Jean Potts Analysis


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Between 1943 and 1975, Jean Potts published fifteen novels, fourteen of which are within the realm of mystery and detective fiction. Few of them even remotely resemble the classic whodunit. Potts started writing crime novels at a time when the general style of the genre was undergoing a transformation toward a more realistic approach. Instead of dealing with police procedure, courtroom trials, or private investigators, Potts found her brand of realism by focusing on a close-knit band of characters face to face with a murder—real, imaginary, or impending.

Curiously, the physical act of the crime itself and how it is committed is incidental to almost all the plots. More than one “mystery” unfolds without a murdered victim. Vital to the plots, on the other hand, is the psychology of the characters and their interactions. There is no omniscient narrator, no one point of view, no hero or villain. Several points of view, each one justifiable, are presented simultaneously. The denouement is almost a studied anticlimax. Any of the characters may end up guilty without eliciting the reader’s surprise. In Potts’s novels, both judgment and punishment come from within the guilty; the judicial system is given no role.


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Boucher, Anthony. Review of The Footsteps on the Stairs, by Jean Potts. The New York Times Book Review 71 (July 25, 1966): 20. A famous detective-fiction author and critic reviews one of Potts’s novels.

Boucher, Anthony. Review of The Trash Stealer, by Jean Potts. The New York Times Book Review 73 (February 4, 1968): 43. A celebrated detective-fiction author and critic reviews Potts’s novels about an attempt to atone for an accidental killing.

“Jean Potts, Eighty-eight, Author of Prize-Winning Mystery.” The New York Times, November 17, 1999, p. C29. Obituary of Potts looks at her life and career, noting that her strong point was characterization.

Klein, Kathleen Gregory, ed. Women Times Three: Writers, Detectives, Readers. Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1995. Study of female detective writers, fictional sleuths, and consumers of detective fiction provides perspective on Potts’s fiction.

Scaggs, John. Crime Fiction. New York: Routlege, 2005. Study of the cultural import of crime fiction and its conventions; helps elucidate the significance of unconventional approaches such as Potts’s.