Saturday, February 09, 2008

Phyllis A. Whitney

Both Steve Lewis and Bill Crider are reporting the death of Phyllis Whitney. I'm excerpting her NY Times obituary below. In the course of editing Mystery Scene I worked with Phyllis several times. She was a charmer. And a worker, her last bestseller appearing when she was 94. I started reading some of her books after getting to know her slightly. I really liked the early ones best, the working-girl mysteries set in the war years of Chicago. They were romances, yes, but not sappy ones; and she was a true and honest reporter of what she saw in the city.

February 9, 2008
Phyllis A. Whitney, Author, Dies at 104

Phyllis A. Whitney, a prolific best-selling author of romantic mysteries, young-adult novels and children’s mysteries for more than a half-century, died on Friday in Faber, Va. She was 104 and lived in Faber.

Her death was confirmed by her daughter, Georgia Pearson, who said the cause was pneumonia.

Ms. Whitney, who once said she stayed young by writing, continued to publish books until she was 94. Her last was “Amethyst Dreams” (1997), about a young woman who stands to inherit a fortune but who has disappeared from a family seaside villa. Only her best friend can help find her.

Her first book, in 1941, was “A Place for Ann,” a young-adult novel about girls who create a personal service organization doing jobs like dog walking.

In all, Ms. Whitney produced 39 adult suspense novels, some with a Gothic twist (with titles like “Woman Without a Past” and “The Glass Flame”); 14 novels for young adults (“A Window for Julie,” “Nobody Likes Trina”); 20 children’s mysteries (“Mystery of the Scowling Boy,” “Secret of the Missing Footprint”); several books about writing; and many short stories for magazines.


HIn 1988 Ms. Whitney received the prestigious Grand Master Award for lifetime achievement from the Mystery Writers of America.

“I always told myself that when I get old I’ll reread all my books, but I never seem to get old,” Ms. Whitney said in an interview with The Times when she was 79.

She said that one of her writing tricks was to set her books in places she had visited. She called her vacations book-hunting expeditions.


Ms. Whitney’s travels began early. She was born Phyllis Ayame Whitney on Sept. 9, 1903, to Charles J. Whitney and the former Mary Lillian Mandeville in Yokohama, Japan. (Ayame means “iris” in Japanese.) Her father was in the shipping and hotel business.

Her parents had met in the United States and become sweethearts but initially broke up. Afterward, Ms. Whitney’s mother married another man, Gus Heege, an actor, and they had a son, Philip. After Mr. Heege died, Ms. Whitney’s parents reunited in Japan and married there. Phyllis was their only child.

Her parents’ story was the inspiration for one of Ms. Whitney’s plots, about a love affair gone awry.


Her first book in the adult suspense genre was “Red Is for Murder,” published in 1943 by Ziff-Davis with a picture of a blood splatter on the cover. It tells the story of Linell Wynn, who writes sign copy for a department store and whose life has been uneventful “until the day that murder walks the floors at dusk,” according to the book jacket.


Ms. Whitney ascribed her success as a writer to persistence and an abiding faith in her abilities. “Never mind the rejections, the discouragement, the voices of ridicule (there can be those too),” she wrote in “Guide to Fiction Writing.” “Work and wait and learn, and that train will come by. If you give up, you’ll never have a chance to climb aboard.”

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company
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