Stark House Press have recently reprinted two Tyre novels in one volume, Death of an Intruder (1954) and Twice So Fair (1971), along with an introduction by Curtis Evans. Tyre's name was new to me, but thankfully this twofer served as a wonderful introduction to this talented author. Billed as “suspense classics”, both of these novels deliver deeply embedded mysteries that are ratcheted up to higher levels of tension and psychological edginess that is similar to Elizabeth Fenwick (real name Elizabeth Phillips) or Margaret Millar.
The better of the two novels, Death of an Intruder, introduces readers to Miss Allison, a middle-aged woman who strives for independence after the death of her aunt. Allison finds a charming house, purchases the home, and begins a solitary life of enjoyment and simplicity. However, her bliss is short-lived when an elderly woman, Miss Withers, knocks on her door and invites herself in. After complaining about a rainstorm, Withers begs to stay the night. Allison, a quiet, non-confrontational individual, agrees to allow her uninvited guest to sleep on the sofa. The next morning, Allison is horrified to learn that Withers hasn't left. And she never will.
Through 150ish pages, Allison must contend with an unwanted roommate that violates her sanctity. As the narrative grips readers, Allison learns that Withers may have killed her pet, ruined her relationship with a prospective boyfriend and close friend, and alienated her from the life she once enjoyed. Debating on how to rid herself of the woman, Allison's only choice may be murder.
Like Allison's introspective problems within her own home, Twice So Fair presents a recent widow, Rosalind, learning about her late husband's mysterious involvement with one of his students. Both of them were found dead in a college studio, but what was their relationship? As Rosalind contends with the loss of her husband, and the obligatory affairs of dissolving a happily married lifestyle by unforeseen circumstances, she is thrust into a mystery when a stranger invades her home. In a darkened room, the man confesses to be an estranged friend of the student found dead beside Rosalind's husband, and begins a conversational journey explaining his orphaned upbringing and potential “six degrees of separation” from Rosalind's life. But, could this uninvited stranger be a killer?
Nedra Tyre is a phenomenal storyteller, and it pains me to know that I've now read nearly half of her novels. I'm surprised, and disappointed, that she didn't write more full-lengths, but due to publisher issues in her late career, she was submerged into the short story market. Her perspectives on life, literary work, social inadequacies, marital harmony, and paranoia are center-stage attractions of these novels. It's nearly uncanny how well she can enter the minds of the characters she creates.
According to Twentieth Century Crime and Mystery Writers, Tyre had a niche for “superbly handled suspense”, evident with these novels and her short stories “Locks Won't Keep You Out” (1978, Ellery Queen's Napoleons of Mystery) and “On Little Cat Feet” (1976, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine). I enjoyed her characterizations of both protagonists, with Allison and Rosalind sharing similar outlooks – as dreary as they may be. Interesting enough, there is a sense of wrongdoing on the part of supporting characters, those acquaintances of both Allison and Rosalind. When the support system is most needed, both intimately and professionally, it fails these less-than-confident protagonists. It was clever plotting and development by Tyre to force these characters into independent (irrational?) action.
If you are new to Nedra Tyre, then by all means this twofer is highly recommended. In general, if you are new to female mystery and suspense writers, Stark House Press have an abundance of long-forgotten, entertaining classics by the likes of Mary Collins, Helen Nielsen, Dolores Hitchens, Ruth Wallis, and Jean Potts to name a few.