American author Charlotte Armstrong Lewi (1905-1969) wrote poetry, plays, short stories and 28 novels under the name Charlotte Armstrong and the pen name Jo Valentine, as well as working in the worlds of fashion, advertising and accounting. Her first success as a novelist came in 1942 with the conventional detective offering Lay On, MacDuff! (featuring an early series character MacDougall Duff). Her stories were frequently adapted for TV, and she also penned the teleplays for several episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents.
She won the Edgar Award in 1957 for her novel A Dram of Poison, sort of a Hitchcockian version of It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World. It all starts when 55-year-old Kenneth Gibson, a professor and confirmed bachelor, falls for a helpless and penniless woman twenty-three years younger. When his overbearing sister convinces him his wife only married him out of pity and is really in love with their young, handsome neighbor, Gibson decides suicide by poison is the only logical solution. But Gibson accidentally leaves the vial of poison, which looks like harmless bottle of olive oil, on a public bus. Terrified some innocent person could die due to his actions, a madcap search ensues, as more and more characters are brought into the hunt.
It's a difficult book to classify, less of a mystery and more of what can only be defined as "comic suspense," or perhaps a psychological portrait of a man discovering his true nature and seeing people around him as they really are for the first time. Anthony Boucher said it was one of his favorites and that "Reading it is an experience as delightful as it is unclassifiable" (I'm not the only one!), and called Armstrong a cross between Cornell Woolrich and Shirley Jackson. It's a short book, almost novella-length, filled with sly humor and quirky characters.
Other Armstrong books and stories are less whimsical and more noirish, often disguised as political allegories (e.g. commentaries on McCarthyism). Others were social commentaries or psychological studies, with the author herself once saying, "Maybe we are all potential murderers and reading stories about that crime releases us in some way."
Although Armstrong wrote a screenplay based on A Dram of Poison and got Spencer Tracy interested in it at one point, it was never made into a movie. She had much better luck with her novel The Unsuspected, made into a Claude Rains-starring vehicle in 1947.