Tuesday 1 March 2011

Barbara Whitehead

I have just learned of the death of Barbara Whitehead, who was a friend and colleague in the northern chapter of the CWA for around 20 years. She was born in 1930 and, sad to say, had been suffering from Alzheimer's disease for some time.

Barbara came to crime fiction late after writing historical romances and non-fiction. Her first crime novel, Playing God, had an interesting background of the York mystery plays. It became the opening entry in her "York cycle of mysteries", which eventually ran to 8 titles spanning a decade of publication. Her main character was Detective Superintendent Bob Southwell and she was especially good at evoking the atmosphere of York Minster and the wonderful old city around it.

I think it is fair to say that Barbara was always rather more interested in character and setting than mere ingenuity of plot, and there was a quiet competence and humanity about her writing. Her second crime novel had the title The Girl in Red Suspenders, which may have prompted expectations in some readers of a racy and melodramatic thriller – but in fact, the book was another soundly constructed story typical of Barbara's mysteries.

In later life, Barbara acquired a fascinating home – the Brontë Birthplace in Thornton, near Bradford. On one memorable occasion she invited the northern crime writers to visit the house. I took my family along and I found it really fascinating. In the end, the upkeep became too much for her, and she lost touch with most of her fellow crime writers. However, I remember Barbara with a good deal of affection and I still cherish a number of her novels which she inscribed to me. Her last crime novel appeared as long ago as 1998, but her work remains well worth reading, especially for anyone who loves the city of York.


Fiona said...

Thank you Martin - those books sound intriguing (I do love York)and I shall look for them. The house at Thornton must have been a fascinating place to visit; somehow one doesn't think of 'ordinary people' living where the great and good have lived, instead of the National Trust or similar preserving them as shrines.

Alzheimer's is a cruel end.

Martin Edwards said...

It was truly fascinating, Fiona, and Barbara will be sadly missed.

lyn said...

I'm sorry to hear this Martin. I enjoyed the York novels very much & I was always interested to read Barbara's reports on the Bronte birthplace in the Bronte Society gazettes.