(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Marian Babson displays in her crime novels a debt to Agatha Christie and other writers from the period known as the Golden Age of mysteries. However, the world envisioned by Babson is an irrational one, far from the orderly, hierarchical world of the English tea cozies. Her characters, children among them, tend to be lonely, alienated individuals striving for order in a chaotic world. Animals, particularly cats, contribute to the dynamics of Babson’s mysteries, often revealing submerged personality traits of their owners. Skilled in character analysis, Babson delves into the minds of outwardly normal people, questioning the very meaning of normality. She has more interest in exploring the psychological effects of suspicion on characters than in focusing on murder itself or subsequent justice. Seldom do detectives—professional or amateur—unravel the mystery; rather, the culprits continue their lives of violence, ultimately bringing about discovery through their own actions. Babson experiments with a variety of narrative techniques and professional settings. Her first-person narrators, who hold few illusions about life, usually appear more concerned with the terror of the suspected threat than with the crime itself.

Although reviewers in the United States and in Babson’s adopted England have generally paid little attention to her work, she has managed to carve out a niche for herself. Her quirky characters, experiments in narrative style, and humorous, if sometimes implausible, plots have earned Babson a dedicated following on both sides of the Atlantic. Her ten years as head of the Crime Writers’ Association (1976-1986) also endeared her to her colleagues. In 2004, Malice Domestic gave Babson its Agatha Award for lifetime achievement for her contributions to mystery and detective fiction.