Hart, Carolyn G(impel) 1936-
HART, Carolyn G(impel) 1936-
PERSONAL: Born August 25, 1936, in Oklahoma City, OK; daughter of Roy William (an organ builder) and Doris (Akin) Gimpel; married Philip Donnell Hart (an attorney), June 10, 1958; children: Philip Donnell, Jr., Sarah Ann. Ethnicity: "Caucasian." Education: University of Oklahoma—Norman, B.A., 1958. Religion: Protestant.
CAREER: Norman Transcript, Norman, OK, reporter, 1958-59; Sooner Newsmakers (University of Oklahoma alumni news), editor, 1959-60; freelance writer, 1961-82, 1986—; University of Oklahoma, School of Journalism and Mass Communications, assistant professor, 1982-85.
MEMBER: Sisters in Crime (president, 1991-92), Mystery Writers of America (past national director), Authors Guild, Authors League of America, Phi Beta Kappa, Theta Sigma Phi, American Crime Writers League, International Association of Crime Writers USA.
AWARDS, HONORS: Calling All Girls Prize, Dodd, Mead, 1964, for The Secret of the Cellars; Agatha Award, Malice Domestic, 1989, for Something Wicked, and 1993, for Dead Man's Island; Anthony Award, Bouchercon, 1989, for Something Wicked, and 1990, for Honeymoon with Murder; Macavity Award, Mystery Readers International, 1990, for A Little Class on Murder; Macavity Award and Agatha Award nominations, both 1994, both for Scandal in Fair Haven; Pulitzer Prize nomination for fiction, Oklahoma Center for Poets and Writers at Oklahoma State University, 2003.
Flee from the Past, Bantam (New York, NY), 1975.
A Settling of Accounts, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1976.
(With Charles F. Long) The Sooner Story, 1890-1980, University of Oklahoma Foundation (Norman, OK), 1980.
Escape from Paris, R. Hale (London, England), 1982, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1983.
The Rich Die Young, R. Hale (New York, NY), 1983.
Death by Surprise, R. Hale (New York, NY), 1983.
Castle Rock, R. Hale (New York, NY), 1983, Five Star (Unity, ME), 2000.
Skulduggery, R. Hale (New York, NY), 1984, Five Star (Unity, ME), 2000.
The Devereaux Legacy, Harlequin (Tarrytown, NY), 1986.
Brave Hearts, Pocket Books (New York, NY), 1987.
(Editor) Crimes of the Heart, Berkeley (New York, NY), 1995.
Crime on Her Mind: A Collection of Short Stories, Five Star (Unity, ME), 1999.
(Editor) Love and Death, Berkeley (New York, NY), 2001.
Secrets and Other Stories of Suspense, Five Star (Waterville, ME), 2002.
Motherhood Is Murder, Avon (New York, NY), 2003.
Letter from Home, Berkley (New York, NY), 2003.
"DEATH ON DEMAND" MYSTERIES
Death on Demand, Bantam (New York, NY), 1987.
Design for Murder, Bantam (New York, NY), 1988.
Something Wicked, Bantam (New York, NY), 1988.
Honeymoon with Murder, Bantam (New York, NY), 1989.
A Little Class on Murder, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1989.
Deadly Valentine, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1990.
The Christie Caper, Bantam (New York, NY), 1991.
Southern Ghost, Bantam (New York, NY), 1992.
Mint Julep Murder, Bantam (New York, NY), 1995.
Yankee Doodle Dead, Avon (New York, NY), 1998.
White Elephant Dead, Avon (New York, NY), 1999.
Sugarplum Dead, Morrow (New York, NY), 2000.
April Fool Dead, Morrow (New York, NY), 2002.
Engaged to Die, Morrow (New York, NY), 2003.
Murder Walks the Plank, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2004.
"HENRIE O" MYSTERIES
Dead Man's Island, Bantam (New York, NY), 1993.
Scandal in Fair Haven, Bantam (New York, NY), 1994.
Death in Lovers' Lane, Avon (New York, NY), 1997.
Death in Paradise, Avon (New York, NY), 1998.
Death on the River Walk, Avon (New York, NY), 1999.
Resort to Murder, Morrow (New York, NY), 2001.
The Secret of the Cellars, Dodd (New York, NY), 1964.
Dangerous Summer, Four Winds (New York, NY), 1968.
Rendezvous in Vera Cruz, M. Evans (New York, NY), 1970.
No Easy Answers, M. Evans (New York, NY), 1970.
Danger! High Explosives!, M. Evans (New York, NY), 1972.
ADAPTATIONS: Dead Man's Island was made into a CBS television movie, starring Barbara Eden and William Shatner.
SIDELIGHTS: Carolyn G. Hart has won a loyal following for her "Death on Demand" and "Henrie O" mystery series. Set on a fictional South Carolina resort island, the "Death on Demand" series features an attractive, wealthy couple, Annie and Max Darling. They own a mystery bookshop, and also work together to solve the many real mysteries that come their way. "Henrie O" is short for Henrietta O'Dwyer Collins, a retired journalist who brings her investigative skills to bear on mysteries. Armchair Detective reviewer Charles L. P. Silet praised the Darling mysteries for their "delightful mix of old Southern charm, eccentric island characters, and crime fiction esoterica." Emily Melton of Booklist complimented Henrie's first outing in Dead Man's Island, declaring that "this book has the same kind of pleasantly entertaining appeal as the Miss Marple stories and should prove popular with Christie fans."
Henrie O is perhaps a reflection of Hart's youthful ambition to be a reporter. She majored in journalism at the University of Oklahoma, but marriage and a family kept her from pursuing that career. She began writing fiction instead, and eventually entered a contest that involved writing a mystery for young girls. Hart's winning manuscript was published in 1964 as The Secret of the Cellars. She wrote a few more novels for young readers, including No Easy Answers, about the Vietnam War, and Danger! High Explosives!, about a college torn over the question of a military presence on the campus. "There's a very definite distinction between mystery and suspense," Hart once told CA. "In a mystery novel the point of the book is to figure out who committed a crime. When you do that, what you're really exploring (especially in the case of murder, which is what mysteries are usually about) is what went wrong in the lives of these people. How did these relationships become so tortured that violence resulted? A suspense novel, on the other hand, tells the story of a person who is trying to accomplish something. It doesn't matter if it's getting to the top of the mountain, escaping from the Japanese during the war, or whatever—the suspense novel is built around a series of episodes where the character must continue to struggle to achieve a goal. It's a very different kind of story than a mystery."
After finishing Danger! High Explosives in 1972, Hart began writing for adults. "The Devereaux Legacy was written during a very desperate period in my career," she explained. "I couldn't sell anything. I was at a very low point, the point where I thought that maybe I should just give up writing. No one was buying mysteries by American women, but the romance novel was at the height of its popularity, and my agent said, 'There's just no point in writing mysteries. You've got to write romances.' I thought, 'Well, maybe I can do this. I suppose the question is not "Who Killed Roger Ackroyd?" but "Will She Win the Hero in the End?"' So I tried my hand at it. Basically what I did with The Devereaux Legacy was to take a mystery that I had written and recast it as a romance. It has a very southern background, and that's why it was bought by the Harlequin Gothic arm. Southern Ghost has elements of the gothic in it intentionally. My editor said 'Why don't you write a Southern Gothic?' and I said, 'Well, all right, I'll see what I can do with that.' It was a very fascinating and difficult book to write. I later realized that the reason why it was so stressful was because when you're writing a Southern Gothic you're writing about a family, and nothing is more distressing than destructive emotions in a family situation. In only one of my other books had there been a focus on a family rather than just a group of individuals. It was a challenge."
Hart hit on a winning formula with her "Death on Demand" series. The stories combine elements of romance, mystery fiction, and bibliophilia, and have proved tremendously popular with readers. Hart told Silet in an Armchair Detective interview that she hit upon the inspiration of the first novel in the series after a talk she gave to the Mystery Writers of America. "After this day-long talk about mysteries, I thought—I am going to write the mystery I have always wanted to write and if it doesn't go then I'm just going to quit—and I wrote Death on Demand." Part of the fun of the series comes from Annie Laurance Darling's devoted customers, all of whom are fanatical mystery readers. The author reveals in the books a familiarity with esoteric mystery fiction that appeals to devotees of the genre. Susan L. Clark, writing in Armchair Detective about the third installment of the series, praised Hart's knowledge of the detective fiction genre and said, "Any reader who has ever perused the subject lists and maps in Golden Age detective fiction books . . . will thoroughly enjoy Something Wicked." Jane Bakerman, writing for Belles Lettres, stated that in Honeymoon with Murder, Hart "as usual . . . stuffs her dialogue with allusions to other mysteries, and provides lots of fun for her readers."
Mint Julep Murder finds Annie hosting five authors and their children at the Dixie Book Festival. Trouble begins when publisher Kenneth Hazlitt threatens to expose delicate secrets about each of the authors. When Hazlitt turns up dead, Annie finds herself accused. She is "alternately indignant that anyone would see her as a killer and terrified that she'll take the rap," observed Emily Melton in Booklist. Annie sets out to clear her name and find the killer in a story that blends "genteel ambience, southern charm, a likeable heroine, and some wonderfully nasty characters into a pleasantly charming mystery," concluded Melton. A Publishers Weekly reviewer also recommended Mint Julep Murder as a "light tale in a deliciously inviting setting," which "offers mystery readers a winsome treat."
The close relationship between Max and Annie evolves throughout the series. "I was making a very deliberate statement" with Annie and Max's relationship, Hart told Silet. "I truly believe that happy marriages are quite possible. . . . I know that there are a great many women who have had difficult lives—they are estranged from people, they are divorced, they are unhappy. But you can have a good marriage, it really can exist, and that was what I wanted to celebrate with Max and Annie." "The traditional mystery, in my view, is a parable of life," she continued. "I think it has a reality which the hard-boiled private detective books don't. They, oddly enough, are the more truly romantic books because they are about the white knight on a quest. The private detective is trying to remain incorruptible in a corrupt world, and this is truly a romantic vision. In my view, what I write touches much more directly on reality."
The "Henri O" series features another of Hart's appealing sleuths. The author has admitted that Henrietta O'Dwyer Collins is a braver, idealized projection of herself. Henrietta is a widow, a journalist who has also worked as a journalism professor. Her investigative reporting skills come in handy when she is repeatedly faced with mysteries to solve as an amateur sleuth. In Death in Lovers' Lane, Henrietta must investigate the death of a student at the university where she teaches. The deceased was investigating a trio of older, unsolved deaths at the campus, and Henrietta wonders if there is a connection. There is a suggestion of Agatha Christie's "gift for plotting and suspense" in this "intricately wrought tale," noted Alan Moores in Booklist. Death in Paradise finds Henrietta challenged by an anonymous message stating that her late husband was murdered. To investigate the incident, she must visit Belle Ericcson, one of her late husband's closest friends. The action shifts to Hawaii, to a dramatic mountain locale. "Hart is at her award-winning best as she tightens the suspense and keeps the killer's identity out of focus until the cliffhanging finale." A Publishers Weekly writer mused, "This series has a deeper and darker emotional texture than Hart's more lively and lighthearted 'Death on Demand series,' but her fans will enjoy the complex plot, local color and vivid characters."
Hart told CA: "I grew up during World War II and very early understood that newspapers were hugely important and the bigger and blacker the headline, the more important the story. I was determined to be a reporter and focused on this throughout my school days. I majored in journalism at the University of Oklahoma. I ended up being a novelist, but I have never lost my fascination with news and newspaper reporting.
"I love writing the traditional mystery and take pride in books I have done. My favorite—Letter fromHome—is a book where the focus is not on the resolution of the crime but the effect of the crime upon the lives of the characters. Moreover it combines my fascination with the process of writing with my recollections of Oklahoma during World War II. It is my book about home.
Agatha Christie is a major influence on Hart's work. "She was and is and will always be the greatest writer of traditional mysteries. I believe in the importance of mysteries and their contribution to goodness. The world is best by evil and injustice but the traditional mystery will always offer a good, just and decent world to readers.
Hart told CA that the most important thing she has learned as a writer is "To trust the process. I am always terrified when I begin a book that I will not be able to finish. Every time I have to struggle and work and hope and every time the book is there to be found."
"I hope I will entertain readers, offer them a brief moment to rest in the sun, provide them respite from care."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
St. James Guide to Crime and Mystery Writers, 4th edition, St. James Press (Detroit), 1996.
Armchair Detective, fall, 1989, p. 430; fall, 1993, pp. 46-49; winter, 1996, pp. 108-109.
Belles Lettres, summer, 1989, p. 33.
Booklist, August, 1993, p. 2039; August, 1995, Emily Melton, review of Mint Julep Murder, p. 1931; January 1, 1997, Alan Moores, review of Death in Lovers' Lane, p. 825; March 1, 1998, Emily Melton, review of Death in Paradise, p. 1097; September 1, 1998, John Rowen, review of Yankee Doodle Dead, p. 70; January 1, 1999, John Rowen, review of Crime on Her Mind, p. 837; February 15, 1999, Jenny McLarin, review of Death on the River Walk, p. 1045; August, 1999, review of White Elephant Dead, p. 2034; October 15, 2000, Whitney Scott, review of The Rich Die Young, p. 422; January 1, 2001, GraceAnne A. DeCandido, review of Love and Death, p. 925; October 1, 2001, Candace Smith, review of Resort to Murder, p. 342; April 1, 2002, John Rowen, review of April Fool Dead, p. 1309; October 1, 2002, Jenny McLarin, review of Secrets and Other Stories of Suspense, p. 304; February 15, 2003, Sue O'Brien, review of Engaged to Die, p. 1053.
Chattanooga Times, June 26, 1992, p. C6.
Clarion-Ledger (Jackson, MS), July 5, 1992.
Green Bay Press-Gazette, April 28, 2002, "Master of Mysteries Finds Herself in Demand," p. 5.
Island Packet (Hilton Head Island, SC), June 14, 1992.
Kirkus Reviews, June 15, 1991, p. 761; June 15, 1993, p. 753; September 1, 2003, review of Letter from Home, p. 1102.
Kliatt, September, 2003, Nola Theiss, review of Engaged to Die (audiobook), p. 50.
Library Journal, August, 1995, Rex E. Klett, review of Mint Julep Murder, p. 123; December, 1996, Juleigh Muirhead Clark, review of Deadly Valentine, p. 169; January, 1997, Rex E. Klett, review of Death in Lovers' Lane, p. 153; October 1, 1998, Rex E. Klett, review of Yankee Doodle Dead, p. 139; February 1, 1999, Rex E. Klett, review of Crime on Her Mind, p. 125; September 1, 1999, Rex E. Klett, review of White Elephant Dead, p. 236; September 1, 2000, Rex Klett, review of Sugar Plum Dead, p. 255; February 1, 2001, Rex E. Klett, review of Love and Death, p. 128; October 1, 2003, Rex Klett, review of Letter from Home, p. 121.
Nashville Banner, June 13, 1992.
New York Times Book Review, November 23, 2003, Marilyn Stasio, review of Letter from Home.
Pioneer Press (St. Paul, MN), July 15, 1992.
Publisher Weekly, June 19, 1995, review of Mint Julep Murder, p. 52; December 9, 1996, review of Death in Lovers' Lane, p. 62; July 27, 1998, review of Yankee Doodle Dead, p. 56; January 26, 1998, review of Death in Paradise, p. 72; August 9, 1999, review of White Elephant Dead, p. 347; January 25, 1999, review of Death on the River Walk, p. 75; October 2, 2000, review of Sugar Plum Dead, p. 62; November 13, 2000, review of Love and Death, p. 89; March 12, 2001, review of Resort to Murder, p. 66; March 18, 2002, review of April Fool Dead, p. 81; February 17, 2003, review of Engaged to Die, p. 60; September 8, 2003, review of Letter from Home, p. 58; January 12, 2004, Kay Brundidge, "Death on Demand for Fun," interview with Carolyn G. Hart, and review of Murder Walks the Plank.
Carolyn Hart Home Page,http://www.carolynhart.com/ (February 14, 2002), interview with Carolyn Hart.*