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Fraser, Anthea 1930- (Lorna Cameron, Vanessa Graham)

Fraser, Anthea 1930- (Lorna Cameron, Vanessa Graham)

PERSONAL:

Born 1930, in Lancashire, England; daughter of William Wallace (a director) and Mary Adelaide (a writer) Roby; married Ian Mackintosh Fraser, March 22, 1956; children: Fiona, Rosalind. Education: Attended Cheltenham Ladies' College. Politics: Conservative. Religion: Church of England.

ADDRESSES:

Home—Tring, Hertfordshire, England. Agent—Julie Burton Literary Agency, 2 Clifton Ave., London W12 9DR, England.

CAREER:

Writer.

MEMBER:

Crime Writers' Association (secretary, 1986-96), Detection Club.

WRITINGS:

NOVELS

Motive for Murder (serialized under pseudonym Vanessa Graham as Bright Face of Danger, 1970), Severn House (Sutton, Surrey, England), 1997.

Designs of Annabelle, Mills & Boon (London, England), 1971.

(Under pseudonym Vanessa Graham) Second Time Around (serialized in New Idea [Australia], 1972), Woman's Weekly Library, 1974, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1979.

In the Balance, Mills & Boon (London, England), 1973, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1979, reprinted under pseudonym Vanessa Graham, Chivers/Thorndike, 2000.

Laura Possessed, Dodd (New York, NY), 1974, Chivers/Thorndike, 2001.

Home through the Dark, Milton House Books, 1974, Dodd (New York, NY), 1976, Chivers Black Dagger, 2001.

Whistler's Lane, Dodd (New York, NY), 1975, G.K. Hall (Boston, MA), 1997.

(Under pseudonym Vanessa Graham) The Summer Season, Woman's Weekly Library, 1975.

Breath of Brimstone, Dodd (New York, NY), 1977.

Presence of Mind, Corgi Books (London, England), 1978.

(Under pseudonym Vanessa Graham) Time of Trial, R. Hale (London, England), 1979.

Island-in-Waiting, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1979.

The Stone, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1980.

(Under pseudonym Lorna Cameron) Summer in France, Mills & Boon (London, England), 1981.

(Under pseudonym Vanessa Graham) The Stand-In, R. Hale (London, England), 1983.

The Macbeth Prophecy, Severn House (Sutton, England), 1995.

Dangerous Deception (serialized under pseudonym Vanessa Graham as Such Men Are Dangerous, 1995), Severn House (Sutton, England), 1998.

Past Shadows, Severn House (Sutton, England), 2001.

Fathers and Daughters, Severn House (Sutton, England), 2002.

"DCI WEBB" SERIES

A Shroud for Delilah, Collins (London, England), 1984, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1986.

A Necessary End, Collins (London, England), 1985, Walker, 1986.

Pretty Maids All in a Row, Collins (London, England), 1986, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1987.

Death Speaks Softly, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1987.

The Nine Bright Shiners, Collins (London, England), 1987, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1988.

Six Proud Walkers, Collins (London, England), 1988, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1989.

The April Rainers, Collins (London, England), 1989, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1990.

Symbols at Your Door, Collins (London, England), 1990, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1991.

The Lily-White Boys, Collins (London, England), 1991, published as I'll Sing You Two-O, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1996.

Three, Three, the Rivals, Collins (London, England), 1992, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1995.

The Gospel Makers, Collins (London, England), 1994, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1996.

The Seven Stars, Collins (London, England), 1995, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1997.

One Is One and All Alone, Collins (London, England), 1996, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1998.

The Ten Commandments, Collins (London, England), 1997, St. Martin's (New York, NY), 1999.

Eleven That Went up to Heaven, Severn House (Sutton, England), 1999.

The Twelve Apostles, Severn House (Sutton, England), 1999.

"RONA PARISH" SERIES

Brought to Book, Severn House (Sutton, England), 2003.

Jigsaw, Severn House (Sutton, England), 2004.

Person or Persons Unknown, Severn House (Sutton, England), 2005.

A Family Concern, Severn House (Sutton, England), 2006.

Rogue in Porcelain, Severn House (Sutton, England), 2007.

OTHER

Contributor to anthologies, including Nemesis, Collins Diamond Jubilee Commemorative column, 1990; Turning Point, Chatto & Windus, 1993; and Alternative Reality, Pocket Books, 1997. Contributor of stories to periodicals, including Homes and Gardens, Woman's Own, and Cosmopolitan. Several of Fraser's books have been translated into German, Danish, Spanish, Norwegian, Swedish, Italian, and Portuguese. Some of Fraser's novels have appeared as condensed books or in magazine serializations in South Africa, Australia, Brazil, and Norway.

ADAPTATIONS:

Many of Fraser's novels have been released on audio cassette, including recordings by BBC Audio Books and Soundings Audio Cassette, among them: The Nine Bright Shiners, 1991, A Shroud for Delilah and Six Proud Walkers, both 1992, Symbols at Your Door, 1993, Pretty Maids All in a Row, and The Lily-White Boys.

SIDELIGHTS:

"My books tend to be about ordinary people leading normal, uneventful lives, who are suddenly catapulted into danger," novelist Anthea Fraser once told a contributor to the St. James Guide to Crime and Mystery Writers. Typical of that scenario is the adventure that befalls Emily Barton, heroine of Fraser's 1997 work, Motive for Murder. Naive Emily leaves her comfortable home to work as a live-in secretary to reclusive mystery author Matthew Haig. Emily's suspicions about her moody new boss are confirmed when she learns her predecessor drowned in a nearby lake—and that Haig is currently writing a mystery about another unsolved local death. Fraser, said a writer for Publishers Weekly, "deftly intertwines Emily's amateur detecting attempts with her fluctuating relationships so that the reader is just as curious about whom she will marry as about who committed murder."

Fraser's series of "DCI Webb" mysteries include the titles Pretty Maids All in a Row, I'll Sing You Two-Oh, and Three, Three the Rivals (all lines from the international folksong "Green Grow the Rushes"). In these books and others, "Webb, lady friend Hannah, and various Shillingham coworkers appear as welcome, familiar constants," according to Rex E. Klett in his St. James Guide to Crime and Mystery Writers essay. "These novels rank much higher in quality and mark Fraser's coming-of-age as a mystery writer," Klett observed. "Webb, as central figure, assiduously and devotedly collects and sorts out clues, interrogates suspects, and makes inspired leaps of faith to corner the culprit."

Klett pointed to the "Webb" mystery Death Speaks Softly as an example of the author's skill in crafting a whodunit. Fraser uses a row between Webb and Hannah from a previous volume as a subplot to both "forward the principal [plot] and to increase suspense." After Webb locates the dead body of the French girl he was assigned to track, he is compelled to reach out to Hannah as a translator for his interrogation of French-speaking suspects. "Fraser, in fact, frequently uses dialogue or interior monologue to advance her plots," noted Klett. "While doubt lingers as to whether someone actually murdered the French girl or not, the dramatic and unexpected conclusion of the work certainly resolves the matter with shocking clarity."

Gothic elements sometimes enter into the pastoral milieu Fraser has created. The Gospel Makers "juxtaposes [her] interest in the supernatural with the firmly grounded reality of Inspector Webb's objective police procedure," Klett continues. A suspicious religious cult moves into Shillingham and soon a stranger turns up dead. Webb must "not only find out who the unknown visitor was and why he was killed, but also worry that his colleague is being brainwashed by the cult," a reviewer for Publishers Weekly observed. In The Gospel Makers, according to Klett, Fraser again "offers a solid procedural, satisfyingly complex and fraught with psychological implications. As always with this series, the charm and idiosyncrasies associated with a rural English village provide an immediate draw."

Fraser followed The Gospel Makers with I'll Sing You Two-O, in which identical twin men are found dead in an abandoned van outside the home of magistrate Monica Tovey, who panics when she sees the face of the man she believes committed the crime. Webb's investigation reveals the murdered twins to be petty thieves, and the driver of the mystery van to be in contact with Tovey. A contributor to Publishers Weekly found the author's rendering of an English countryside "again impeccable enabling a reader not only to take pleasure in the mystery itself … but also to feel part of the life of a small, worried town."

In his review of Eleven That Went up to Heaven in Booklist, John Rowen described Fraser's work as "solid if rather ordinary" mystery fare that "connects the dots with skill" if not originality. Klett summed up the Webb series as one that "surpasses Fraser's early work in quality and presents the author at her best. Her nonprocedural works, which belong more to a gothic suspense subgenre, appeal to a different audience. Her true strength lies in her ability to create realistic vignettes of life in a not-too-rural England, interesting, multilevel characters, and detailed descriptions of Webb's procedural and empathetic abilities. Inspector Webb and the people of Shillingham may prove to be Fraser's crowning achievement."

"After writing sixteen novels about DCI Webb," Fraser told CA, "I have now decided to do several ‘one-offs,’ with little or no police involvement, from the viewpoint of the characters to whom these traumas occur." Past Shadows, which a Publishers Weekly reviewer described as "compelling," is the first of these novels. Set in South Wales, Cheltenham, and on the coast of Devon, the story concerns family dynamics and buried secrets. Twenty-eight years earlier, Annabel Kendal's Aunt Hilary was murdered at a family gathering, and suspicion fell on Annabel's now deceased French mother. As the family gathers again, Annabel—with the help of her mother's long-lost diaries—feels compelled to find out what really happened, however shocking the truth may be.

In Fathers and Daughters, two sisters face romantic conflicts and a murder. Fay, popular and attractive, married young and was deserted by her husband soon after their child was born. For her second husband she chose Patrick, the man her mousy sister, Ellie, had secretly loved for years. Twenty years later, Patrick leaves Fay and her four daughters. At the same time, the body of Fay's first husband turns up in a dumpster. In Booklist, Emily Melton found Fathers and Daughters an absorbing story about family relationships as well as a good mystery. Drawing comparisons between this novel and those of Rosamund Pilcher and Ruth Rendall, Melton considered Fathers and Daughters a "charming and engaging genre bender."

With Brought to Book, Fraser introduces a new series character, amateur detective Rona Parish. A freelance journalist, Rona has been asked to write the biography of popular suspense novelist Theo Harvey, who died under mysterious circumstances after making a critically acclaimed comeback following a long writer's block. Though several people, including her husband and mother, urge Rona to decline the job, she accepts it at the insistence of Theo's widow, who hopes that Rona might be able to shed some light on how Theo really died. No sooner does Rona begin her research, however, than she starts receiving threatening messages. This only makes her more determined to get to the bottom of why Theo suddenly stopped writing for two years, returning finally with a style that was alarmingly darker than his previous work. Booklist reviewer Melton noted the novel's unusual plot and "surprisingly multilayered characters." In the Library Journal. Klett admired the book's psychological insights and suspenseful plot.

Rona appears again in Jigsaw, which Klett described as psychological suspense "at its best." In this novel Rona is writing a series of articles on Buckford, a charming English village that will soon celebrate its 800th anniversary. Eager to explore the hamlet's history, she takes lodgings in Buckford and sets about interviewing local inhabitants. One of them, the quirky aunt of Rona's landlady, hints that there is a dark secret behind the death years ago of a four-year-old girl in the village. No sooner does she receive this information than Rona is attacked by a stranger and Aunt Edna turns up dead. This is more than enough to convince Rona that all is not right in this seemingly perfect town, and she decides to find out what Buckford has been hiding all these years. Melton enjoyed the book's "clever plotting" and "appealing characters."

Rona encounters a different sort of challenge in Person or Persons Unknown, in which she meets a young woman, Zara Crane, who is seeking the identity of her father. Zara was adopted as a baby after her mother, Gemma, was murdered, and no one knows who Zara's father was. Now that Zara is pregnant, she feels it is important to know her real heritage and hopes that Rona will be able to help her discover her father's identity. When Rona begins asking questions, people who had known Zara's mother get upset, and the amateur sleuth is warned off by threatening phone calls and email messages. As Rona investigates further, she discovers that one of Gemma's former lovers, Jonathan, is currently involved with Rona's twin sister; another is a student of Rona's artist husband, Max. Rona solves the mystery, but not before considerably more intrigue and threats to her own life. Melton found the book to be "cleverly plotted and fluidly written."

In A Family Concern Rona and her twin sister, Lindsey, agree to help a friend investigate the source of her sister-in-law Freya's terrible nightmares. Clues suggest some disturbing facts about Freya's childhood, including an episode when, at age three, the girl wandered off and was found scratched and apparently traumatized on the same day that her mother disappeared with a lover. A writer for Kirkus Reviews called this novel "another hit" in the Rona Parish series.

Rogue in Porcelain finds Rona working on an article about the Curzon family, who run a china factory that is one of the town of Marsborough's most prominent businesses. To celebrate the company's 150th anniversary, Curzon plans to introduce a special new line of china, "Project Genesis." But this line, Rona finds, has implications that point to something sinister in the firm's history. Though describing the intrigue here as relatively tame, a reviewer for Publishers Weekly concluded that the novel is a satisfying traditional mystery. Melton appreciated the book's "inventive plot" and "engaging heroine."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

BOOKS

St. James Guide to Crime and Mystery Writers, 4th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1996.

PERIODICALS

Booklist, April 15, 1997, Ilene Cooper, review of Motive for Murder, p. 1403; April 15, 1998, Ilene Cooper, review of Dangerous Deception, p. 1382; August 1, 1999, John Rowen, review of Eleven That Went up to Heaven, p. 2033; September 1, 2002, Emily Melton, review of Fathers and Daughters, p. 57; May 1, 2003, Emily Melton, review of Brought to Book, p. 1544; May 1, 2004, Emily Melton, review of Jigsaw, p. 1508; April 1, 2005, Jeanette Larson, review of Jigsaw, p. 1400; March 15, 2006, Emily Melton, review of A Family Concern, p. 32; February 15, 2007, Emily Melton, review of Rogue in Porcelain, p. 41.

Kirkus Reviews, March 1, 2006, review of A Family Concern, p. 209.

Library Journal, July 16, 1986, Jo Ann Vicarel, review of A Shroud for Delilah, p. 115; March 1, 1988, Rex E. Klett, review of The Nine Bright Shiners, p. 79; March 1, 1995, Rex E. Klett, review of Three, Three, the Rivals, p. 106; January 1, 1996, Rex E. Klett, review of The Gospel Makers, p. 149; April 1, 1997, Rex E. Klett, review of Motive for Murder, p. 133; March 1, 2000, Rex E. Klett, review of The Ten Commandments, p. 128; September 1, 2001, Rex E. Klett, review of Past Shadows, p. 238; July 1, 2003, Rex E. Klett, review of Brought to Book, p. 129; June 1, 2004, Rex E. Klett, review of Jigsaw, p. 108; June 1, 2005, Rex E. Klett, review of Person or Persons Unknown, p. 107.

New Law Journal, August 8, 1997, Natasha Cooper, review of The Ten Commandments, p. 1208.

Publishers Weekly, January 9, 1987, review of Pretty Maids All in a Row, p. 84; December 16, 1988, review of Six Proud Walkers, p. 71; February 13, 1995, review of Three, Three, the Rivals, p. 108; December 11, 1995, review of The Macbeth Prophecy, p. 59; January 8, 1996, review of The Gospel Makers, p. 61; October 28, 1996, review of I'll Sing You a Two-O, p. 61; February 24, 1997, review of Motive for Murder, p. 67; April 1, 1997; October 19, 1998, review of One Is One and All Alone, p. 58; March 6, 2000, review of The Ten Commandments, p. 87; July 30, 2001, review of Past Shadows, p. 65; March 5, 2007, review of Rogue in Porcelain, p. 43.

Times (London, England), April 23, 1986.

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