Whitney, Phyllis A. (1903—)

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Whitney, Phyllis A. (1903—)

Popular American author of romantic suspense novels . Born Phyllis Ayame Whitney on September 9, 1903, in Yokohama, Japan; daughter of Charles Whitney (a businessman) and Mary (Mandeville) Whitney; graduated from McKinley High School, Chicago, 1924; married George A. Garner, in 1925 (divorced 1945); married Lovell F. Jahnke, in 1950 (died 1973); children: one daughter, Georgia.

Selected writings:

A Place for Ann (1941); Red Is for Murder (1943); The Silver Inkwell (1945); Writing Juvenile Fiction (1947); Ever After (1948); Mystery of the Black Diamonds (1954); The Quicksilver Pool (1955); The Moonflower (1958); Mystery of the Haunted Pool (1960); Mystery of the Hidden Hand (1963); Black Amber (1964); Sea Jade (1965); Columbella (1966); The Winter People (1969); Nobody Likes Trina (1972); The Golden Unicorn (1976); The Stone Bull (1977); Rainbow in the Mist (1989); Amethyst Dreams (1997).

Born in 1903 in Yokohama, Japan, to American parents, Phyllis A. Whitney spent portions of her childhood living with her family in the Philippines and China until her father's death when she was 15. Together with her widowed mother Mary Mandeville Whitney , Phyllis continued to lead a nomadic existence upon her return to the United States, spending time in both San Antonio, Texas, and California. After the death of her mother, Whitney—then in her late teens—was placed in the care of an aunt in Chicago, where she completed her high school education.

Financial circumstances forced her to begin working immediately after high school graduation. Whitney took a job in the children's book department of a Chicago department store, continuing to work there until her first short story was accepted by the Chicago Daily News in 1928. During World War II, Whitney began her reign as one of the best-known American writers of romantic suspense in the latter half of the 20th century, a field otherwise dominated by British authors such as Mary Stewart , Victoria Holt (Eleanor Hibbert ), and Dorothy Eden .

Whitney's long career of writing for young people and adults produced more than 75 novels, a number of articles on the writing of fiction, and several textbooks for would-be writers of fiction. Although she wrote her first adult book, Red is for Murder, in 1943, it was not until the publication

of The Quicksilver Pool in 1955 that she began writing regularly for adults. Over the years she evolved a particular form of romantic suspense novel, the family mystery, in which both the plot and the setting are thoroughly entwined in a complex history of sinister family feuds and secrets. Reflecting her international upbringing, Whitney made exotic or out-of-the-way settings a central part of her stories. Her novels alternate between foreign or American locales such as Turkey, Japan, Great Britain, Norway, the Caribbean, the Blue Ridge Mountains, or the Catskills. Although, or perhaps because, the books follow a fairly strict formula, usually involving a young woman who must solve an old family mystery before she can find safety, happiness, and love with a good man whom initially she distrusted, they were hugely popular with readers throughout Whitney's career.

After living in Chicago for several years, Whitney moved to New York in the late 1940s. A marriage in 1925 had finally ended in divorce, leaving her to care for her daughter, Gloria , with whom she would share her love of travel and the Massachusetts coast. Whitney also edited children's book review pages for both the Chicago Sun and the Philadelphia Inquirer, and taught writing courses at Northwestern University in 1945 and New York University from 1947 to 1958, despite never having had the opportunity to earn a degree herself. Mystery of the Haunted Pool (1960) and Mystery of the Hidden Hand (1963) each won her an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America, while many of her other novels were propelled by their popularity into several printings. In 1997, at age 94, Whitney published her 76th book, Amethyst Dreams.


McHenry, Robert, ed. Famous American Women. NY: Dover, 1980.

Mote, Dave, ed. Contemporary Popular Writers. Detroit, MI: St. James Press, 1997.

Pamela Shelton , freelance writer, Avon, Connecticut

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Whitney, Phyllis A. (1903—)

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