The Arly Hanks novels are Joan Hess’s finest achievement, blending wit, crime, character development, deft plotting, and social satire. In both the Hanks and Claire Malloy series, Hess is ruthless toward predators, whether creative, sexual, religious, or medical, but her satiric approach to everyday life is otherwise gentle. In “A Tribute to Joan Hess,” M. D. Lake compares her approach to that of P. G. Wodehouse; they share common qualities in their visions of the absurdities of life. In the Hanks series, Hess is perhaps closer to Charles Dickens in her ability to create a community of odd people performing improbable actions made believable for the moment by the warmth and compassion with which most of the characters are developed. Hess accomplishes this through shifts in points of view. Although most events are seen through Arly’s eyes, many other characters narrate sections, revealing their views and often proving themselves intelligent, resourceful, and imaginative. They sometime rise to heroism. A single point of view dominates the Malloy novels, but the relationship and conflicts between mother and daughter add a realistic note often absent from depictions of female sleuths, while Claire’s warmth and sympathy for other women allow development of many believable characters. The Theodore Bloomer novels are workmanlike. In the hands of a lesser writer, they would be noteworthy, but readers expect more of Hess, and the Bloomer novels have been less successful than the others.
DeMarr, Mary Jean. “Joan Hess/Joan Hadley: Separating the Voices.” In Women Times Three: Writers, Detectives, Readers, edited by Kathleen Gregory Klein. Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1995. A feminist analysis of Hess’s writing.
Hess, Joan. “Tickled to Death: An Interview with Joan Hess.” An interview by Charles L. P. Silet. Armchair Detective 28 (Winter, 1995): 10-16. This interview with Hess, which takes its title from her 1995 Tickled to Death, discusses her work and life.
Severson, Marilyn Sparks. “Joan Hess/Joan Hadley.” In Great Women Mystery Writers: Classic to Contemporary, edited by Kathleen Gregory Klein. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1994. A brief appraisal of Hess’s work, written near the beginning of Hess’s career. Klein’s general introduction and bibliography are useful for understanding women writing in the genre.
“A Tribute to Joan Hess.” Mystery Scene no. 75 (June, 2002): 14-19. Writers contributing to this article on Hess are Deborah Adams, Dorothy Cannell, Harlan Coben, Parnell Hall, Charlaine Harris, Carolyn Hart, Dean James, M. D. Lake, Margaret Maron, Val McDermid, Elizabeth Peters, and Daniel Stashower.