Bernice Carey was born in Chetek, Wisconsin on June 27, 1910, to farmers Charles and Caroline (Hansen) Carey, the latter of whom, a former correspondent for the Superior Evening Telegram, was the daughter of Danish immigrants. As a teenager Bernice Carey moved to South Orange County California, graduating in 1928 from Long Beach Polytechnic High School, where she emulated her mother by serving as a reporter on the school newspaper. The same year that she graduated from high school Carey married Walter Haynes Fitch, a mechanical engineer originally from Arizona who worked in the California oil industry. During the couple's fourteen years of marriage, they resided in various towns across the state, including Ventura, Monterey and Salinas, boyhood home of Carey's slightly older contemporary John Steinbeck. Like Steinbeck, Carey and her husband during the Thirties were influenced by progressive political ideology, and this influence found its way into her socially conscious mid-century crime fiction. While her husband worked in the oil fields, Carey published poems, short stories and book reviews in local newspapers and literary magazines.
In 1938 she gave birth to the first of the couple's two sons (the second son followed in 1940), but the Carey marriage irretrievably broke down just a few years later, in 1942. After her divorce from Fitch, Carey married high school history teacher Dick Martin, who shared his wife's predilection for both progressive politics and crime fiction. Encouraged by her new husband, Carey in 1949 published The Reluctant Murderer, the first of her eight highly-praised crime novels, in which she portrays small town California murder realistically and thought-provokingly, without sacrificing sheer readability. After publishing her final crime novel in 1955, Carey contributed the deeply ironic short story "He Got What He Deserved" to the 1959 crime fiction anthology The Lethal Sex, edited by John D. Macdonald and recently reprinted by the Mystery Writers of America, but primarily Carey devoted her creative energies to writing, directing and acting in local theater. She was also a very active member of AA, and remained involved in local and national politics throughout her life. Carey spent her latter years in Los Gatos surrounded by family and friends, and died at the age of 79 at a hospital in Santa Clara, California on February 8, 1990.