A while back I wrote a piece about Charlotte Armstrong, pointing out that her best books and stories are notable for their skill at finding the sinister in the everyday.
In a fine piece called "The Mean Streets of The Suburbs, The Kindness of Strangers--A Tribute to Charlotte Armstrong" Jan Burke does all of us the service of making the case that Armstrong is well worth reading. I like the phrase Burke uses to describe Armstrong's work--"suburban noir."
There is great dark menace in much of Armstrong's work. Burke takes the time to make a list of story hooks that demonstrates just how true this is. But at the same time, as with Dolores Hitchens, Margaret Millar and Elizabeth Sanxay Holding, in Armstrong you get a sense of real lives being lead in a realistic fashion making the menace, for me anyway, all that more menacing.
I suppose that's why Ross Macdonald is my favorite private eye writer. The more Lew Archer becomes (the two usual put-downs) a camera or a tape recorder the more the reader is allowed to view the lives he's dealing with. His wasn't an enormous canvas (a very narrow take on an element of California society) but it was certainly a brilliant one.
My favorite Armstrong is a short novel called Mischief which made a fair to middling good movie with Richard Widmark and a young Marilyn Monroe. The book is worth looking up for sure and the movie is worth seeing.
I hope Jan Burke's piece convinces a small publisher to begin reissuing some of Armstong's books. They need to be read.
The Burke piece is contained in the Summer 2007 issue of Clues and it's an exceptional issue. Chesterton, Allingham, Christie are studied from new angles as are the subjects of some current historical mysteries. There's also a remarkable piece on a 1902 story/article that confronted the scandal of prison life .
Even by Managing Editor Elizabeth Foxwells high standards, this is an enjoyable and memorable issue.