Carter Brown’s Mavis Seidlitz female private eye preceded G. G. Fickling’s (husband and wife team of Gloria and Forest Fickling) Honey West character by a couple of years, with two or even three ‘Mavis’ novels released by the time Honey debuted in This Girl For Hire in 1957.
As the junior partner in Rio Investigations, Mavis is often relegated to receptionist chores for owner Johnny Rio, then finds herself volunteered for undercover duty on most cases: Impersonating a superstar pop singer, pretending to be an endangered heir’s wife or hired as the on-location babysitter to a man-hungry TV series leading lady. Clumsy, clueless and unlike most series private eyes, she isn’t particularly bright. Frankly, she’s kind of ‘daffy and dizzy’ as the books describe her, more likely to literally stumble into jeopardy through sheer klutziness, often solving crimes completely by accident. It was intended to be funny. Fifty years later, it doesn’t necessarily succeed and will inevitably offend some contemporary readers.
No surprise, Mavis manages to lose some or all of her clothes when she’s fleeing killers or captured by thugs…I think this occurs not just once but several times per book (though to be fair, I’ve only really read four Mavis Seidlitz novels and skimmed two others so far). The books’ cover copy always teases that she’s “mad for money and men” or “a curvy blonde who’s heavy on sex, light on sense and sure-fire in a clinch”, but she actually does relatively little cozying up with the many handsome men – good and bad guys alike – who populate the books, which is peculiar, considering all the ‘sexy’ teasing. Even by the later entries in the series during the late 1960’s and into the 70’s, the content is mired in a leering tone that can either seem quaint or awkward and outmoded.
Almost, I said.
More in the next post…