Friday, 12 February 2010

Margaret Yorke


I’ve mentioned Margaret Yorke before in this blog, partly in connection with that Thirties parody Gory Knight. That book was co-written by a successful novelist called Margaret Rivers Larminie, who happened to be Margaret’s first cousin, once removed. Margaret’s maiden name was Larminie, and when she published her first novel in 1957, she used another family name, Margaret Yorke, as a pseudonym, to avoid confusion with her famous relative.

Margaret’s debut, Summer Flight, was not a crime novel, and she only turned to the genre when she created Patrick Grant, a likeable amateur detective who was to appear in five novels, starting with Dead in the Morning in 1970. She told me that the later Grant stories ‘were set in places I'd been to and Silent Witness was inspired when I was on a skiing holiday. Outside the window in the hotel where I was staying, a chair lift, empty at such an early hour, descended and rose while we were having breakfast and I said to my friends, “What if a body came down on a lift?” It all arose from that.’

In 1974, she published a splendid novel of suspense, No Medals for the Major, which earned much critical acclaim – from H.R.F. Keating and Edmund Crispin, among others. She didn’t make as much money from it as she deserved, as her publishers soon went out of business, but her writing became increasingly serious, often dealing with complex social themes. She says, ‘Cause for Concern, my last novel, is about mothers being battered by their sons. I know of two cases here, in one of which I twice called the police. My difficulty was to devise a set-up totally unlike those I knew about...’

The authentic tang of Margaret Yorke’s work earned her the CWA Cartier Diamond Dagger for a career of outstanding achievement, in 1999. Margaret is now in her 80s, and contentedly retired. I don’t think she has any plans to write any more novels, but those she has published are well worth seeking out. In addition to No Medals for the Major, I specially recommend The Cost of Silence and Devil’s Work.

11 comments:

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

Thanks for adding some more books to my TBR list, Martin. I don't think I'll be able to even see my nightstand under all the books I'm piling there!

Elizabeth
Mystery Writing is Murder

Ann Elle Altman said...

I'll check them out!

ann

Deb said...

It's more common in today's mysteries, but one thing that really sets Yorke's 1960s/1970s mysteries apart is the social/cultural aspect of her books; how the connection between poverty and bad/negligent parenting and crime is clearly delineated. She doesn't bang you over the head with it, but you're aware as you're reading that a particular character is heading in a bad way and nothing in his/her environment is stopping that momentum.

I'm glad to know that she's still alive. I wish she would write and publish some more books--but she's earned her retirement.

George said...

I have a number of Margaret Yorke books stacked up here. Your review provides added motivation to read them soon.

Ed Gorman said...

I've read maybe a dozen of her books over the years and have always appreciated her feel for the impact of crime on ordinary people. Plus there's a melancholy that sets her work apart, a sense that there was a safer and more sensible time than ours.

Evan Lewis said...

I'd missed your review of Gory Knight, which sounds like great fun!

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks for these comments. She is an admirable writer. Deb and Ed, I think your remarks about her skills are highly pertinent. I read her with admiration long before I ever knew her personally, and found her a quite delightful correspondent before we had the chance to meet up at a Detection Club dinner.

Elizabeth Foxwell said...

Margaret Yorke is also an excellent short story writer; her many stories include "The Error of His Ways" (_Malice Domestic 7_), "The Wrath of Zeus" (EQMM, May 1984), and "The Woman from Marlow" (_Detection Collection_, ed. Simon Brett).

R. T. said...

Well, you've done it again! You've generously added to my list of new titles/authors, which means my "must read" list gets longer and longer; in this case, there is added good news because my local library has a generous collection of Ms. Yorke's books. Who knew?So, without further delay, I am off to the library (before they close for the weekend) for an armful of new titles. Perhaps I'll also tell the librarians that Martin Edwards, an author they should read, is responsible for the run on Yorke titles. (The librarians can read your books while waiting for the Yorkes to be returned!)

Martin Edwards said...

Elizabeth, thanks for pointing this out - you are absolutely right.

Martin Edwards said...

R.T. - very nice comment, many thanks!