Mignon G. Eberhart

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Eberhart, Mignon G(ood). (b. 6 July, 1899, d. 8 October,1996); married (1) Alanson C. Eberhart, 1923 (divorced), (2) John P. Hazen Perry, 1946 (divorced 1948); (3) remarried Alanson C. Eberhart, 1948. Mystery writer best known for her unusual detective characters nurse Sarah Keate and sidekick Lance O’Leary, and detective writer Susan Dare. She also contributed stories to popular series such as Rex Stout Mystery and The Saint. See Also: Rinehart, Mary Roberts; Stout, Rex; Woolrich, Cornell.

Born in Lincoln, Nebraska, Eberhart attended Nebraska Wesleyan University (1917-20) and became a journalist before publishing her first novel in 1929. Her writing career spanned almost 70 years, 59 novels, several plays, and many short stories, but she had her greatest successes with detective heroines Sarah Keate and Susan Dare between from the 1930s to the 1950s. She was awarded a D.Litt. by Nebraska Wesleyan University in 1935, was an early champion of the female sleuth and an award-winning writer of suspense and mystery stories.

Sarah Keate first appeared in The Patient in Room 18 in 1929. In this as in later novels the nurse-detective with her private eye sidekick Lance O’Leary must catch a killer to clear Keate of suspicion; the device of having the narrator as prime suspect is an Eberhart specialty. Most of Eberhart’s work sold well, but more successful from a literary point of view are the novels featuring Susan Dare, a mystery writer who uses her analytical skills to solve real mysteries. Because of her female detectives and predictable plotlines Eberhart is often described as “the American Agatha Christie,” but in fact Sarah Keate predates Christie’s own female detective, Miss Marple, who first appeared in 1930. Though Eberhart wrote clue-puzzle mystery stories, the gothic elements of her work are very much in the spirit of her time; similar features appear in the much darker and tougher work of Cornell Woolrich.

Eberhart managed to achieve a remarkable consistency over her long career. She served a term as president of the Mystery Writers of America (1977) and won several awards, including the Scotland Yard Prize, 1930, for While the Patient Slept, the Mystery Writers of America Grand Master award, 1970, and the Malice Domestic Lifetime Achievement Award, 1994. Nine of Eberhart’s novels and stories became movies, including The Patient in Room 18 (novel 1929, film 1938), and The White Cockatoo (novel 1933, film 1935). Eberhart died on 8 October 1996, in Greenwich, Connecticut.

Selected Writings

The Patient in Room 18, 1929.
While the Patient Slept, 1930.
The Mystery of Hunting’s End, 1930.
The White Cockatoo, 1933.
The Dark Garden, 1933.
Postmark Murder, 1936.
Man Missing, 1954.

For More Information

Armchair Detective. (Fall, 1995): p. 415.
New Yorker. (April 7, 1956): p. 164.
New York Times. (October 9, 1996): p. D19. (Obituary).
Saturday Review of Literature. (May 18, 1929): p. 1028; (March 15, 1930): p. 830.
Times Literary Supplement. (June 6, 1929): p. 458; (July 14, 1995): p. 8.
Washington Post. (October 11, 1996): p. B6. (Obituary)

Chris Routledge

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