Mabel Claire McLean (1882-1964) was born in Hensall, Ontario to a machine agent, William Bell McLean, and his wife, Elizabeth Ross. Just before World War I, Mabel was living in Winnipeg as part of a new generation of girls who worked in the retail fashion industry before marriage. By the mid 1920s, Mabel had met and married Frederick Broughton Billett (c1887-1966), a transfer agent for Imperial Oil whose work took the couple to Merritt, British Columbia. An unsolved murder in the surrounding Nicola Valley inspired her first mystery novel, CALAMITY HOUSE (1927). In THE ROBOT DETECTIVE (1932) she imaginatively investigated another murder which ocurred in Port Coquitlam but which she transported to the Nicola Valley landscape she knew well. THE SHADOW OF THE STEPPE (1930) included the more exotic setting of Asia. Her last novel, THE SMOOTH SILENCE, which was serialized in the NATIONAL HOME MONTHLY in 1936, reconstructs the Janet Smith case, a Vancouver high society scandal in which the influence of the major players ensured that the murder of a Scottish nanny remained a riddle. Indeed, it was rumoured that the same powerful families prevented the appearance in book form of Mabel's version (even though she changed the setting to Ontario), which was announced but may not have been published. Although she found her most intriguing source material in British Columbia, Mabel lived in Toronto in 1932 and then London, Ontario until 1936, at which point she moved to California as "Mabel Claire McLean". In 1949, while residing in San Francisco, she officially changed her name to "Claire Maclean" and became an American citizen, suggesting that her marriage to Billett had come to a close. Mabel died in San Francisco in 1964.
London, England, 1924
Some biographical accounts suggest that Claire was married twice, a second time in 1936 to a "Charles Maclean." Given that her change of name in 1949 is a return to her birth name, this second marriage seems very unlikely.
Hensall, Ontario (1882); Hay, Ontario (1891); Seaforth, Ontario (1901); Winnipeg, Manitoba (late 1910s); Merritt, British Columbia (1920s); Toronto, Ontario (1932); London, Ontario (1932-1936); San Francisco, California (1936-1964)
British Columbia; Southern Ontario; Manitoba; San Francisco
fiction (popular); journalism
CALAMITY HOUSE: A MYSTERY NOVEL (1927); THE SHADOW OF THE STEPPE (1930); THE ROBOT DETECTIVE (1932)
NATIONAL HOME MONTHLY
Canadian Women's Press Club
William Bell McLean
Life dates of father
21 December 1852, Ontario - 22 January 1923
Life dates of mother
10 June 1860, Ontario - 23 January 1939
Frederick Broughton Billett
Life dates of spouse 1
c1887, Gainsborough, England - 18 July 1966, Saanich, British Columbia
Spouse 1 note
transfer agent, Imperial Oil
1891 Census of Canada; 1901 Census of Canada; California Death Index, 1940-1997; Canada, Ocean Arrivals (Form 30A), 1919-1924; Ontario, Canada Births, 1869-1911; U.S. Naturalization Record Indexes, 1791-1992 (Indexed in World Archives Project)
Watters, CHECKLIST OF CANADIAN LITERATURE...1620-1960 (1970), p. 248
correspondence, Macmillan papers, McMaster University
Line drawing by Una Vernelli (Vancouver, British Columbia).