Johns, Veronica Parker 1907-1988
JOHNS, Veronica Parker 1907-1988
Born December 28, 1907, in New York, NY; died, April, 1988; married Richard Johns, 1935. Education: Attended Columbia School of Journalism, 1925-26.
Author. Seashells Unlimited, Inc., New York, NY, owner, beginning 1964.
Mystery Writers of America, New York Shell Club (president, 1975).
Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine awards, 1952, 1955, 1956.
She Sells Sea Shells (autobiographical), Funk & Wagnalls (New York, NY), 1968.
Hush, Gabriel!, Duell (New York, NY), 1941.
Shady Doings, Duell (New York, NY), 1941.
The Singing Widow, Duell (New York, NY), 1941.
Murder by the Day, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1953.
Servant's Problem, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1958.
Contributor of short stories to anthologies, including The Queen's Awards 7, edited by Ellery Queen, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1952; The Queen's Awards 10, edited by Ellery Queen, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1955; The Queen's Awards 11, edited by Ellery Queen, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1956; The Saint Magazine Reader, edited by Leslie Charteris and Hans Santesson, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1966; and The Saint's Choice, Hodder & Stoughton (London, England), 1967.
Although Veronica Parker Johns was not a prolific writer, she is remembered for her two mystery novels featuring houseman, landlord, and former actor and singer Webster Flagg. She also wrote several other novels and short stories, and was an active member of the Mystery Writers of America during its formative years. Johns held offices in the newly formed organization and contributed by writing and performing skits presented during the organization's annual awards dinner.
Two of her earlier books chronicle the criminological and romantic adventures of Agatha Prentiss (née Welch). In Hush, Gabriel! Agatha, well on her way to becoming a professional spinster, is invited by her much younger sister, Clotilda, to visit her and her husband on a Caribbean island. When a houseguest is found murdered and suspicion seems to be settling on Clotilda, Agatha gets fully involved with the assistance of Judge Prentiss, also an island resident. Shady Doings has Agatha back in suburban Connecticut, where murder again intrudes. Johns's familiarity with the area is evident in her careful descriptions of places and atmosphere in these books.
Johns's character Webster Flagg has drawn more attention from aficionados of the mystery genre than Agatha Prentiss, however. A cultured man who earned his money as a butler to the upper classes, Webster has invested wisely in securities and real estate. Nevertheless, he still finds it necessary to work occasionally. He therefore finds himself employed as a houseman for the disagreeable Mr. Rutherford, an art collector who is found burned to death in a fireproof chair in Murder by the Day. Webster's key to the flat comes up missing from his key chain, and to avert suspicion he begins investigating the rest of the occupants of the building, finding that all the other residents were either related to the dead man or employed by him in some capacity or other. The police are willing to take all the help they can get in the baffling case. Through eavesdropping during a lobster thermidor dinner party he has prepared and served to the apparent beneficiaries of the Rutherford estate, Webster finds the method, motive, and solution, although not in time to prevent another murder. An unusual will provides a double-twist ending.
Servant's Problem, the second "Webster" novel, has the same setting: a single building full of assorted residents who are up to something, but, in this case, a young woman named Stella, whose father is a friend of Webster's, asks the butler to find out what is going on. The building has been sublet by the owner with the proviso that Stella be retained as the maid. She is later attacked in an apparent mugging while wearing a coat given to her by one of the building's occupants, and Webster takes her place on the job to investigate from within. Another party provides Webster with the necessary clues about what is going on and about what might be buried in the garden.
Besides these two novels, Webster's only other appearance is in the short story "Webster and the Wienerwalz." In addition to her "Webster" and "Agatha" books, Johns also wrote the mystery The Singing Widow, which is about Mona Fenton, a woman widowed only two weeks after her marriage. The Brooklyn-born singer finds herself in a Virginia town named after her late husband's family, and she hires a detective to get details of her bridegroom's death. Johns gave up mystery writing after only five books to run a shop in New York City, which she tells about in the autobiographical She Sells Sea Shells.*