Family Skeleton (1949) by Doris Miles Disney

First question I had to find the answer out to when coming across this author’s name was: Is she related to Walt? Short answer – No. Doris Miles Disney (1907-1976) was an American mystery writer who wrote 49 novels, beginning in 1943 with A Compound for Death. Several of her novels were also adapted for film and TV. Despite being reasonably prolific not all of her novels are that easy to come by. Some of her later works from the 60s can be picked up for under a fiver and the occasional earlier novel can also be found for under £10. However after that most of her books are £20 + and there is even one of her books priced on Amazon at £2104.99!! Unfortunately for all us English readers the book I am reading today is not that easy to get a hold of unless you have a spare hundred or so.

Family Skeleton (1949) is the 10th mystery by Disney and the second novel of hers which features an insurance claims investigator named Jefferson DiMarco. However the tale is told from the point of view of the law breakers. Things all start to go wrong for Flora Bowen, her grown up daughters and their partners when they decide to go for a picnic. A fight erupts between Joe Bowen (Flora’s brother in law) and Don Kennedy (Flora’s daughter Mary’s husband) and one punch by Don leads to Joe dying from hitting his head on a rock. Scared witless by the thought of a scandal the remaining picnickers decide to hide the body deep in the woods and then stage a supposed disappearance for Joe. By and large this goes to plan until they realise Joe was insured for $20,000 if he dies an accidental death. The lure of so much money means a change of plan is needed as the family try to think of a way to prove Joe’s death without having to reveal the truth. Of course the insurance company are far from satisfied by the death and send DiMarco in and it’s here on in that Flora and the rest of clan come up against various obstacles and difficulties.

Overall Thoughts

With a plot such as this readers would be forgiven for thinking this story would be written in the style of Craig Rice, where dead bodies are often humorously inconvenient. However Disney takes a different approach to telling the story. It is not without its humour, but it definitely doesn’t have Rice’s zaniness, though it may have the alcohol content of a typical Rice novel. Yet this is not a bad thing as far as I can see as Disney pitches the psychological tension at just the right level and although Claire, the unmarried daughter figures heavily in the story the tale is not allowed to become a HIBK type of book. In fact I would say there is quite a dark and brutal side to Claire. In a way she provides an interesting counter balance to her two married sisters who are quite obsessive and over-fussy mothers. You feel yourself rooting for Claire when she says at the start of the book: ‘May they burn in hell, all the parents who bore defenceless guests with home movies of their kids!’ You also can’t help yourself laughing when you read one of Mary’s first responses to the fact her husband has accidentally killed Joe: ‘Oh, this is frightful! You’ll be arrested and Debbie’s entering nursery school and she’ll be disgraced before the other children.’

It was also great to see how different people act under pressure and the tension and pace were managed well, making me eager to find out what happens next. Although what Flora and her family are doing is wrong, Disney deftly gets you on their side, which is a key strength of the story. The only qualm I had about the story was the ending lacking a little oomph. The ending Disney chooses avoids a lot of complications and difficulties and therefore does work well, but there’s just a feeling that the ending doesn’t quite match the excitement the rest of the book generates. However this slight issue is not going to put me off trying any more of Disney’s books and I am eager to sample more of her work. So if you have any Disney recommendations let me know!

Rating: 4.5/5

Vintage Mystery Scavenger Hunt Item (Silver Card): Bloodstain


  1. I am glad that you enjoyed this one, Kate. Disney is one of my favorite crime writers but hardly anyone seems to know her nowadays (that her books may be very hard to find doesn’t help of course)
    The books featuring insurance investigator Jefferson di Marco are her best work in my opinion. I particularly recommend Straw Man, Method in Madness and The Chandler Policy which was my Book of the Year back in 1999. I’m less familiar with her other series and non series work, but I liked Room for Murder and Do Not Fold, Spindle or Mutilate in a more thriller-ish vein.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the recommendations. Looking online some of them are priced a little crazily, but at least some of them are more affordable. Good to know there are so many good ones by her to try. Is she easier to get a hold of in French translations?


  2. I waited to see how you liked this one until I finished the Disney that I had lined up to read. Glad to see this was another good one. I thoroughly enjoyed Room for Murder (1955) which I just finished. The humor is present in that one too–and, as you mention above, it’s just right. Not too zany.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Sorry to revive this long asleep thread but I didn’t see where else to post this. 🙂 As you probably guessed already, I have a recommendation and it has something to do with Doris Miles Disney.

    Ebay has a terrific lot of eight books of hers and if you can afford it it is quite a bargain, as the books – I’ve read all of them – range from very good to awesome; also three of them feature Jefferson DiMarco, which is always a plus as far as I’m concerned.

    Liked by 1 person

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