I'm truly sorry to report the death, on Wednesday, of Jessica Mann, a crime writer and reviewer of distinction. It's only a month ago that she played a full part in the Alibis in the Archives weekend, talking with her customary fluency and passion about female crime writing, and then joining a panel of authors for a wide-ranging discussion about the genre. A fortnight ago, she was - as so often - a convivial guest at a Detection Club dinner. And only last week I received a parcel of books from her. It was, therefore, with great shock and much sadness that I heard the news from her daughter Lavinia yesterday.
Jessica lived a full life of high accomplishment, and I’ll remember her with huge affection not just as a talented author but as someone who was always ready, willing, and able to give younger colleagues, myself included, a great deal of help and encouragement. I first met her in the late 1980s, some years after I first read her books, but it's really been in the past ten years that she and I became friends. She followed this blog and emailed me regularly to urge me to keep busy, travelling and writing. We'd even talked recently about collaborating on a book together. She was a great believer in making the most of life, a philosophy that stood her in good stead.
Jessica Mann was educated at St Paul’s Girls’ School and Newnham College, Cambridge, where she studied archaeology, and Leicester University, where she took a degree in law; she became a barrister, but did not practise, although she later served as an employment tribunal member. Over the years, she served as a planning inspector as well as serving on numerous committees – including the CWA committee – and as Secretary of the Detection Club. A week after she completed her finals at Cambridge, she married the distinguished archaeologist and historian Charles Thomas; they had two sons and two daughters. Jessica and Charles lived in Cornwall for many years, but after his death two years ago she came back to London, the city of her birth.
Jessica’s first crime novel, A Charitable End, appeared in 1971; her penultimate book, Dead Woman Walking took her career full circle, as it reintroduced one of the characters from her debut, as well as the psychiatrist Dr Fidelis Berlin, who appeared in a handful of earlier novels, perhaps most memorably the superb A Private Enquiry, which was shortlisted for a CWA Gold Dagger. Her final novel, The Stroke of Death, saw the reappearance of perhaps her most popular character, the archaeologist Tamara Hoyland, after an absence, regretted by many readers, of a quarter of a century.
Jessica’s non-fiction included Deadlier than the Male, an excellent study of female crime writing, and she was in much demand as a journalist and broadcaster from the time she first appeared on Radio 4’s Any Questions in the 1970s; she also featured on Question Time, Start the Week, Stop the Week, and the Round Britain Quiz . For many years, she reviewed crime for the Literary Review. For about fifteen years, she’d coped with Parkinson’s, which must have been very difficult, but her spirit was indomitable. Her life advice to me, regularly repeated and much appreciated, was very simple: “Do it now!” Jessica was, you see, a wise woman as well as a good friend and a fine writer. She will be much missed.