Rowlands, Betty 1923-
Rowlands, Betty 1923-
Born October 6, 1923.
Crime Writers Association.
Winner of the Sunday Express/Veuve Clicquot Crime Short Story of the Year competition.
"MELISSA CRAIG" SERIES
A Little Gentle Sleuthing, Hodder & Stoughton (London, England), 1990, Walker (New York, NY), 1991.
Finishing Touch, Hodder & Stoughton (London, England), 1991, Walker (New York, NY), 1992.
Over the Edge, Hodder & Stoughton (London, England), 1992, Walker (New York, NY), 1993.
Exhaustive Enquiries, Hodder & Stoughton (London, England), 1993, Walker (New York, NY), 1994.
Malice Poetic, Hodder & Stoughton (London, England), 1995.
Deadly Legacy, Hodder & Stoughton (London, England), 1995.
Smiling at Death, Hodder & Stoughton (London, England), 1996.
The Cherry Pickers, Hodder & Stoughton (London, England), 1998.
The Man at the Window, Hodder & Stoughton (London, UK), 2000.
The Fourth Suspect, Hodder & Stoughton (London, England), 2001.
No Laughing Matter, Hodder & Stoughton (London, England), 2003.
Sweet Venom, Hodder & Stoughton (London, England), 2003.
"SUKEY REYNOLDS" SERIES
An Inconsiderate Death, Severn House (Sutton, England), 1997.
Death at Dearley Manor, Severn House (Sutton, England), 1998.
Copycat, Severn House (Sutton, England), 1999.
Touch Me Not, Severn House (Sutton, England), 2001.
Dirty Work, Severn House (Sutton, England), 2003.
Deadly Obsession, Severn House (Sutton, England), 2004.
Party to Murder, Severn House (Sutton, England), 2005.
Alpha, Beta, Gamma … Dead, Severn House (Sutton, England), 2007.
A Hive of Bees, Severn House (Sutton, England), 1996.
Author of the "Management English" series of case studies used for teaching English to non-English-speaking businessmen.
Betty Rowlands is a British author and the creator of two series. Melissa Craig's life very much resembles her creator's. Melissa moved from London to the country while she was in her forties, and she is a crime writer. On her Web site Rowlands notes that when she began writing the first novel, A Little Gentle Sleuthing, "Melissa just seemed to walk into my head, complete with her past history, her problems, her strengths and weaknesses, her son Simon, her eccentric neighbour Iris Ash and agent Joe Martin. DCI Ken Harris, who features in many of the titles in the series, appeared on the scene a little later. Like Kipling's elephant's child, we both have an insatiable curiosity, although I'm thankful that I've never been in the kind of scary situations in which Melissa finds herself."
For over thirty years Rowlands lived in Gloustershire in the Cotswolds, a range of hills in west-central England, sometimes referred to as the "Heart of England." Melissa also lives in the Cotswolds in a town called Upper Benbury. In A Little Gentle Sleuthing, she has just moved into a cottage and has yet to finish unpacking when she receives a telephone call from a man asking that Babs meet him. Before Melissa can explain his mistake, he hangs up, and she learns from a neighbor that Babs Carter, who had worked at a nearby strip joint, had mysteriously disappeared a year earlier. Thinking that this circumstance might inspire a new story, Melissa investigates and meets reporter Bruce Ingram, who is certain Babs was murdered. Melissa's doubts are removed when the woman's decomposed body is discovered in the woods. Publishers Weekly reviewer Sybil Steinberg concluded: "Rowlands deftly intertwines the strands of Melissa's own mystery plot with the events in the village … to produce a satisfying story."
A Publishers Weekly contributor commented that the next book, Finishing Touch, "confirms Melissa as a modernized (and younger) Miss Marple," and noted that this series contains modest amounts of sex, profanity, and bloodshed. Melissa and her artist friend Iris Ash attend commencement ceremonies at Ravenswood College of Art and Design, where they witness an artist viciously slashing his portrait of Angelica Caroli, who is later found stabbed to death.
In Over the Edge, Iris is teaching a workshop on a French estate, and Melissa is nearby researching a novel. Before the friends can return to the Cotswolds, two bodies surface in a story whose secondary characters include two Englishwomen, several Germans, and a French gentleman. The history of the plot reaches back to the Nazi occupation of France and a conspiracy that took place during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
A Publishers Weekly contributor commented that the plot of Exhaustive Enquiries "is plumped up considerably by likable Melissa and her coterie of friends." Millionaire Richard Mitchell asks Melissa to write a murder mystery script for a production to be performed in his Heyshill Manor Hotel on Halloween. During a rehearsal, a friend dies from a fall down the cellar stairs, and it may not have been an accident.
The next several "Melissa Craig" titles are Malice Poetic, Deadly Legacy, Smiling at Death, and The Cherry Pickers. A young girl is found drowned in The Man at the Window, and the prime suspect is Graham Shipley, a teacher who has come to the Cotswolds to make a fresh start after his recent divorce. When he asks Melissa for help, she discovers that this is not just a murder but part of a more complex web threatening the village.
The Fourth Suspect finds Melissa investigating the murder of her father, and the fingerprints of the mother she hasn't seen in thirty years are found on the murder weapon. Melissa's mother, Sylvia, is staying at Framleigh House, where the calm is disrupted when two cases of food poisoning prove fatal in No Laughing Matter. Like her daughter, Sylvia adeptly collects clues, then presents them to Melissa, who finds them to be compelling in indicating that the poisonings were actually murder. Poisonings of a different sort claim the victims in Sweet Venom, in which retired lawyer Aidan Cresney is killed by the stings of his own bees. When another member of his family dies in a similar manner, Melissa begins to investigate and discovers hidden secrets.
When Rowlands felt the need for a character who would be more involved with the crimes around which her stories are written, she created a new character. Sukey Reynolds, a thirty-year-old divorced woman with a teenage son, was a police officer before her marriage and became a Scenes of Crime Officer limited to collecting evidence. She continues to be drawn into the search for the criminals, however, which exposes her to danger and the disapproval of Detective Inspector Jim Castle, who is also her lover. The first books of this new series are An Inconsiderate Death and Death at Dearley Manor,
Touch Me Not, involves the deaths of two people at Release Your Creative Energy, a New Age retreat, and Dirty Work features a very gory murder.
Deadly Obsession finds Sukey helping the fiancée and daughter of Arthur Soames, whose death the police deem an accident. His family believes it was murder, and the more Sukey digs into his past, the more she is inclined to agree. She puts her own life in considerable danger as she pursues the murderer in Party to Murder.
Sukey is promoted in Alpha, Beta, Gamma … Dead, but her suspicions about the stabbing of an archaeologist recently returned from Greece go unheeded and she is taken off the case. Undaunted, she proceeds until she proves her hunch to be correct. A Kirkus Reviews contributor concluded: "A pleasant distaff addition to the ranks of the British procedural."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, April 1, 1997, Margaret Flanagan, review of A Hive of Bees, p. 1280; May 1, 2001, John Rowen, review of Touch Me Not, p. 1640; December 1, 2004, Emily Melton, review of Deadly Obsession, p. 640; December 1, 2005, Emily Melton, review of Party to Murder, p. 29; May 1, 2007, "Betty Rowlands," p. 41.
Kirkus Reviews, May 1, 2007, review of Alpha, Beta, Gamma … Dead.
Library Journal, February 1, 1991, Rex E. Klett, review of A Little Gentle Sleuthing, p. 108; February 1, 1992, Rex E. Klett, review of Finishing Touch, p. 129.
Publishers Weekly, January 25, 1991, Sybil Steinberg, review of A Little Gentle Sleuthing, p. 49; January 1, 1992, review of Finishing Touch, p. 49; March 22, 1993, review of Over the Edge, p. 74; March 28, 1994, review of Exhaustive Enquiries, p. 87; May 28, 2001, review of Touch Me Not, p. 53; August 25, 2003, review of Dirty Work, p. 43.
Betty Rowlands Home Page,http://www.bettyrowlands.com (January 22, 2008).
Tangled Web UK,http://www.twbooks.co.uk/ (January 2, 2008) profile.