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The Vanishing of Carolyn Wells

Published by Post Hill Press
Distributed by Simon & Schuster
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About The Book

The Vanishing of Carolyn Wells is the first biography of one of the “lost ladies” of detective fiction who wrote more than eighty mysteries and hundreds of other works between the 1890s and the 1940s.

Carolyn Wells (1862–1942) excelled at writing country house and locked-room mysteries for a decade before Agatha Christie entered the scene. In the 1920s, when she was churning out three or more books annually, she was dubbed “about the biggest thing in mystery novels in the US.”

On top of that, Wells wielded her pen in just about every literary genre, producing several immensely popular children’s books and young adult novels; beloved anthologies; and countless stories, prose, and poetry for magazines such as Thrilling Detective, Life, The Saturday Evening Post, Harper’s, and The New Yorker. All told, Wells wrote over 180 books. Some were adapted into silent films, and some became bestsellers. Yet a hundred years later, she has been all but erased from literary history. Why? How?

This investigation takes us on a journey to Rahway, New Jersey, where Wells was born and is buried; to New York City’s Upper West Side, where she spent her final twenty-five years; to the Library of Congress, where Carolyn’s world-class collection of rare books now resides; and to many other public and private collections where exciting discoveries unfolded.

Part biography and part sleuthing narrative, The Vanishing of Carolyn Wells recovers the life and work of a brilliant writer who was considered one of the funniest, most talented women of her time.

About The Author

Rebecca Rego Barry is a writer and editor who lives in New York’s Hudson Valley. Her articles and essays about books, history, and collectibles have appeared in Financial Times, Literary Hub, CrimeReads, Atlas Obscura, Lapham’s Quarterly, Smithsonian Magazine, The Guardian, The Public Domain Review, Fine Books Magazine, and elsewhere. Her first book, Rare Books Uncovered: True Stories of Fantastic Finds in Unlikely Places, was published in 2015.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Post Hill Press (February 13, 2024)
  • Length: 256 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781637588505

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Raves and Reviews

“Barry scours libraries and databases to find documentation of Wells’s life, which led to contacting the author’s great-niece for interviews. Overall, Barry’s persistent research shows how Wells’s sheer force of will enabled her to use parody to compete and thrive in a literary field dominated by men, such as Mark Twain, and establish a successful career as a young adult and mystery novelist and film and stage writer.”

– Library Journal, Starred Review

The Vanishing of Carolyn Wells is a remarkably compelling narrative about this astonishingly prolific author who had great success in numerous genres. While I have never been a great fan of Ms. Wells’s mystery novels, the sprightly and perceptive prose of Rebecca Rego Barry’s worthwhile study has convinced me to give her another try."

– Otto Penzler, proprietor of The Mysterious Bookshop

“Through her skillful and delightful first-person narration, Rebecca Rego Barry, a bibliophile and rare book expert, unravels the mysteries surrounding Carolyn Wells’s lost legacy. With meticulous research and intriguing insights, Barry offers a gripping portrait of a literary luminary whose impact has been all but erased. A poignant reminder of the transient nature of fame and the enduring power of rediscovery, Wells’s enigmatic disappearance from literary history will captivate you.”

– Laurie Gwen Shapiro, author of The Stowaway: A Young Man’s Extraordinary Adventure to Antarctica

“An engrossing biography that reads like a detective novel. Author Rebecca Rego Barry takes readers on a riveting journey to reveal the extraordinary life of Carolyn Wells, a 20th century mystery writer who penned more than 150 books. This book is a gift to all of us who want to see more women’s legacies reclaimed, nurtured, and shared.”

– Allison Gilbert, co-author, Listen, World!: How the Intrepid Elsie Robinson Became America’s Most-Read Woman

“Carolyn Wells was an important successor to Anna Katharine Green, the ‘mother’ of American crime fiction, and Wells’s large body of work deserves reappraisal. Her 1913 Technique of the Mystery Story was a milestone in the study of the genre, and even if it were not suffused with her love of Sherlock Holmes, it is profitable reading today. Thank you, Rebecca Rego Barry, for bringing Ms. Wells back into the spotlight!”

– Leslie S. Klinger, editor, New Annotated Sherlock Holmes and series editor of the Library of Congress Crime Classics

“While The Vanishing of Carolyn Wells is certainly a useful corrective to our often male-dominated literary and cultural histories, it is simultaneously a highly personal work. Composed in the manner of A.J.A. Symons’s classic The Quest for Corvo, Barry makes the book very much an account of herself and how she went about these 'investigations into a forgotten mystery author.'”

– The Washington Post

“It is a pleasure to watch Ms. Barry at work, creating her own detective story and much suspense as she writes to booksellers, examines the inscriptions in Wells’s books strewn around the country, draws on the research of scholars... and interviews a few Wells family members who have remnants of her possessions and a few dim memories of her.”

– New York Sun

“[A]n engrossing journey into Wells’s life and work and a thoughtful examination of why and how bestselling writers like Wells can vanish from our memories.”

– Saturday Evening Post

“Equally key to this book’s success is the fact that its author is an interesting person and an entertaining writer. Barry has made the unusual decision to center the book not only on what she learned about Wells but also on how she went about learning it. We see her searching digitized archives and visiting the homes of Wells’ relatives. We watch her get lost in the basement of the Library of Congress and listen to her justify several antiquarian-book purchases. (In one of her many tongue-in-cheek footnotes, Barry reminds herself that she’s supposed to be researching, not collecting.)”

– John P. Loonam, Washington Independent Review of Books

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