Invisible Ink No 254: Nedra Tyre

 

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The paperback, published in 1959 by Dell, displays a coquettish girl, almost naked, beneath the caption: “14 lively ladies spin 14 torrid tales of mayhem and murder – The Lethal Sex”.

Typically for the era, this collection of stories by female members of the Mystery Writers of America is edited by a man, John D Macdonald. There’s something hidden and slightly apologetic about these lost lethal ladies, especially in the case of Nedra Tyre. In her earliest photograph she’s elfin, angelic, fragile, with a beatific smile, yet there’s a strange steeliness in her eyes. Born in 1912, the soft-spoken Georgian graduated with a thesis on Mrs Gaskell, and wrote seven novels and more than 40 short stories, most of which were published by Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine.

She worked as a librarian, clerk, advertising copywriter, sociologist and charity worker for very little reward. She read avidly, stored books in her oven, and would only eat in restaurants with linen napkins. She lived austerely, took care of a sick mother, travelled alone and liked teddy bears – the only colour photograph I could find of Tyre shows her and a bear in matching bowler hats and spectacles. She believed you should write 15 minutes every day, knowing that if you managed that you’d soon start writing for longer.

In a time when female writers were condescended to as “lady authors” Tyre penned mystery-suspense tales that have an uncomfortable, even dangerous edge of truth to them. In a recently recovered short story, “A Nice Place To Stay”, the heroine, a saintly girl who always puts others first and asks for little in return, wants nothing more than somewhere nice to rest her head when her work is done. Treated with disdain and even hatred, she discovers that life can be crueller still when she finally gets the little room she always dreamed of – a jail cell. But beneath the concise, compassionate storytelling something else is going on. Looking back at Ms Tyre’s eyes, you start to wonder if you’ve been lied to. The story’s narrator may be more than just unreliable – she may be mad.

Her best novel is Death of an Intruder, an escalating battle of wills between two women that leads to murder. Ms Tyre abandoned writing after becoming completely deaf, and concentrated on charity work. She once said: “Almost everything defeats me and everything amazes me.”

Although she was unable to write a dull sentence, her works are out of print and almost impossible to find.

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