Sunday, August 09, 2020
Case Pending by Dell Shannon
In Case Pending, Mendoza is called to the scene of a homicide when his sergeant, Arthur Hackett, suspects the murder of a young woman in the empty lot could be related to an earlier murder in another part of town. Although one woman still had her purse, and the other's purse was found in a separate location, the women weren't robbed. However, the violence done to the bodies, particularly the face, was similar. While these two cases are the ones that occupy Mendoza's time, his team is investigating several different cases.
Case Pending is a straightforward police procedural. However, it's the background and history of the book that is most interesting. Fortunately, that background is provided. According to Carla Hayden, Librarian of Congress, the book was first published in 1960. Elizabeth Linington, who wrote it under the pseudonym Dell Shannon, introduced Luis Mendoza, one of the first Latino detectives to appear in fiction. She goes on to describe him. "Independently wealthy and a snappy dresser, Mexican American homicide Lieutenant Luis Mendoza faces skepticism from his colleagues in the police force." Hayden reminds us that the book was a product of its time, a reflection of the culture that now has "outmoded language and stereotypes now considered offensive." It's important to recognize that this is a reflection of one location and time, while at the same time acknowledging that Linington was also a woman who had the courage to write more than thirty books featuring a Mexican American hero.
According to Leslie S. Klinger, Elizabeth Linington was the first woman to write police procedurals. She wrote four series under three names other than her own; Dell Shannon, Leslie Egan and Anne Blaisdell. The next books that followed Case Pending, The Ace of Spades and Extra Kill, were both nominated for Edgar Awards. Klinger says Case Pending is remarkable for several reasons. The author developed detailed portraits of the police in the story. Luis Mendoza's background as a poor bad who inherited money unexpectedly from a his grandmother is provided, along with his reputation as a gambler, an expert poker player, a sharp dresser who has a reputation with the ladies. Shannon also provides "a clear picture of the victims and their families". Third, she "was among the first to weave together multiple story lines into a tapestry of police activities."
If you read Case Pending in its appropriate historical context, provided by both Hayden and Klinger, it's easier to read the sometimes shocking stereotypes. But, those stereotypes are shocking because they were written, and accepted, sixty years ago. However, it's important to acknowledge the important contributions Elizabeth Linington/Dell Shannon brought to the genre. Library of Congress Crime Classics, with the cultural context provided by Hayden, along with the historical background, footnotes and biographical sketch written by Klinger, recognizes books that are important to the mystery field.
Case Pending by Dell Shannon. Sourcebooks/Poisoned Pen Press, 2020. ISBN 9781464213014 (paperback), 240p.
FTC Full Disclosure - I received a copy from the publisher, in hopes I would review it.