Picks and Pans Review: Deadlier Than the Male

updated 11/23/1981 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/23/1981 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Jessica Mann

"Why are respectable English women so good at murder?" asks the author of this inquiry into the murder-novel genre. Then she solves the mystery: "Murder and romance, deception and passion, have always been of absorbing interest to those whose own lives lack them." Mann, a crime novelist herself, is a Londoner with degrees in archaeology and law. She obviously also has spent a lifetime reading trash—and loving it. She quotes from Victorian critics who applied to fiction the arguments we hear about the damning effects of television. There is a chapter on why readers can't get enough of detective heroes: "The true hero restores order without doubting that it is right and necessary." But most beguiling are brief biographies of Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, Margery Allingham, Josephine Tey and Ngaio Marsh. Why are their books still in print while many "serious" novels of their era have vanished? Fans of these lady sleuthsayers will enjoy the chatty analysis, but we aren't giving away the ending. (Macmillan, $12.95)

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