Tuesday, June 24, 2008

June Wright: A forgotten Australian crime writer

June Wright, Charlotte Jay, Pat Flower, Patricia Carlon... four female Australian writers whose contribution to crime and mystery fiction was immense, yet they are all but forgotten nowadays.

One of these writers - Melbourne-born June Wright - started writing in 1941, at the age of 22. Her first novel, Murder in the Telephone Exchange, was published in 1948 by Hutchinson, the result of a competition win.

It's said that most first novels are semi-biographical, and this one could well have been: Wright worked in a telephone exchange for the four years preceding the novel's publication.

Her novels aren't scarce, but are certainly not available in most second hand bookshops - not that I've seen, anyway. As far as I know, they have never been reprinted. I have only managed to find one: a hardcover first edition of So Bad a Death (1949, Hutchinson). This was her second novel, and it features the same female protagonist from the first. It's an enjoyable read, with a strong Mary Roberts Rinehart flavour to it, and an interesting setting: an outer suburb of Melbourne that is described rather like an English village from a Christie novel.

Wright wrote six novels in all, the last being published in 1966. According to Continent of Mystery: A Thematic History of Australian Crime Fiction by Stephen Knight (1997, MUP) Wright then retired from writing to assist her husband with his business. In her fourth novel, Reservation for Murder (1958, Long), Wright introduced a nun as her detective - Mother Paul. Said to be the female/feminist version of Chesterton's Father Brown, it's somewhat a disappointment that Wright decided to stop writing just when she'd created such an interesting character.

(Pictured: Make-Up for Murder, 1966 first edition by Long (UK), jacket art by William Randell.)

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