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Saturday, June 10, 2017

Evelyn Winch

Evelyn Winch is a long-forgotten author who was briefly popular in the 1930s following the publication of her novel The Girl in the Flat before her career was cut tragically short.  

The Girl in the Flat was a mystery drama in which 18-year-old Mavis Tremayne, overcome by drink at a wild party, recovers consciousness to find her host has been murdered. The real criminal, also a girl, plays on the heroine's fear of her lawyer-fiance to cover her own tracks, but the lawyer gets busy, clears his fiancee and reasons out the identity of the guilty party, who shoots herself.

Over the next five years, Winch churned out a dozen novels in a similar vein. While most featured strong romantic elements, they were also thrillers laced with suspense and dramatic disclosures, which one reviewer nicknamed "thriller-romances". "Introducing mystery into light romance is something Miss Winch does remarkably well," said the reviewer of the Dundee Courier (10 July 1937), and this compliment was echoed elsewhere: "Complications, suspense and dramatic disclosures are common occurrences in the average mystery tale, but they are rarely used to good effect in a love story," observed the Lancashire Evening Post (26 July 1937). "Evelyn Winch, however ... has taken all the ingredients of a first-class thriller and combined them into a gripping tale in which the heroine's happiness, and not the solving of a mystery, is the chief consideration."

"She has a pleasing style and possesses the essential knack of plunging her reader into the heart of an exciting situation on the first page," continued the latter. But once the thrilling situation was set up and populated by a likeable set of people, the unravelling of clues was of lesser importance to her reader's than the happy ending to the romance."The thing is audaciously unlikely, but it lives robustly in theatrical action and telling dialogue," said the Dundee Courier (19 July 1935) of Enemy's Kiss.

She was born Marie Elspeth Agnes Makgill in Aukland, New Zealand, on 17 July 1895, the daughter of Sir George Makgill (1868-1926), the Scottish son of John Makgill, a retired captain in the Royal Engineers. In 1881 or 1882, John Makgill became a farmer in Waiuku, north of Christchurch on the south island of New Zealand. Aged 22, George Makgill married 21-year-old Frances Elizabeth Grant in December 1891 and had two daughters in New Zealand (Harriet Frances Janet in 1893, Marie Elspeth Agnes in 1895) before moving back to Scotland, where his son John Donald Alexander Arthur was born in 1899. A fourth son, Richard James Robert Haldane, was born in Dorset in 1907.

Marie Elspeth Agnes Makgill married Lieut.-Col. Aubrey Brooke Winch in Hanover Square, Middlesex, on 3 September 1913. Daughter Mary Elizabeth born in Colchester in 1914 and a second daughter, Elinor Janet in 1917. A third daughter, Ethel Evelyn Primrose, was born in 1928.

Marie began writing under the name Evelyn Winch in the early 1920s. She was following in the footsteps of her father, Sir George Makgill, who wrote stories shortly after the turn of the century. Her first novel, Captain Joan, was co-written with her brother, J. D. Makgill, later the 12th Viscount of Oxfuird, The story revolved around smuggling, Joan Melville and her brother David discovering, whilst searching through her late father's papers, that he was under contract to smuggle a ship-load of whisky into America. Joan buys a ship and, aided by a Mr. Holden, who poses as her father's friend, she engages a crew and has the cargo taken aboard. Trouble arises when the whisky is disposed of and  Holden  reveals himself as an Irish rebel and takes possession of the ship to run a cargo of munitions back to Ireland.

There was some uncertainty about the sex of the author who wrote a trio of thrillers in the late 1920s, some reviewers believing E. Winch to be male:
A certain flavour of freshness is achieved by E. Winch in his adventure story, "The Mountain of Gold." There is adventure enough in the expedition of the strange trip, a wandering Englishman, a Portuguese Jew, and a French convict, who set out to find the mountain of gold. The freshness comes when they find it in the hands of a tribe of people who have been converted to Christianity by a wandering Puritan couple, generations ago, and are still living their religion. It makes a good story. (Leeds Mercury, 20 Apr 1928)

Clever humour and the skilful development of ordinary characters lift "When the Tide Runs Out," by Edgar Winch, out of the rut. The petty quarrels and gossip of a small provincial town are invested with richness by facile introspection. (Cheltenham Chronicle, 9 August 1930)
Shortly after, Evelyn Winch wrote a novel that was to become a hit. Originally serialised in Mabs Weekly in 1933, The Girl in the Flat was published in book form by Collins in January 1934 and was made into a film produced and distributed by Paramount. The movie, directed by Redd Davis, starred Stewart Rome, Belle Chrystal and Vera Boggetti.

Between 1935 and 1939, Evelyn Winch was responsible for a further twelve novels for Collins, many of which were well-reviewed. The following reviews offer a useful overview of her writing and how it was received at the time the books were released.
At Second Sight
"It's—it's so frightfully clear! There's a clock on the mantelpiece and a picture of a woman in—oh! Now there are two men—fighting! One of them's got the other down and—Oh, no! Oh, but that's horrible!" This was the terrifying vision in the crystal ball which drove Ruth Baker into hysterics, and which was the prelude to disturbing influences on the after course of her life. As companion secretary to Lady Julia Whiddon, who is preparing her reminiscences for publication, she stumbles on mystery which corresponds with her crystal-gazing experience. The revelation is at once repugnant and welcome. (Aberdeen Press, 16 January 1935)

Enemy's Kiss
A dramatic problem faces Miss Winch's heroine. She suspects that the woman whom her father intends to marry is a crook and had murdered her previous husband. Little purpose in telling her father, for she knew he would never believe; little use, also, challenging the suspect. Then Guy Westurn, whom she loves, becomes mixed in some apparently unfathomable mystery, a mystery upon which her father puts the worst possible construction. There seems to be no way out of the labyrinth of circumstance and suspicion until Guy takes a hand and then the story develops into a thrilling and arresting tale of mystery as well as romance. (Aberdeen Press, 7 August 1935)

The Luck Shop
"Thrilling and tragical drama, with snap and sentiment. A pretty probationer nurse travelling to London promises to do a service for a distressed young man, who shortly afterwards throws himself from the train.
    In fulfilling her promise she meets the man she is to marry; but in the interval she has strange and unhappy experience of professedly occult business conducted by a clever woman." (Dundee Courier, 30 January 1936)

The Dark Path
Gerry Maynard, realising that she existed in the mind of her employer only as a perfect secretary, resorted to dabbling in the occult in order to make him aware of her love for him and to arouse a like feeling in him. She found too late that she was in the hands of a crook. The story drags somewhat and thus loses its excitement. It shows a new angle of the secretary-employer drama which is such a favourite theme with light romance writers, and provides light holiday reading. (Aberdeen Press, 3 September 1936)

Passport to Happiness
Young Sandra Dalwood has reached a point when life does not seem particularly alluring, but only offers a drab and dreary prospect. Her sister Anne seems set for romance, for she has become engaged as secretary to Mrs Crighton on a trip to India. But a hasty marriage alters her decision, and Sandra sees in her sister's vised passport a happy solution to her own problems. After some misgiving she decides to substitute her sister. The deception works out satisfactorily, and in Egypt she finds abundance of thrill and adventure, which culminate in a pretty romance with a young Englishman. The story, which might be described as variations on an old theme, has sufficient vitality to preserve its interest to the end. (Aberdeen Press, 18 February 1937)

Rule of Three
While motoring in a storm on Dartmoor, Phoebe Winter drives into a snowdrift, falls and twists her ankle, then limps through the storm to an apparently untenanted artist's cottage on the moor. There, by the light of a match, she sees a man watching her from a dark corner. Romance enters her life that night only to be shattered by the sudden disappearance of the young man with whom she has fallen in love. later she is "introduced" to him as another woman's husband. But Phoebe is a persistent lover, and in mysterious circumstances her aching heart finds the love it sought. The whole story is mysterious, and one never knows what to expect next, while the climax is unusually exciting. The characters are all quite human, but are also very peculiar, unfathomable people. (Aberdeen Press, 23 June 1937)

Happily Ever After
Evelyn Winch's novel is belied rather by its title. Lightly written it has a strong plot, and is by no means the pretty fairy tale romance its title rather suggests.
    The setting is in Russia, and the story winds round the adventures of Bertha, an English girl who finds herself stranded in Moscow.
    Bertha, alone and in considerable danger, finds her only means of escape lies in accepting an offer of marriage from a stranger, John Beid.
    The result of that marriage and the curious happenings which follow in its train make Happily Ever After a tale of gripping interest and lively adventure.
    The characters of John and Bertha are finely drawn and the contemporary people in the story serve as an excellent background, adding colour to the main theme.
    Evelyn Winch has clever descriptive powers and the ability to turn a somewhat fantastic series of events into convincing facts. (Lancashire Daily Post, 25 July 1938)

Mrs. Evelyn Winch in Mankiller sends her heroine out to Africa to join her mother and step-father full of romantic ideas about her future home, only to find disillusion when the step-father attempts her murder. The idea of the story is not very fresh, but the narrative is well-constructed and competently developed. (Liverpool Daily Post, 1 March 1939)

A Star to Steer By
To the inhabitants of Mabo, a fever-infested little village on the west coast of Africa, anything to break the monotony was a godsend. And it duly came in the shape of Mrs. Hubbard and her Chinese maid with their huge amount of luggage. Her coming was a mystery, the purpose of it was equally mysterious, and even when tongues began to wag Mrs. Hubbard was no more communicative.
    The only person who had her confidence was Philip Brett, and when they left on an expedition down coast in the Mirabelle it looked as if the last had been heard of her. But the mystery continued, and the thrilling story of her dramatic return and the climax of Philip Brett's romance is the acme of poignant tragedy. (Aberdeen Press, 10 August 1939)
The last two novels both had African settings and followed a trip to Africa undertaken by Marie Winch and her husband. Mankiller—described by the Bristol Evening Post (11 February 1939) as "A pretty girl's adventures in Africa are described by Evelyn Winch in an exciting novel of life in the Belgian Congo—was later serialised in at least one newspaper under the title "She Wanted Adventure".

During her writing career, Marie was living at The Crofts, West Furleigh, near Maidstone, Kent, but her prolific and popular output hid a tragic fear. Marie Winch was greatly unsettled by what became known as the September Crisis; in March 1938, the pro-Nazi of the Sudeten German Party (SdP) demanded autonomy for the Sudetenland from Czechoslovakia, which led to the mobilization of German military during the spring of 1938 that culminated in the Munich conference in September. The Munich Agreement signed by Germany, Italy, France and Britain and agreed by Czechoslovakia meant the Sudeten territory was ceded to Germany.

Marie Winch kept up a heavy writing regimen to produce so many novels, writing in the evening and frequently staying up until 4.30 or 5.00 in the morning, smoking heavily, which had a considerable effect upon her health and nerves. She developed an extraordinary fear that her little girl was going to be taken away from her.

This irrational obsession put considerable strain on her, although, after a long conversation with her married daughter, she came to the conclusion that she was wrong in her ideas. She was trying to repress her obsession and to turn the other way, even considering putting herself in a mental home. She began driving a car again, which she had not done for five or six years, and tried to give up her smoking habit.

On the morning of Tuesday, 23 May 1939, Marie took a revolver—gifted to her by her husband when they travelled to Africa—that she had taken to carrying and shot herself. An inquest held two days later recorded a verdict of "Suicide while the balance of mind was disturbed." She was 43 years of age.

She was survived by her husband, Lt.-Col. A. B. Winch, who died in Sulawesi Tengah in Indonesia on 15 January 1951, aged 62.


Captain Joan, with J. D. Makgill. London, Hodder & Stoughton, 1923.
The Mountain of Gold. London, Hurst & Blackett, 1928.
The Hunting of Hilary. London, Skeffington & Son, 1929.
When the Tide Runs Out. London, Hurst & Blackett, 1930.
The Girl in the Flat. London, Collins, 1934.
At Second Sight. London, Collins, 1935.
Enemy's Kiss. London, Collins, 1935.
The Luck Shop. London, Collins, 1935.
The Dark Path. London, Collins, 1936.
Love Cannot Lie. London, Collins, 1936.
Two Meet. London, Collins, 1936.
A Girl's Bright Eyes. London, Collins, 1937.
Passport to Happiness. London, Collins, 1937.
Rule of Three. London, Collins, 1937.
Happily Ever After. London, Collins, 1938.
Mankiller. London, Collins, 1939.
A Star to Steer By. London, Collins, 1939.

Short Stories
The Warmth of the Shop (The Detective Magazine, 25 Apr 1924)
A Question of Credit, with J. D. Makgill (The Detective Magazine, 6 Jun 1924)
Double Interest (The 20-Story Magazine, May 1924)
Butler's Magic (The 20-Story Magazine, Jun 1924)
A Full House (The 20-Story Magazine, Nov 1924)
As Luck Would Have It (The Sketch, 28 Jan 1925)
The Curious Case of Simon Larkitt (The Sketch, 22 Apr 1925)
Proof by Deduction (The New Magazine, Oct 1925)
Van Coppernolle's Daughter (The Sketch, 2 Dec 1925)
A Dark Horse (The 20-Story Magazine, Jun 1926)
Good Advice (The 20-Story Magazine, Jul 1926)
Masquerade (The New Passing Show, 30 Apr 1932)
One Night in Venice (The 20-Story Magazine, Aug 1932)
The Girl in the Flat (serial; Mabs Weekly, 1 Apr 1933)
Third-Party Risk (Evening News, 1 Nov 1933)
A Chance of Getting Married (The Passing Show, 20 Jan 1934)
Out! (The Passing Show, 10 Mar 1934)
The Out Patient (The Novel Magazine, Jul 1934)
If the Gods Could Laugh (Evening News, 17 Feb 1938)
She Wanted Adventure (serial; Dundee Evening Telegraph, 25 May-4 Jul 1942)

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