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10:36AM

Deep Reads: "Mystery Women: An Encyclopedia of Leading Women Characters in Mystery Fiction (Volume Three: 1990-2000, revised)" (2010)

 

The latest revised edition of my Mother's life work in literature: an exhaustive encyclopedia of female protagonists in English-language mysteries  Volume I covered 1860-1979, Volume II covered 1980-1989, and Volume III finished the century out. Protagonists are entered by the year of their first of their multiple appearances.  

The growth in the genre is made apparent in this manner:  from 1861, when "Mrs Paschal" is the first bona fide English-language mystery female protagonist, to 1979, 347 series characters were introduced, or just over 3 a year.  Then, in the 1980s, 298 were introduced, or roughly 30 a year.  In the last decade of the century, the number jumped to 547, or 55 a year.

The book starts with an analysis of how the portrayal of women in mysteries changed over time, reflecting changes in society.  The entries for Volume three include:  marriage and children, parents and siblings, pets and cars as substitutes (for the previous, as many protagonists are motherless women with distant, cop fathers), villains, ethnic and  gender sub-genres (lotsa lesbians over time), handicaps and skills, education, settings, innovations, and how all this reflected the real world of the 1990s.  The entries tend to run 1-2 pages.  The volume runs 1,056 pages.

My Mom's bio is a great example of her clean and direct writing style:

Colleen A. Barnett was born in Green Bay, Wisconsin, the daughter of a trial attorney [and Packer Hall of Fame inductee!] and his wife.  She earned bachelor's and master's degrees in Political Science from the University of Wisconsin in Madison [I was the only child to follow her in political science, but now you know where I got it from]. She dropped out of law school after three semesters to marry fellow student John Barnett. When they moved to his home town of Boscobel, Wisconsin, where he joined his father in the practice of law, she remained at home to raise their family of seven children [two early sons died in their first two years]. By the time their youngest child [my younger brother by 3 years] was in grade school, older children were entering college and that was expensive.

Colleen began work as a volunteer coordinator for the Grant Country Department of Social Services [I used to appear in radio spots for Big Brothers], rising to supervisor of the resource unit. Later, she took early retirement with John's encouragement to re-enter the University of Wisconsin Law School where she received her law degree cum laude [and threw her cane over the goal post at Camp Randall during halftime of the homecoming football game, as is the custom].

Later she was employed as an attorney and mediator, and as a lecturer in Political Science at the University of Wisconsin-Richland Center.  She retired at age 75 to focus on the revisions of the first three volumes of Mystery Women. Her future plans include spending more time with her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren and reading for pleasure.

After John's death, Colleen moved to St. Paul, Minnesota where her two daughters live.  She is a member of the Twin Cities Sisters in Crime.

The volume series is an amazing accomplishment for a women who's led a busy life.  It is exceptionally well organized and has multiple indices (author, year, character, book).  It is considered one of the definitive reference works in the mystery field, and Mom was nominated several times for major literary awards (Edgars, Agathas), winning one along the way (an Agatha from Malice Domestic in 2002).  I went to the Edgars with her in 2004 (during a break in my Pentagon's New Map book tour) when this book was nominated for best criticism/biographical.

My mom still attends the major conferences every year with my wife Vonne, often chairing panels. They'll be at Malice Domestic in DC in early May.  Last year Vonne got to sit in for a long workshop chat with Charlaine Harris of "True Blood" fame.

The series is available on Amazon.  Mom includes Metsu and Abebu in this edition's dedication.

Reader Comments (1)

I'm just finishing off the extensive Sister Frevisse series....about a medieval nun and no, it is not a retread of Brother Cadfael! Excellent scholarship and character development. Conjures up the time beautifully with quite a few surprises. Great reads, every one.

February 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMichal Shapiro

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