Sara Elizabeth Mason (1911-1993) was an author of detective fiction whose main period of productivity was in a five-year span in the 1940s. Her profession and her fiction were rooted in her Alabama heritage.
Born on Sept. 2, 1911, in Demopolis, in Marengo County, she never married. Mason earned a B.A. from the University of Alabama and an M.S. in Library Science from Peabody College (now part of Vanderbilt University) in Nashville, Tennessee. She also earned an advanced degree from the University of Chicago. Mason taught in public schools in Alabama and Georgia and in federal government schools for children of American servicemen in Frankfort am Main, Germany. She also held various posts at the Amelia Gayle Gorgas Library at the University of Alabama and at the Birmingham Public Library, where she became head of the Catalog Department in 1961.
Mason drew on her surroundings for the settings of her novels. She published her first novel, Murder Rents a Room, in 1943 while she was working as a history teacher at Gadsden High School in Etowah County. In it, she incorporated both her love of old regional maps and her interest in the history and folklore of Greene County. Mason’s other mystery novels reflect the same dominant interests as her first. The Crimson Feather, for instance, is set in Tuscaloosa, and The Whip is set in Chicago.
Mason’s fiction reflects her own not-very-original formula, which she referred to as “Three Easy Steps to Writing a Mystery Novel: Take a villain and a victim; toss in some love interest; scatter plenty of clues around.” The Crimson Feather is a good example of how she applies the formula. Ann Bartley, her protagonist, a talented artist who has spent years away from home practicing her craft must return to her small southern hometown because of a serious bout with pneumonia. At home, under what superficially seems to be a normal family life with her sister and brother-in-law, sinister tensions begin to surface and some frightening things begin to happen. Bizarre anonymous notes arrive, bureau drawers are mysteriously ransacked, and a dog is poisoned—all followed by a hunting accident that suggests murder.
Mason rejected the “hardboiled” school of mystery fiction and authors who retold the same story repeatedly. Reviewers in the 1940s generally assessed her work as entertaining and readable. She died in Homewood, Jefferson County, on August 15, 1993.
Works by Sara Elizabeth Mason
Murder Rents a Room (1943)
The House That Hate Built (1944)
The Crimson Feather (1945)
The Whip (1948)