HENRY KUTTNER. The Murder of Ann Avery (1956).

21 Feb

MurderAnnAvery.jpgBriskly, in polished workaday fashion, Kuttner tells the story of Ann Avery, a passionate woman in early middle age who one night arouses the wrong kind of passion, and of Eddie Udall, a troubled kid who stands accused of murdering her. Around them lie a clutch of associates who make for plausible alternative suspects: Ann’s uptight pillar-of-the-community husband, Eddie’s down-on-her-luck drug-addict mother, the kindly and ostensibly clueless couple who serve as Eddie’s foster parents, a teacher who takes an unusual interest in both Ann and Eddie, and a pair of mixed-up teens who have taken refuge in gang activity and drugs. Filling the role of detective is psychoanalyst Michael Gray, a smart and compassionate yet oddly colorless fellow who combines traditional shoe-leather sleuthing with a keen awareness of the ways that people unwittingly reveal character and motive. His own motivation stems from a concern for Eddie and his cohorts that clearly arises from the zeitgeist of the mid-1950s, the period of Blackboard Jungle and Rebel Without a Cause. Kuttner, to his credit, exploits the then-current anxiety about “juvenile delinquency” without tilting too far in the direction of either faddish alarmism or facile sympathy. Instead, he produces a tale of frustrated desires and ancient family secrets that prefigures—in rudimentary form and in occasionally over-earnest tones—the novels that Ross Macdonald would write in the 1960s.

[ADDENDUM: While preparing this post, I discovered that Haffner Press plans to issue an omnibus edition that includes all four titles in the Michael Gray series. According to the Amazon page devoted to the book, The Michael Gray Mysteries will come this summer (July 2013). Intriguingly, the cover of the new omnibus cites two authors—not just Kuttner, but also Catherine L. Moore. She was Kuttner’s wife, and the couple did collaborate on writing works of fantasy and science fiction (the genres with which both of them are most closely associated), but I’ve seen nothing else that indicates her co-authorship of the Gray novels.]


Posted by on February 21, 2013 in American, Novel, Puzzle


4 responses to “HENRY KUTTNER. The Murder of Ann Avery (1956).

  1. John

    February 21, 2013 at 11:36 AM

    I’ve only read Murder of a Wife which took me a long time to find. It’s apparently very scarce as are most of these Michael Gray books. But I didn’t find much that was exciting. I see some of the Michael Gray titles pop up on lists of notable and worthwhile books. It just didn’t click with me. Maybe I missed something that others will see as more obvious. I just saw it as another tale of murder, adultery and deception. Your Macdonald analogy is apt. But the psychological angle didn’t seem all that new when you recall that Helen McCloy, who wrote a decade before Kuttner, basically accomplished the same thing with Basil Willing as Kuttner does with Gray. And her books have some spark and originality to them when applying a psychologist’s skills to the detection of crime.

  2. Mike

    February 21, 2013 at 12:46 PM

    Hi, John. I also have (but haven’t read) the “Wife” book. Garland issued it back in the 1980s as part of the Barzun-Taylor “50 Classics of Crime Fiction” series, and I managed to snag an ex-lib copy somewhere along the way. In any event, I gather that your verdict on that novel and mine on this one are similar enough: It’s a competent effort, but nothing special. I would distinguish, though, between McCloy’s earlier use of the psychoanalytic-sleuth trope and Kuttner’s use thereof. I’m a huge McCloy fan, in part because of her commitment to old-style hard detection. Basil Willing focuses on using psychological techniques to solve crimes—whereas Michael Gray (like Lew Archer) comes across as more of a priest-like figure. He specializes in moral insight, rather than practical insight.

  3. Cavershamragu

    February 22, 2013 at 6:38 AM

    Great review Mike and I’m very envious as I’m a huge fan of the Kuttner science fiction books (which also appeared under a dozen or so pseudonyms, most prominent of which were Lawrence O’Donnell and Lewis Padgett) but have never come across any of the mystery books. I know with the SF stuff the asumption was that they were all pretty much husband-and-wife collaborations to one degree or another fromt he early 40s. I’m glad to hear the omnibus edition is still due because it was first advertised about 2 years ago! I’ve been dutifully checking every few months but had started to think it would never happen.

  4. Mike

    February 22, 2013 at 9:30 AM

    Thanks again for commenting, Sergio. Maybe the new omnibus edition will include an intro that explains how Kuttner and Moore did, in fact, write these mysteries together (much as they wrote a lot of SF together). Just because Amazon says that the book will be out in July doesn’t mean that it will actually come out then—but it does seem that it will appear eventually.


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