Charles Williams is a name associated with a hardboiled American writer, but it was also the name of a British man of letters who was a chum of C.S. Lewis and Tolkien and a member of the Inklings who gathered in Oxford in the 30s. He wrote a few books which included elements of the detective story, though he wasn’t a crime writer in the conventional sense.
He was, however, a keen reader of Golden Age stories at the time they were being written, and for about five years he reviewed them in a positive and readable way for English newspapers including The Daily Mail. Happily, an American, Jared Lobdell, has compiled a collection of them, in a delightful book called The Detective Fiction Reviews of Charles Williams.
Lobdell sets the reviews in context, writing interestingly about the Golden Age and providing notes about the many authors discussed. They range from Christie and Sayers to totally forgotten names such as Dale Collins and Richard Essex. He is fairly kind even to books that he clearly did not rate highly, but you can always get a clear sense of when he regards a novel as genuinely impressive. And his judgment, to my mind, is consistently sound.
This is not easy to achieve. There are many books that make a splash on publication which do not stand the test of time. But Williams was very good at spotting a class act – as well as at identifying books which rose above the formulaic. There are a good many books that he praises that I haven’t encountered, though. Even if some of them aren’t as impressive as he suggests, I’m strongly tempted to track them down.