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Borthwick, J.S. [A pseudonym] (J.S.W. Creighton-Borthwick, Joan Scott Creighton)

Borthwick, J.S. [A pseudonym] (J.S.W. Creighton-Borthwick, Joan Scott Creighton)

PERSONAL:

Education: Master's degree.

ADDRESSES:

Home—Thomaston, ME.

CAREER:

Writer, novelist, and educator. Coastal Senior College, Thomaston, ME, teaches a short story course. Also has lectured in English at Indiana University, Bloomington, and taught at Maine middle and high schools.

WRITINGS:

MYSTERY NOVELS

The Case of the Hook-billed Kites, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1982.

The Down East Murders, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1985.

The Student Body, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1986.

Bodies of Water, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1990.

Dude on Arrival, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1992.

The Bridled Groom, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1994.

Dolly Is Dead, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1995.

The Garden Plot, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1997.

My Body Lies over the Ocean, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1999.

Coup de Grace, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2000.

Murder in the Rough, St. Martin's Minotaur (New York, NY), 2002.

Intensive Scare Unit, St. Martin's Minotaur (New York, NY), 2004.

Foiled Again, St. Martin's Minotaur (New York, NY), 2007.

SIDELIGHTS:

J.S. Borthwick's first novel, The Case of the Hook-billed Kites, is set in the Dona Clara National Wildlife Refuge in Texas. The central character, Sara Deans, who reappears in successive novels, is a Boston graduate student and teaching fellow who comes to study birds—the "kites" of the title—and meets Philip Lentz, a potential love interest who is subsequently strangled by someone using the strap on a pair of binoculars. Jean M. White wrote in the Washington Post Book World that Borthwick handles the plot "deftly" and likened the characters to those who appeared in the whodunits of the 1930s. White felt, however, that the story focuses too much on bird watching. "A little less lore and more story" would be welcome, she commented, while nonetheless noting that Borthwick "has the right stuff to be a good mystery writer." A Library Journal contributor called the novel "a pretty good mystery, despite the slow pace," while New York Times Book Review contributor Newgate Callendar claimed the author "has a keen eye and a sharp pen. She can write bright, entertaining dialogue."

Kathleen Maio wrote in the Wilson Library Bulletin that while she found Borthwick's first novel "tedious," the second, The Down East Murders, came as "a very pleasant surprise." Sarah and Alex McKenzie, a doctor who was introduced in the previous book, spend the summer in Borthwick's coastal Maine, with Sarah working in a small museum and Alex vacationing at his family home on Weymouth Island. Sarah and Alex, who are beginning to have romantic feelings for each other, are trying to solve several mysteries, including tracking down stolen paintings, locating a missing artist, and solving the death of two elderly tourists. Maio called Sarah and Alex "a very attractive pair of reluctant lovers and amateur sleuths."

The Student Body also takes place in Maine, where a very bright female student makes a point of showing the eccentric faculty of the English department that she knows more than they do. When the young woman is killed and found encased in an ice sculpture of a Viking ship, Sarah and Alex look for clues to the murderer's identity. White, reviewing this novel for the Washington Post Book World, remarked that "the pace is sluggish, the dialogue, bright as it is in spots, is overlong and tedious, and the humor frequently turns cutesy." More enthusiastic, Publishers Weekly contributor Sybil Steinberg maintained that Sarah resembles "a literary Nancy Drew of the 1980s."

Publishers Weekly contributor Steinberg judged that Bodies of Water "will appeal to those who wish a very leisurely read with introspection at times taking the helm." In this outing Sarah and Alex accept an invitation to cruise on a luxury yacht owned by evangelist David Mallory, who distributes free Bibles to the islanders off the coast of Maine. Sarah has agreed to the trip because her brother, Tony, is part of the crew, but she is concerned because Mallory has also volunteered to look out for drug activity on behalf of local law enforcement. "Action is slowed to a crawl by an overload of sailing lore and too many dull conversations aspiring to achieve intellectual sparkle," wrote a Kirkus Reviews contributor. However, Kliatt contributor Melinda O. Waugh called the novel "an interesting whodunit in the old style, one that fans of the good mystery without the blood and gore will enjoy."

In Dude on Arrival, Sarah and Alex visit an Arizona dude ranch. Their trip is made at the request of Sarah's Aunt Julia, a horsewoman who has been staying there and is upset because some of the older horses are to be sold for meat. Booklist contributor Peter Robertson noted that the story "looks formulaic at first but turns out to be an entertaining comic romp." There are a number of accidents, including the murder of a senator from Alaska, and Aunt Julia and the others are unable to provide alibis. A Kirkus Reviews contributor complained that "crispness and tension are lost in a surfeit of dull dialogue and uncharismatic characters" but suggested that the assessment could "add half a plus for horse lovers." A Publishers Weekly contributor, however, commented that Dude on Arrival is "a literate and witty mystery with a dollop of social conscience."

In The Bridled Groom, newlyweds Sarah and Alex are back in Maine, as is Aunt Julia—at High Hope, her horse farm. Julia is receiving threatening letters; is pursued by Colonel Dodge, who owns the rundown farm next door; and is worried about rumors that a mining conglomerate is buying up neighboring farms. The colonel's handyman is murdered and two workers disappear. Other characters include Tilly Martin of Appleyard Farm and the owners of a summer camp. A Kirkus Reviews contributor assessed the story as "a windy bore, overstuffed with plot twists, horse lore, and talky but (with the exception of Tilly) uncompelling characters."

Sarah and Alex are drawn into their neighbors' affairs in Dolly Is Dead, a book described by a Kirkus Reviews contributor as being "for readers who can't get enough of that Maine lore and landscape." The bodies of Dolly, of the wealthy Beaugards, and two brothers of the less socially prominent Gattling family wash up in Little Cove. The police look at all the usual suspects, and the cast of characters is extensive, particularly within Dolly's family. "Even the stock characters (town tramp, family black sheep) manage to wear their features with a spark of humanity," wrote Marilyn Stasio in New York Times Book Review, adding that Dolly Is Dead makes "perfect fireside reading."

Sarah leaves Alex back in Maine when she joins Aunt Julia on a tour of European gardens in The Garden Plot. Their horticulture expert, Ellen, misses the plane out of Boston, however, and is later found murdered. Sarah keeps up with the investigation by telephone, but trouble erupts on her end as well. A Kirkus Reviews contributor judged that "there are one or two characters who might catch the reader's interest here—mainly Amy, a teen-aged would-be writer of mysteries … but Sarah and Julia's busy-bodying becomes repellant halfway through."

Sarah and Alex suspect a college French teacher when an art teacher is killed in Coup de Grace. After recently earning her Ph.D., Sarah is offered a temporary teaching job at an exclusive Massachusetts boarding school for girls. Her fellow faculty seem genial enough, if quite eccentric—all except Madame Carpentier, who is thoroughly reviled by nearly every student. As Sarah arrives, the students appear to be taking revenge against the feared and hated French teacher. Well-aimed snowballs and unflattering effigies and drawings seem tame compared to the puppet, dressed in the style of cape favored by Madame Carpentier, that is found hanging by the neck on a garden trellis. When an art teacher is found beaten to death—oddly, wearing Madame Carpentier's identifying cape—suspicion falls on a senior with a long-standing grudge against the harsh French teacher. Sarah struggles to come up with answers to the mystery while also attempting to settle into the academic routine, and she finally identifies the killer with help from the head of campus security, weekend visits from her husband, Alex, and the couple's wolfhound, Patsy. "Borthwick's easy style and charming characters make this a first-rate fireside read," commented a Publishers Weekly contributor. "For anyone who likes cozies, this is the perfect book to snuggle up with on a winter's day," commented Booklist contributor Jenny McLarin.

In Murder in the Rough, Sarah's in-laws, Elspeth and John McKenzie, are having difficulty adjusting to the slower pace of the planned community of Ocean Tide, Maine, after leaving the active academic environment of Cambridge, Massachusetts. John is especially troubled, and neither the golf course, pool, beach, nor breathtaking scenery can settle his unease. Their feelings toward the place are not improved at all by the discovery of a dead body on the local golf course. Sarah initially makes a vow not to involve herself in the mystery, but as the McKenzie family finds itself drawn deeper and deeper into the situation, and more murders occur, Sarah's sleuthing skills become more in demand. "Like the previous entries in this series, this is a gentle novel with a stately pace and comfortable characters," wrote David Pitt in Booklist. Murder in the Rough "will delight existing Borthwick fans and should attract new ones," commented a Publishers Weekly contributor.

After suffering a heart attack, Sarah's feisty Aunt Julia, owner of the High Hope horse farm, is admitted to the hospital for open heart surgery in Intensive Scare Unit. During her testing, Julia notices an agitated man "looking like he wants to go ten rounds with Lennox Lewis," commented Harriet Klausner in a review on the Allreaders.com Web site. The man, the hospital's former CEO, is found dead the next day, and Julia was the last one to have seen him alive. When Julia awakens from the anesthetic after her surgery, she is alarmed to find someone bent over her bed trying to strangle her. The staff writes it off as post-surgery hallucination, but Julia and Sarah have seen enough murder in their careers not to casually dismiss what seemed like a genuine attack. While Sarah does some sleuthing, another patient is murdered, bolstering Julia's claims. But how can they find a murderer in a place as safe as a hospital, especially when all the suspects dress more or less alike? "Like brewing a proper pot of tea, Borthwick takes her time" in constructing the mystery and placing the victims and suspects, "developing each character and unraveling their motives and relationships," wrote Peter Cannon in Publishers Weekly. "Borthwick has a sharp eye and a good ear, and her characters are lively if not deep," observed GraceAnne A. DeCandido in Booklist.

According to a Publishers Weekly contributor, the author's 2007 mystery, Foiled Again, has an "imaginative plot." Sarah Deane is teaching at Maine's Bowmouth college, where the chair of the drama school, Vera Pruczak, is producing a version of Romeo and Juliet that features two young male lovers named Romiette and Julio. This adaptation does not sit well with Danton McGraw, the conservative chair of the English Department. Danton is not the only one upset as the townspeople also voice their disapproval. After two people are injured and a faculty member turns up dead backstage, Sarah joins in the investigation, much to the chagrin of Sergeant George Fitts of the Maine State Police. "The story line provides readers with a glimpse at the rivalries often acrimonious amidst the ‘gentle’ academia," wrote Harriet Klausner on the Book Crossing Web site. David Pitt, writing in Booklist, commented that it is "the charming characterizations that make the tale so enjoyable."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Armchair Detective, fall, 1993, review of The Case of the Hook-billed Kites, p. 44.

Booklist, October 1, 1986, review of The Student Body, p. 190; January 15, 1992, Peter Robertson, review of Dude on Arrival, p. 912; February 15, 2000, Jenny McLarin, review of Coup de Grace, p. 1087; February 1, 2002, David Pitt, review of Murder in the Rough, p. 926; February 15, 2004, GraceAnne A. DeCandido, review of Intensive Scare Unit, p. 1040; March 15, 2007, David Pitt, review of Foiled Again, p. 28.

Kirkus Reviews, August 15, 1982, review of The Case of the Hook-billed Kites, p. 963; September 1, 1986, review of The Student Body, p. 1326; June 15, 1990, review of Bodies of Water, pp. 835-836; November 15, 1991, review of Dude on Arrival, p. 1435; February 1, 1994, review of The Bridled Groom, p. 96; June 15, 1995, review of Dolly Is Dead, p. 813; February 1, 1997, review of The Garden Plot, pp. 173-174; January 1, 1999, review of My Body Lies over the Ocean, p. 25.

Kliatt, September, 1991, Melinda O. Waugh, review of Bodies of Water, p. 5.

Library Journal, October 1, 1982, review of The Case of the Hook-billed Kites, pp. 1898, 1901; October 1, 1986, JoAnn Vicarel, review of The Student Body, p. 112; March 1, 1997, Rex E. Klett, review of The Garden Plot, p. 107; April 1, 1999, Rex E. Klett, review of My Body Lies over the Ocean, p. 133; March 1, 2000, Rex E. Klett, review of Coup de Grace, p. 128; February 1, 2004, Rex E. Klett, review of Intensive Scare Unit, p. 128.

New York Times Book Review, January 9, 1983, Newgate Callendar, review of The Case of the Hook-billed Kites, p. 41; November 16, 1986, Newgate Callendar, review of The Student Body, p. 38; August 4, 1991, review of The Case of the Hook-billed Kites, p. 28; September 3, 1995, Marilyn Stasio, review of Dolly Is Dead, p. 15; March 5, 2000, Marilyn Stasio, review of Coup de Grace, p. 34.

Observer (London, England), August 28, 1983, review of The Case of the Hook-billed Kites, p. 25.

Publishers Weekly, August 20, 1982, review of The Case of the Hook-billed Kites, p. 59; August 22, 1986, Sybil Steinberg, review of The Student Body, p. 83; May 25, 1990, Sybil Steinberg, review of Bodies of Water, p. 53; November 8, 1991, review of Dude on Arrival, p. 52; February 7, 1994, review of The Bridled Groom, p. 75; July 3, 1995, review of Dolly Is Dead, p. 52; January 18, 1999, review of My Body Lies over the Ocean, p. 330; January 24, 2000, review of Coup de Grace, p. 295; February 18, 2002, review of Murder in the Rough, p. 78; January 5, 2004, Peter Cannon, review of Intensive Scare Unit, p. 44; January 8, 2007, review of Foiled Again, p. 36.

Roundup, summer, 1992, review of The Case of the Hook-billed Kites, p. 26; summer, 1992, review of Dude on Arrival, p. 30.

School Library Journal, February, 1983, Mary Mills, review of The Case of the Hook-billed Kites, p. 94.

Seventeen, March, 1987, Emily Laber, review of The Student Body, p. 76.

Texas Monthly, February, 1983, Jan Reid, review of The Case of the Hook-billed Kites, p. 133.

Washington Post Book World, February 20, 1983, Jean M. White, review of The Case of the Hook-billed Kites, p. 11; October 19, 1986, Jean M. White, review of The Student Body, pp. 8, 10.

Wilson Library Bulletin, November, 1985, Kathleen Maio, review of The Down East Murders, p. 48; March, 1992, Kathleen Maio, review of Dude on Arrival, p. 100.

ONLINE

Allreaders.com,http://www.allreaders.com/ (July 22, 2004), Harriet Klausner, review of Intensive Scare Unit.

BookCrossing,http://www.bookcrossing.com/ (September 21, 2007), Harriet Klausner, review of Foiled Again.

Waterboro Public Library Web site,http://www.waterborolibrary.org/ (September 21, 2007), brief profile of author.

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