Monday, July 26, 2010

Forgotten Kiwi writers: Elizabeth Messenger

As I noted last week, and some of you would no doubt have already been aware of, for some time now I have been gradually searching out lesser-known Kiwi crime, mystery and thriller writers from both modern times and days gone by (and where possible, acquiring some of their books). It has been quite a surprising journey, especially as I have come across several lesser-known or otherwise forgotten Kiwi writers who produced several crime novels in their time. Many were even quite popular, but have now been largely (completely?) forgotten.

Regular readers may recall the completely unexpected comments and happenings that eventuated after I stumbled across the works of Wellington writer Laurie Mantell (five Steve Arrow murder mysteries, 1978-1984, plus a standalone in the lates 1990s) earlier this year, and I have also previously touched on the likes of Freda Bream (who while retired published 13 murder mysteries starring the Rev Jabal Jarrett between 1982-1997), Edmund Bohan (who wrote five historic Inspector O'Rorke novels between 1996-2003), and Carol Dawber (who wrote three Top of the South-set mysteries around the same period), amongst several others.

Another such forgotten author I recently 'discovered' thanks to a fair bit of random Internet and second-hand bookstore browsing, is Elizabeth Messenger, who wrote several crime thrillers in the late 1950s and early/mid 1960s. Messenger was a journalist, cookery writer, and crime novelist (you can read a full bio here) born in the Coromandel in 1908. According to the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, Messenger's thrillers, "which she produced at the rate of one or two a year from 1958, were set in tourist spots such as the Marlborough Sounds (Murder stalks the bay), Lake Taupo (Material witness) and the Bay of Islands (A heap of trouble)."

Like most Kiwi writers of the time, and many of the 'genre' writers in much more recent times, Messenger was published by an overseas publisher (Robert Hale in London). "Elizabeth Messenger’s novels, once popular enough to be serialised and translated into other languages, are now difficult to obtain," says DNZB.

I've certainly found that - even after trawling through countless online and real-life second-hand bookstores, and regularly searching the Internet and other resources as part of my unofficial research into New Zealand crime, mystery, and thriller writing, I only just found out about her recently. Now that I've been alerted, and can search in a more precise way, I've managed to get hold of a couple of her books, including A HEAP OF TROUBLE (pictured above), and am in the process of acquiring a couple more. But copies are pretty hard to find.

According to the cover jacket of my copy of A HEAP OF TROUBLE, Messenger also wrote:
  • THE WRONG WAY TO DIE (this is the other one I already have)
Thanks to the back cover of a V.Merle Grayland book from the same era, I've also discovered another Elizabeth Messenger 'Crime and Detection' title; YOU WON'T NEED A COAT.

Have any of you heard of Elizabeth Messenger? Read any of her work? Do you like stumbling over long-forgotten crime writers? Seeing the difference between crime writing then and now? Thoughts and comments welcome.


  1. I think it's fascinating we have all these crime writers that have disappeared into the past. I'm enjoying hearing about your discoveries!

  2. Thanks Vanda. It's been quite eye-opening. Many more authors (and authors with multiple titles/series) than I would have predicted. Now I've just got to find the time to read them!

  3. Hello, Yes, when I worked for Takapuna Public Library in the late 1950's Elizabeth Messenger was VERY popular and I have never forgotten her name. Her books were very similar to the crime novels of M.M. Kaye from memory - I know that I enjoyed them. I think Dorothy Eden also wrote a few. You are lucky to have found several of E.Messenger - have you tried requesting them from national Library? Then, of course, there is Ngaio Marsh!!!!!! Good luck with the search.

  4. The Tail of the Dozing Cat is another.