Sprague, Gretchen 1926-2003

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Sprague, Gretchen 1926–2003

(Gretchen Burnham)

PERSONAL: Born March 26, 1926, in Lincoln, NE; died October 18, 2003; daughter of Archer L. (an educator) and Cecilia (Hoehne) Burnham; married Elmer D. Sprague, Jr. (a professor of philosophy), June 22, 1948; children: Emily, Jennifer, Timothy, Gilbert. Education: University of Nebraska, B.A., 1947; Columbia University School of Law, J.D., 1975.

CAREER: University of Nebraska, Lincoln, instructor in English, 1947–48; Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation, attorney, 1975–86.

AWARDS, HONORS: Edgar, and Best Juvenile Mystery of the Year Award, Mystery Writers of America, both 1967, both for Signpost to Terror.



Death in Good Company, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1997.

Maquette for Murder, St. Martin's Minotaur (New York, NY), 2000.

Murder in a Heat Wave, Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin's Minotaur (New York, NY), 2003.


A Question of Harmony, Dodd, Mead, 1965.

Signpost to Terror (young adult), Dodd, Mead, 1967.

White in the Moon, Dodd, Mead, 1968.

Death by Thunder, Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin's Minotaur (New York, NY), 2005.

SIDELIGHTS: The late Gretchen Sprague was an attorney who spent her post-retirement years working on environmental issues in Philipstown, New York, where she lived for the last sixteen years of her life. Sprague was also an author of novels, including her "Martha Patterson" mysteries. Her last two books in this series are Maquette for Murder, and Murder in a Heat Wave.

In the former, her protagonist, a retired New York attorney, becomes involved in the attack on an artist friend, the death of her assistant, and the theft of a fabric sculpture. David Pitt noted in Booklist that Martha, like J.D. Fletcher (Murder She Wrote) and Miss Marple, is in her sixties. He described her as "a nifty character—outspoken, charming, and intelligent." He noted that Sprague is not afraid to use the occasional four-letter word and commented that her stories have a "gritty, real-world flavor." Murder in a Heat Wave finds Martha being asked to represent her neighbors in their Greenwich Village building after the air conditioning fails. The heat becomes the least of their troubles, however, when the board president is found dead. Library Journal reviewer Rex E. Klett wrote that this story "will enthrall readers."

Death by Thunder is the first book in a proposed series, but Sprague died shortly after completing it. The protagonist is Janet Upton, a recent divorcee who has returned home to upstate New York to run a gallery. Janet's uncle, a councilman who fell to his death from a cliff, has left her a piece of property that is connected to another death and a real estate transaction that may be threatened by environmental considerations. In reviewing Sprague's final novel, Klett wrote that "its clean prose, straightforward plotting, and good story recommend it."



Booklist, January 1, 2000, David Pitt, review of Maquette for Murder, p. 886.

Kirkus Reviews, January 15, 2003, review of Murder in a Heat Wave, p. 115; August 15, 2005, review of Death by Thunder, p. 887.

Library Journal, February 1, 2000, Rex E. Klett, review of Maquette for Murder, p. 121; February 1, 2003, Rex E. Klett, review of Murder in Heat Wave, p. 121; November 1, 2005, Rex E. Klett, review of Death by Thunder, p. 55.

Publishers Weekly, February 7, 2000, review of Maquette for Murder, p. 68; September 5, 2005, review of Death by Thunder, p. 38.


Best Reviews, http://thebestreviews.com/ (October 15, 2002), Harriet Klausner, review of Death by Thunder.

Mystery Reader, http://www.themysteryreader.com/ (February 13, 2006), Jeri Wright, review of Death in Good Company.



New York Times, October 22, 2003.