Pat & Jean Abbott

Created by Frances Crane
(1896-1981)

Definitely on the cozier side of the P.I. genre, but enjoyable enough in their own way, and at the time one quite popular.

When JEAN HOLLY married PAT ABBOTT, one of the more interesting married teams of detectives was born. He’s the slightly older, slick and dapper San Francisco gumshoe. He’s well respected, and considered quite the catch. She’s the not-quite-as-bubbleheaded-as-she-seems little wifey running a small antique shop in New Mexico, who has a habit of stumbling into trouble. Also, of doing some of her best thinking while sitting in a bath tub. She also has, it’s revealed as the series progresses, a knack for being kidnapped and/or being knocked out.

They meet “cute” (how could they not?) in the first book, marry in the third and eventually settle down in a Southern mansion in New Orleans, but  in the mean time their adventures take them all over the map. A sort of globetrotting Nick and Nora, Pat and Jean venture to such places as Tangiers (The Coral Princess) and New Mexico (Horror on the Ruby X).

The books were all narrated by Jean, and it’s through her that we are treated to some particularly well described settings and secondary characters; ironically, we never really get to know either her or Pat. Twenty-six novels in all, originally published in England, with a colour in the title of each one, a gimmick neatly scooping John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee by over twenty years. A good mixture of cozy and soft-boiled (in some of the books, they stumble over a body, and others revolve around a case of Pat’s) that proved successful enough to even spawn a radio show.

Those looking for hard-boiled thrills might want to look elsewhere. According to Silk Stalkings (1988), Pat and Jean’s adventures “are of the had-I-but-known school with a dash of romance thrown in for good measure.” You’ve been warned.

And in 2004, plucky little Rue Morgue Press began the ambitious task of reprinting the entire run of the then almost-forgotten Abbott mysteries. Some stellar detective work on the part of Tom and Enid Schantz, revealed in the intro to the series debut, The Turquoise Shop, is worth the price of admission alone.

It seems that Crane was an American writer living in England and Europe who regularly sold pieces to The New Yorker, and moved to Germany in the late thirities, where her outspokeness clashed with the current Nazi regime and eventually lead to her expulsion. Recently divorced, with a college-age daughter, Nancy, in tow and in desperate need of money, she moved back to the States and started writing mysteries, which one of her editors had assured her was a “hot market.” It was certainly hot enough for Crane — she enjoyed a long, productive and successful career, her final mystery published when she was 78 years old, having had a “better run than many women mystery writers of the era… publishing well into the 1960s.”

TRIVIA

  • One of the more interesting facts revealed in the introduction is that Crane’s daughter Nancy became a sculptor and writer, eventually married Black Mask pulp writer Norbert Davis, who committed suicide in 1949 by sitting in a closed garage and running a car’s engine. A few years later, Nancy, now his widow, driving the very same car, was hit by a drunk driver and declared dead on the spot, only to miraculously survive and go on to even have a child several years later.

NOVELS

RADIO

  • ABBOTT MYSTERIES
    (1945-47, Mutual)
    Based on characters created by Frances Crane
    Starring Charles Webster as PAT ABBOTT
    (later replaced by Les Tremayne)
    and Julie Stevens as JEAN ABBOTT
    (later replaced by Alice Reinhart)
    Also starring Jean Ellyn, Sydney Slon, Luis Van Rooten
    A summer replacement show.
Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.

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