Gallison, Kathleen 1939-
GALLISON, Kathleen 1939-
PERSONAL: Born November 14, 1939, in Philadelphia, PA; daughter of Herbert E. (a salesman and freelance writer) and Georgena (Hill) Gallison; married Samuel Graff, November 11, 1961 (divorced, March, 1975); married Harold E. Dunn (a reference librarian), June 2, 1982; children: (first marriage) Leonard P., Charles W.; (second marriage) John Thomas. Education: Attended Douglass College, Rutgers University, 1957-60; Thomas A. Edison College (now State College), B.A., 1979. Religion: Episcopalian.
CAREER: Writer. Washington Post, Washington, DC, library clerk, 1960-61; American Telephone & Telegraph Co. (AT&T), accounting clerk, 1961-62; homemaker, amateur actress, cartoonist, puppeteer, and part-time sales clerk, 1961-73; sales clerk, 1973-74; clerk-bookkeeper for New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services, 1974-79; New Jersey Department of the Treasury, Trenton, computer programmer-analyst, 1979-84; Applied Data Research, Princeton, NJ, technical writer, beginning 1984.
MEMBER: Mystery Writers of America, Authors Guild, Authors League of America.
mystery novels; under name kate gallison
Unbalanced Accounts, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1986.
The Death Tape, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1987.
The Jersey Monkey: A Nick Magaracz Mystery, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1992.
Bury the Bishop, Dell (New York, NY), 1995.
Devil's Workshop, Dell (New York, NY), 1996.
Unholy Angels, Dell (New York, NY), 1996.
Hasty Retreat: A Mother Lavinia Grey Mystery, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1997.
Grave Misgivings: A Mother Lavinia Grey Mystery, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1998.
Also author of historical novel Bucko. Contributor to books, including More Murder, They Wrote, edited by Elizabeth Foxwell and Martin H. Greenberg, Boulevard Books, 1999; and Murder Most Catholic, edited by Ralph McInerny, 2002. Also contributor of short stories to periodicals, including Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine.
SIDELIGHTS: Kathleen Gallison is the author of often satiric mystery novels featuring either the hapless gumshoe Nick Magaracz (in her first three titles), or Mother Lavinia Grey (in her next five). In her first mystery novel, Unbalanced Accounts, the author introduces Magaracz, "a very poor man's Sam Spade," according to New York Times reviewer John Gross. Set in Trenton, New Jersey, the tale centers on several hundred missing checks that Magaracz must recover. A Washington Post Book World critic reported, "There are some funny moments and lots of bright banter. But these are only flashes in a mystery that often strains painfully to be wildly comic and witty." Although also critical of the story's plot and angle, Ashok Chandrasekhar asserted in the New York Times Book Review that "Gallison's writing shows promise," commending the author's dialogue and the characterization of Magaracz. In Gross's opinion, Unbalanced Accounts is "a well-above-average debut." Other reviewers, however, were more enthusiastic, appreciating the dark humor and the author's spoofing of such writers as Raymond Chandler and Lew Archer. Gallison does this by setting her story in decidedly unglamorous Trenton, where the crooks, and even the hero, are often stupid and incompetent, forced to endure uninspiring jobs in order to slog through their insipid lives; the style, too, makes fun of the tough-talking, hard-boiled narratives that come from the mouths of heroes like Sam Spade. The result, attested Connie Fletcher in Booklist, is a "superb black comedy."
About her debut novel, Gallison once told CA: "Unbalanced Accounts takes place in Trenton because I know Trenton; I was there for eighteen years, longer than I've lived anywhere. Trenton is a collection of communities, each with its own ways and values, where all the old-timers know all the other old-timers' complete history and antecedents, and nobody lives anything down. In the novel I took a look at the state government—right now probably the largest community in town—with sidelong glances at New Jersey life in general. I was enormously amused to note that only the reviewers from Mississippi and Texas seemed to notice how wicked and degenerate some of the characters were. On the East Coast, for instance, everybody knows somebody like Freddie Gruver, the no-account womanizing druggie, so he doesn't seem especially remarkable."
Gallison followed Unbalanced Accounts with two more Magaracz mysteries: The Death Tape and The Jersey Monkey. In the former, Magaracz takes a job with New Jersey's department of Tax Enforcement for the rather quotidian reason that the position offers dental benefits that will cover his daughter's braces. Investigating what he thinks is a case of mere tax fraud at the department, Magaracz accidentally uncovers a group of antitax, antigovernment survivalists who have faked their deaths, withdrawn all their money from their bank accounts, and now plan to blow up government buildings. The members of the group, who call themselves the Posse Comitatus, are not all that bright, however, when it comes to explosives; at one point in the story several of them accidentally get themselves killed when one of their detonators is stolen and set off by a junkie. In The Jersey Monkey Magaracz finds himself investigating murders at a pharmaceutical company where a new AIDS drug has been developed. The company is going through tough merger negotiations when two employees are poisoned. Suspects include a chemist who used to be a stripper, an unscrupulous veterinarian in charge of the lab monkeys that are being subjected to testing, and a greedy executive. Noting one particularly funny moment when Magaracz has to interrogate a monkey using sign language, a Publishers Weekly reviewer called The Jersey Monkey a "lighthearted romp."
After writing three books featuring Magaracz, Gallison abandoned the character and created Mother Lavinia Grey (Mother Vinnie), an Episcopalian pastor who, like the author's first sleuth, lives in New Jersey. Considered less blatantly satirical than her first novels, these books combine murder mysteries with inside views of Church bureaucracy and politics, flavored with humorous portrayals of the quirky Mother Vinnie's parishioners of St. Bede's. In her debut, Mother Vinnie turns amateur sleuth at a diocesan convention when one of the attending bishops is murdered. Later installments include Unholy Angels, in which Mother Vinnie is faced with the problem of finding out who murdered two of Fishersville, New Jersey's most prominent citizens, and Hasty Retreat, where she tries to escape her hectic duties at a monastery only to become entangled in another mystery in which a monk is killed.
More recently, Gallison completed the Mother Vinnie mystery Grave Misgivings. The plot in this tale is set off when a man's search for his father's remains at a Fishersville cemetery leads him to Mother Vinnie. After she does some investigating, strange secrets start to reveal themselves about a flood and other goings on in the town back in 1955. Although a Publishers Weekly reviewer complained that in the climax of the novel Mother Vinnie "stupidly lets herself be put in mortal danger," the critic nevertheless praised Grave Misgivings as an "amusing story that features a distinctive and usually appealing heroine."
Gallison once told CA: "When I was very young, I wanted to be a cartoonist, but I couldn't draw very well. Then I wanted to write a series of detective novels, and now I'm going to do it. Trenton provides an interesting setting, and I try to depict real Trenton people in blood-and-thunder situations. What emerges can be pretty funny.
"I began writing stories in kindergarten, as soon as I learned to read and make letters. I wrote a science fiction novel called Master Mechanic—that is, I printed it, I couldn't do cursive—in a brown saddle-stitched composition book. The book got lost in one of our moves; my father was transferred every four years or so. There were other stories over the years but Master Mechanic was the only full-length book. It was about a mad scientist who made human beings out of salt.
"In fifth grade I discovered the work of an author (I don't remember his name) who wrote screamingly funny short stories for American Legion Magazine. I began to model my style on this guy, with some success, writing funny short stories and reading them in class. In high school I came upon P. G. Wodehouse and aped him for a while. I did a three-act English drawing-room comedy in tenth grade. Nobody would produce it. I read mystery stories; I read Manning Coles. I thought of myself as a secret English person and used English spellings. In the end I was unable to keep from aping Wodehouse.
"I went to college. At Douglass everyone wrote very serious things, so I tried to do that too. The literary magazine rejected my efforts. I started a cartoon strip in the college paper, and one of the serious girls wrote a long-faced poem about it, which was published in the literary magazine. After I left school I wrote very little—short pieces for newspapers sometimes. Erma Bombeck did it better.
"About the time my first marriage was breaking up I wrote a semiautobiographical novel of the Mad Housewife genre, the sort of thing we all do when divorcing. It was good therapy but unpublishable; when it was finished I was happy to notice that my style had improved. P. G. Wodehouse was gone."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, March 15, 1986, Connie Fletcher, review of Unbalanced Accounts.
Chicago Sun-Times, March 15, 1986, Henry Kisor, review of The Death Tape.
Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, mid-December, 1986, Allen J. Hubin, review of Unbalanced Accounts.
Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), April 26, 1986.
Library Journal, July, 1997, Rex E. Klett, review of Hasty Retreat, p. 130.
Los Angeles Times Book World, July 6, 1986.
New York Times, April 4, 1986.
New York Times Book Review, April 13, 1986.
Publishers Weekly, February 28, 1986, review of Unbalanced Accounts; May 29, 1987, review of The Death Tape; January 13, 1992, review of The Jersey Monkey, p. 49; July 22, 1996, review of Unholy Angels, p. 235; May 19, 1997, review of Hasty Retreat, p. 69; August 10, 1998, review of Grave Misgivings, p. 373.
Washington Post Book World, May 18, 1986.
Kate Gallison Web site, http://www.kategallison.com (November 12, 2003).*