September 1937 - 11 July 2018
Crime writer, reviewer, journalist and broadcaster Jessica Mann has died at the age of 80 after a long struggle with Parkinson’s disease.
Born in London in 1937, Jessica was the daughter of Fritz and Lore Mann who had fled Nazi Germany in October 1933. With the prospect of a Nazi invasion of England in 1940, the two-year-old Jessica and her four-year brother were evacuated to America but returned to London in 1943 where Jessica learned ‘the received pronunciation and authoritative intonation of the St Paul’s Girls’ School voice’. She read archaeology at Cambridge and then law at Leicester University, but her first love appeared to be archaeology. Not only was her best-known fictional detective, Tamara Hoyland, an archaeologist but she married one – Professor Charles Thomas, noted for his excavations at Tintagel in Cornwall where the couple lived for much of their long married life.
Her freelance journalism, features, travel writing and reviews, have appeared in most national newspapers and magazines and as a broadcaster she appeared on Any Questions, Round Britain Quiz and Start the Week. She wrote more than twenty crime novels but will probably be best remembered for her non-fiction works; about female crime writers (Deadlier Than The Male), on evacuee children during WWII (Out of Harm’s Way) and on the position of women in post-war Britain (The Fifties Mystique).
Since the death of Phillip Oakes in 2005, she has reviewed crime fiction for the Literary Review, but I first met her in 1989 when she had just been replaced as the crime reviewer for the Sunday Telegraph. It was a frosty first meeting, as I was the person who had replaced her – and the petite Jessica could be very frosty when the need arose. This did not stop us becoming friends. Jessica wrote kind reviews about my books and I had the pleasure of getting one of her titles, Funeral Sites, back into print as a Top Notch Thriller. (Originally published in 1981, the novel is a feminist take on The 39 Steps and on first publication was enthusiastically reviewed by Reginald Hill.)
When I was researching a novel set in sub-Roman Britain, Jessica acted as a go-between with her husband Professor Thomas, a noted authority on the period, who answered many of my idiotic questions. We also swapped notes on crime novels featuring archaeology and one of my abiding memories of her was sitting in the audience with her at a well-known crime fiction convention during a panel discussion on archaeology and crime. When it became clear that not one of the four featured authors actually had any experience (at all) of archaeological fieldwork, Jessica began fuming and her blood pressure was only lowered when I suggested, after fifteen minutes, that we break for the bar!
On the death of her husband, Jessica moved back to London and became a familiar face on the publishing social scene, although she was not afraid of offending – even boycotting – those crime writers whom she felt employed gratuitous violence, especially against women, in their fiction.
She also served on the CWA Committee and as Secretary to the Detection Club. Her thirteenth novel A Private Enquiry was shortlisted for a CWA Gold Dagger.