One of Britain’s best-loved crime writers, Margaret Yorke, has died at the age of 88. Margaret spent her last few weeks in a nursing home in her beloved Chiltern Hills, visited often by family, friends and neighbours, and overlooking the landscape that inspired so many of her books.
Known for her strong opinions, (which she continued to voice until the very end) Margaret was respected and admired for her ongoing work for the public library service and for authors’ rights. On the warpath, she was a joy to watch! For her kindness to new authors, friends and neighbours and for her enormous sense of fun, she was greatly loved.
She leaves a legacy of over 40 books, from her first novel Summer Flight (1957) to the subtly chilling A Cause for Concern (2001). Chairman of the Crime Writers’ Association between 1979 and 1980, she was awarded the Cartier Diamond Dagger in 1999 for her outstanding contribution to the genre. In 1982, she received the Martin Beck Award from the Swedish Academy of Detection for her novel The Scent of Fear and in 1993 was presented with the CWA Golden Handcuffs (now known as the Dagger in the Library).
Her stories are mostly set in small English villages and feature ordinary people caught up in events that can shape or break lives. On hearing the news of her death, Val McDermid said, ‘There was nobody better at anatomising the underbelly of respectability and suburban life. She wrote with a pen dipped in acid.’
Margaret was born in Surrey and spent her childhood in Ireland. During the war, she worked as a hospital librarian and later served in the Women’s Royal Naval Service as a driver. She was the first woman ever to work in Oxford’s Christ Church library and also spent time as an Assistant Librarian in St. Hilda’s College.
Her practical support for rural libraries continued right up until her last months. In April of this year, she was guest of honour when her own village library passed to community ownership. In a heart-felt and somewhat controversial speech she said, ‘The closing of libraries all over the country is an act of vandalism, an attack on literacy. It is facile to say that information can be obtained on-line. So it can, but where is the joy that is found in handling actual books, in browsing along a shelf and finding by chance one that lures you into its pages, so that you discover a new author, or a new interest?’
Of the many tributes paid in the days following her death, that of her friend and fellow writer, Andrew Taylor, possibly sums her up best: ‘A crime writer of stealthy brilliance, Margaret Yorke was the Miss Marple of crime fiction. Bless her!’
The photo at the head of the page was taken by Martin Edwards to illustrate his blog entry Forgotten Books – The Small Hours of the Morning.
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