Pulp Review: Murder at the White House
A Female Protagonist in a Story Written by a Woman Make This 1947 Pulp Short Unusual
Murder at the White House
By Walbridge McCully
Short Stories, November 25, 1946.
There’s not much information about Walbridge McCully. In fact, there’s almost none. There’s considerably more information about Ethel Walbridge McCully (1896–1980), an author whose bio is linked to detective novels Blood on Nassau’s Moon and Death Rides Tandem. She published those pieces under the name Walbridge McCully, so it’s a reasonable bet that she got her start in the pulps under the same name.
McCully is most famous for her book Grandma Raised the Roof, about moving to the Virgin Islands and learning to design and build a house on her own. She wanted the title of the book to be I Did It with Donkeys, but her publisher would not hear of it. That fact alone makes me want to sit down with her for drinks.
McCully stages a whodunit fit for an English manor in the White House when a reporter is murdered in a phone booth after a press conference. Was it the jealous fiancee? An Iranian journalist whose sister was involved with the deceased? Or perhaps a professional competitor? It’s up to Fran Lansing, “crack woman reporter” for the Washington Sun to figure it out.
Lansing, though written for the “male gaze,” is far better than a “lady hero.” She’s interesting and independent. She flies to New York by herself and forges documents like the best private eye. Men don’t solve the crime for her in the end. One gets the sense that Lansing is as independent as her creator, with her self-constructed house in the Virgin Islands.
The story is told not according to the Lester Dent formula, but in a traditional three-act structure with a third-act twist. The act two break comes right on time. Act three happens fast and ties the package neatly together.
The story’s weakness is that it tends to be dull given its length. Or, maybe I like Fran Lansing so much I want more from her.