Phoebe Atwood Taylor Analysis


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Phoebe Atwood Taylor wrote some thirty detective novels, which have been praised for their historical verisimilitude. Her books about detective Asey Mayo demonstrate her intimate knowledge of the charm and liveliness of Cape Cod communities such as Quanomet, Weesit, and Wellfleet. Taylor does not depict her setting as the famed summer resort it is but rather reveals the Yankee charm of the people of Cape Cod, who live there after the tourists are gone. The dialogue and glimpses of daily life are distinctively Yankee.

Many of Taylor’s works move at a brisk pace; there are chases on foot and by motor vehicles, and the detective solves the case in only a day or two. Humor is also a notable element of many of Taylor’s mysteries, especially in the stories featuring Leonidas Witherall, the detective-hero of the novels that Taylor wrote under the pseudonym Alice Tilton. The pace of Taylor’s novels, combined with a variety of farcical situations, places her mysteries in both the Golden Age of mystery writers, of which Agatha Christie and Ngaio Marsh were a part, and the 1930’s era of screwball film comedies.


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Dueren, Fred. “Asey Mayo: ’The Hayseed Sherlock.’” The Armchair Detective (January, 1977): 21-24, 83. Discussion of the class and seeming lack of sophistication of Taylor’s most famous sleuth.

Klein, Kathleen Gregory, ed. Great Women Mystery Writers: Classic to Contemporary. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1994. Contains an essay on the life and works of Taylor.

Kneeland, Paul F. “Obituary.” Boston Globe, January 14, 1976, p. 43. Tribute to the author and summary of her career and literary output.

Panek, LeRoy Lad. The Origins of the American Detective Story. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2006. Study of the beginnings and establishment of American detective-fiction conventions that focuses on the replacement of the police by the private detective and the place of forensic science in the genre; provides perspective on Taylor’s works.

Pepper, Andrew. The Contemporary American Crime Novel: Race, Ethnicity, Gender, Class. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2000. Examination of the representation and importance of various categories of identity in mainstream American crime fiction; sheds light on Taylor’s works.