MIGNON G. EBERHART (b. 1899)
(M)ignon G(ood) Eberhart turned to plotting fictional murders in order to break the boredom induced by following her husband to the civil-engineering projects that took them to odd corners of the world. But what this Mystery Writers of America Grand Master had added to detective fiction by the time she'd published her fifty-ninth novel and reached her eighty-ninth year had more to do with her instincts as a storyteller.
Eberhart was born in Nebraska, studied at Nebraska Wesleyan College, married A. C. Eberhart in 1923 (and again in 1948 after a divorce), started her writing career with short stories, and published her first novel in 1929. Her first five books were in the Mary Roberts Rinehart pattern. They featured a middle-aged nurse, Sarah Keate, and her young policeman friend, Lance O'Leary. About the only thing new about these early books was a series character who grew younger as time passed and Hollywood began filming the novels.
Eberhart then created two amateur detectives. The mystery writer-sleuth Susan Dare anticipates many imitators. And the banker-sleuth James Wickwire is also a good example of a character who brings his professional expertise to bear on his amateur detections.
When Eberhart decided to give up the quest for a series character, she-as critics love to say-found her own voice and blazed a new trail. If we can credit Rinehart with developing the 'Had I But Known' form, Eberhart was best known for adapting the Gothic 'dark and stormy night' and elements of romance into mysterious crime. She is credited with an unusual ability to make those stormy nights, and particularly the places where those tempests raged, highly realistic. This is because, as she put it, "a good many of these places, I've lived in myself." She used the places she had visited during travels with her husband to provide her exotic settings, thereby anchoring her scenes with specific details that lend reality to inherently suspenseful and physically strange or threatening situations.
Eberhart was also keen on romance. She frequently featured a female protagonist and a love affair-described without the coyness usual for the period and also without the explicit sex that writers of her later years would be describing.
«Spider» features Susan Dare and illustrates the author's use of devices from Gothic romance to heighten tension. While today's feminists might find reason enough to fault her characterisation of the female, it was a long step ahead of what other writers were doing in the early 1930's.