Whodunit, British Library, Crime Classic, Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh, Dorothy L. Sayers

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Harriet Rutland was the pen-name of Olive Shimwell. She was born Olive Seers in 1901, the daughter of a prosperous Birmingham builder and decorator.

Little is known of the author’s early life but in 1926 she married microbiologist John Shimwell, with whom she moved to a small village near Cork in Ireland. This setting, transplanted to Devon, inspired her first mystery novel Knock, Murderer, Knock! which was published in 1938. The second of Harriet Rutland’s mysteries, Bleeding Hooks, came out in 1940, and the third and last, Blue Murder, was published in November 1942. All three novels are remarkable for their black comedy, innovative plots, and pin-sharp portraits of human behaviour, especially concerning relationships between men and women.

Olive and John were divorced in the early forties, and Olive apparently did not publish anything further. She died in Newton Abbot in 1962. Unfortunately there is no known surviving photograph of the author.

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“I think,” said Palk slowly, “there’s a homicidal maniac loose in the Hydro, but who it is, God knows.”

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“Well, tight lines!” they called over their shoulders.

“Bleeding hooks!” grinned the Major.

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That settles it, thought Smith savagely. He shall be murdered, even if I have to do it myself!

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