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Macdonald, Marianne 1934–

Macdonald, Marianne 1934–


Born July 9, 1934, in Kenora, Ontario, Canada; daughter of W. Gordon (a railway employee) and Mildred M. (a homemaker) Macdonald; married Erik Korn (an antiquarian bookseller), 1958 (divorced, 1998); children: David, Andrew. Education: McGill University, B.A., 1954; Oxford University, B.Litt., 1956; University of Keele, Ph.D., 1968. Politics: "Green Left." Hobbies and other interests: Theater, travel, the arts, education.


Agent—J. Korn, David Higham Associates, 5-8 Lower John St., London W1R 4HA, England. E-mail—[email protected]


University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, lecturer in English, 1960-62; University of Keele, Newcastle, England, lecturer in American studies, 1964-69; Middlesex Polytechnic, London, England, principal lecturer in English, 1972-86; writer, 1986—.


British Actors Equity Association, Crime Writers Association, Sisters in Crime, Crime Writers of Canada.


Woodrow Wilson fellowship, 1954-55.



Black Bass Rock, Macmillan (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1952.

Smugglers Cove, Macmillan (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1955.

The Treasure of Ur, Macmillan (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1958.

The Pirate Queen, Barron's (Hauppauge, NY), 1991.

The Eighty Nine Pennies of Emma Jones, Heinemann (London, England), 1992, published as Dragon for Sale, Troll (New York, NY), 1998.

The Witch Repair, Heinemann (London, England), 1995.


Death's Autograph, Hodder & Stoughton (London, England), 1996, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1997.

Ghost Walk, Hodder & Stoughton (London, England), 1997, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1998.

Smoke Screen, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1999.

Road Kill, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2000.

Blood Lies, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2001.

Die Once, Thomas Dunne Books (New York, NY), 2003.

Faking It, Severn House Publishers (Sutton, Surrey, England), 2006.

Three Monkeys, Severn House Publishers (Sutton, Surrey, England), 2007.


Liar, Liar, produced in London, England, at Etcetera Theatre, 1993.

In the Company of Strangers, produced in London, at Tristan Bates Theatre, 1996.


(Editor) The State of Literary Theory Today, Middlesex Press (London, England), 1982.

Ezra Pound: purpose/form/meaning, Pembridge Press (London, England), 1983.

(Editor) Ezra Pound and History, University of Maine Press (Orono, ME), 1985.


Marianne Macdonald got her literary start as a young adult writing children's books. She then moved into plays and academic writing, and finally established herself as a popular mystery novelist. Death's Autograph, Macdonald's first novel, features Dido Hoare, a seller of antique books, newly divorced from Davey Winner, an artistic con man. Dido is beset by a series of frightening events: a car tailgates her, her bookshop is burglarized, and her father, Barnabas, receives a menacing letter. Before long, two people with links to Dido and Barnabas are murdered. Police are sent to investigate, but Dido and Barnabas also work to discover the identity of the killers.

Library Journal reviewer Rex E. Klett called Macdonald's first mystery "a solid, satisfying mix of amateur and police investigation." "Macdonald's lucid, irony edged, unfussy narration makes antique book lore interesting even to the uninitiated," concluded a Kirkus Reviews writer, labeling Dido a "charmingly offbeat heroine." Times Literary Supplement declared "the involvement of Dido and Barnabas is so skillfully handled that the wild unlikeliness of their dealings … is almost easy to swallow." A Publishers Weekly reviewer called Death's Autograph "deftly plotted" and "cleverly resolved." The reviewer deemed the character of Barnabas "the most memorable character" in the book.

Dido Hoare reappears in Macdonald's second mystery, Ghost Walk. In this book, Dido and Barnabas are drawn into finding the killer of a homeless acquaintance. A Publishers Weekly reviewer stated, "Smart and tenacious, the narrating Dido is an entertaining guide to the world of antiquities—and to her own very modern adventures." Natasha Cooper, writing in the Times Literary Supplement, commented that "the plot is well constructed." Cooper also praised "Dido, whose character and relationships … are what give this tale of skullduggery in the world of antiquarian books its particular charm."

Macdonald continued to chronicle Dido and Barnabas's crime investigations in several other books, including Die Once, Faking It, and Three Monkeys. In Die Once, the sixth title in the series, one of Dido's steady customers dies under suspicious circumstances. He had seemed affluent, yet his last check to Dido failed to clear the bank. The dead man's lawyers allow her entry to his apartment, thinking that she will be able to find the expensive volume he had bought, and reclaim it. Investigating his home, Dido is shocked to find that despite the fact that he had seemed to be a wealthy collector, he has no books of any value on his shelves. Futhermore, she begins to suspect that his death, an apparent suicide, was really a murder. A Kirkus Reviews writer commented: "Crisp dialogue and just enough London mise-en-scene give Macdonald a leg up on her competitors."

Faking It finds Dido in possession of a puzzling and dangerous manuscript. She is paid to keep it in her safe until it is sold, but the man who made the deal with her meets sudden death, and Dido then finds herself under scrutiny from the police and a mysterious stalker. In this story, Macdonald "persuasively captures the obsessive avidity of the true collector," commented a Kirkus Reviews contributor.

The author produced a somewhat grimmer tale than usual with Three Monkeys. The plot, described by Emily Melton in Booklist as "grim but gripping," concerns a ring of criminals who deal in human body parts, and a teenager involved with the gang who seeks refuge with Dido. The warm depiction of the relationship between Dido and Barnabas provides counterpoint to the sordid crimes detailed in the case, which is recommended by Melton as "another spirited adventure."

Macdonald told CA: "I have been writing books for fifty years, starting with a 20,000-word children's book of magical adventure the summer I turned twelve. I write for my own satisfaction, about things that I have thought, read, and experienced; and therefore all my writing could be described as autobiographical. I write because I love words and constructing whole things with words.

"I see many literary influences on my work. My first published children's novels were deeply influenced by the English children's author, Arthur Ransome. In a more general sense, I would say that my adult fiction is influenced by a number of American novelists from the twenties onwards, from genre writers like Raymond Chandler to mainstream novelists like Scott Fitzgerald. In my writing of murder mysteries, I would say that the main influence has been Sara Paretsky.

"The impulse for my writing is very visual, and the seeds of a book are often contained in an image of a place, with people moving in it: for example, a woman driving alone at night through an unfamiliar countryside, and finding herself being stalked by strangers in another car. I go through a slow process of developing my main characters, and then plotting a story in which I attempt to explore their motives and emotions.

"I write nowadays on an Apple Macintosh which I find friendly, and I can distract myself by picking up my e-mail. When I am actually writing, I tend to work from about 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and I often return to the text in the evening to make revisions. When I'm not writing, I am mulling over situations, characters, ideas—often while I am driving or walking the dogs. In the morning, I often wake up with a whole set of new ideas or answers to old problems in what I have written the previous day; I keep a pen and notebook by the bed. The last phase of writing, after the inspiration and the plotting and the writing and polishing, is to go through my work and attempt to cut out every useless word; I aim to reduce the length of any book by at least two or three percent at the final revision.

"What inspires me to choose the subjects that I do? Well, I start with an idea—a mixture of theme, character and situation—and find the subject matter as I write."



Booklist, September 1, 1997, GraceAnne A. DeCandido, review of Death's Autograph, p. 66; May 1, 2003, GraceAnne A. DeCandido, review of Die Once, p. 1548; May 1, 2005, Emily Melton, review of Three Monkeys, p. 1528.

Kirkus Reviews, October 1, 1997, review of Death's Autograph; April 15, 2003, review of Die Once, p. 576; April 15, 2005, review of Three Monkeys, p. 454; November 1, 2006, review of Faking It, p. 1103.

Library Journal, October 1, 1997, Rex Klett, review of Death's Autograph, pp. 129-130.

Publishers Weekly, August 25, 1997, review of Death's Autograph, p. 49; November 9, 1998, review of Ghost Walk, p. 60.

Times Literary Supplement, August 16, 1996, review of Death's Autograph, p. 24; August 15, 1997, Natasha Cooper, review of Ghost Walk, p. 21.

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