers from Australia) and myself could perhaps look to set something up.

  4. I would love that! If you send me a list of authors I can check availability for you. Just so you know I'm not dumping ALL the work on you. :)

  5. I've read WINTERWOOD, and loved it for its sense of surprise and wicked humor. Great blend of gothic elements. Currently am reading her short story collection YELLOW IS FOR FEAR, where she gets more "literary." Something fascinating about her.

  6. hi, I read VINES OF YARRABEE, years ago, and this is a great book. I came across this blog because I'm trying to get a used copy and to find some information on other books. yarrabee is a real good historical romance, well maybe not quite a romance - no happy end there. the heroine being a young english woman who travels to australia to meet her husband. the story follows her life for about 30 years. greetings from germany

  7. Dorothy Eden is my favourite author alongside Mary Stewart. I've worn out my copies of Sleep in The Woods, Bride by Candlelight, Listen to Danger, Waiting for Willa, Melbury Square, Speak to Me of Love, The Millionaire's Daughter, The Sleeping Bride etc etc. All of them are classic romantic suspense novels with great plot and character. One of the most underrated authors ever to come out of the Antipodes. Wish I could find her novels on Ebooks.

  8. I first read Miss Eden, on my father's posting to England (very long time ago.) If I remember accurately, they were serialised in a weekly? Women's magazine, bought on the station platform to and from school. Immediately, this author became a favourite, with Mary Stewart. These were literate ladies. These were not bodice-rippers. These ladies traveled and did their research.

    Years later, my husband was posted to London. We lived in an apartment building on Edwardes Square, Kensington High Street. Very late at night, there was the sound of footsteps pacing above us, and the sound of a typewriter. Curious, I asked out Glaswegian porter about the occupant about. "Miss Dorothy Eden", said he. No, I did not slip a note under her door, inviting her to tea, affirming my devotion to her books, or anything intrusive. That would have been intrusive. For your information, and as Miss Eden has died since, the year was 1975. It remains a valued memory.