Wednesday, September 19, 2012

R is for Helen Reilly

Today I am featuring a vintage mystery author, Helen Reilly, for the Crime Fiction Alphabet for 2012 hosted by Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise.

The following biographical overview was included in the Ace Double edition that includes two books: Not Me, Inspector and The Canvas Dagger (abridged). That edition was published "ca. 1965".
Mrs. Reilly grew up in New York City, where her father, Dr. James Michael Kieran, was president of Hunter College. She herself received her education there until she married the late Paul Reilly, artist-cartoonist. Her brother, John Kieran, is the distinguished sports writer and naturalist. Ursula Curtiss, the well-known mystery writer, is her daughter. Mrs. Reilly was an active member, and past president, of the Mystery Writers of America. In recent years she made her home in New Mexico.
Per Goodreads, she had another daughter who also wrote mystery and suspense novels: Mary Reilly Wilson wrote under the pseudonym Mary McMullen. 

There is an extensive article at Mystery*File written by Mike Grost which analyzes Reilly's writing style and the genres she fit into. What I gleaned from that article is that her novels were among the first to feature police procedures, and that later novels lean toward the Had I But Known sub-genre. Most of the novels featured New York City police Inspector Christopher McKee.

Earlier this month I read my first book by Helen Reilly. It was Lament for the Bride, and my review is here. See the lovely front and back cover art for this book at that post.

This book was one of her Inspector McKee novels. However, he is offstage in much of this book and the action does center around the bride of the title. I would call this more a "damsel in distress" story. Even though that type of book would not be high on my list of favorites, I found this book enjoyable and definitely want to sample more of her mysteries. This one was set in Florida. Most of the McKee books are set in New York and some of the later ones are set in New Mexico.


Many of Reilly's mysteries were published in beautiful paperback editions. This may have been how I first discovered her. I collect (on a very small scale) vintage paperbacks, usually mysteries. My favorites are Dell mapback editions, Pyramid Green Door mysteries, and any with a cover featuring a skull or skeleton. 

Per Wikipedia, here is a description of mapback editions from Dell:
Mapback is a term used by paperback collectors to refer to the earliest paperback books published by Dell Books, beginning in 1943. The books are known as mapbacks because the back cover of the book contains a map that illustrates the location of the action. Dell books were numbered in series. Mapbacks extend from #5 to at least #550; then maps became less of a fixed feature of the books and disappeared entirely in 1951.  
The first Helen Reilly mapback pictured above is the The Opening Door. The Mike Grost article mentioned earlier notes that this book is of the Had I But Known type, and discusses some of the characters in that novel. He rates that novel as one of Reilly's poorest works. But the cover is beautiful.

Another mapback edition I have is for Mourned on Sunday. See this review at Beneath the Stains of Time

Bev at My Reader's Block has reviewed several books by Helen Reilly. Check out this review of The Silver Leopard. There is a mapback edition for that one too and I hope to get that someday.

Please visit the post at Mysteries in Paradise for other entries for the letter R.


Anonymous said...

Tracy - I'm glad you highlighted Helen Reilly's work. I'll confess I'm not as familiar with her books as I am with some other series, and you've given me a push to dip back in. Some authors as you say can write novels that wouldn't ordinarily appeal in terms of their sub-genre; yet those authors find ways to make it work.

Peggy Ann said...

Great post, Tracy! I'm excited to start looking for Reilly's books and her daughters too!

Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) said...

I think I have one of hers on my shelves but have never read her thai can remember - thanks for the very informative profile TracyK. I'm not sure I would say I sound attracted to the 'Had I But Known School' though I've only read a few Rineharts and the like ...