Turns out Summerscale used to work for the British paper the Daily Telegraph, which is famous for its hilarious and outrageously candid obituaries, which is how she learned about Carstairs. When I heard that, I decided to check out the Telegraph online just to see if they had these great obits every day. Of course there are a limited number of Carstairs types out there — but the Telegraph does the best it can with its material, and the obit editor has a pretty entertaining blog.
Looking at a publisher’s catalogue of upcoming titles, I was interested in one by a writer named Kate Summerscale. Her new book, The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher, is about a Victorian detective who became a model for a lot of great literary detectives. But the catalogue also referred to her previous book, The Queen of Whale Cay. That sounded interesting, so I looked it up. The story was REALLY interesting, about a classic 20th century eccentric, Marion “Joe” Carstairs, an heiress to the Standard Oil Fortune who became a very successful motorboat racer — and very out-of-the-closet lesbian — in the 1920s, then retreated to an island in the Bahamas as public opinion turned against her. Even better, it turned out that the Key West library had the book on the shelf. So on Wednesday evening, I stopped by and got it. It’s a small book (literally), and a quick read.