Sunday, 28 December 2014

Golden Age reflections

A couple of days before Christmas, I was interviewed on the phone by a journalist from one of the main national newspapers. He was asking me why I thought there was such a revival of interest in Golden Age detective fiction at the moment. I came up with a number of reasons, but I'd also love to know the opinions of readers of this blog. Why - assuming that you agree there is such a revival - do you think it's happening right now? As for the journalist (someone I've often read, but never spoken to previously) I was impressed to learn that he'd just read no fewer than eight Golden Age books, including several British Library Crime Classics -  in quick succession - and he'd very much enjoyed them.

Among a number of Christmas treats was a unique one, as far as I am concerned. Someone who has a wonderful collection of Golden Age rarities allowed me the chance to read an unpublished manuscript of a novel of detection by a well-regarded Golden Age writer. Quite thrilling, and definitely a privilege. I thoroughly enjoyed the story, and I'm not completely sure why it was never published (though naturally I'm tempted to guess/invent a story about it.). I'd love to see the story published, and I'm in discussions about this possibility,but it's far from straightforward, and I really don't know if it will happen. I will say more about this book at a later date.

Now that my work on The Golden Age of Murder is pretty much completed, I'm also doing some more reading as I work on more anthologies for the British Library. These are aimed mainly at readers who are relatively unfamiliar with Golden Age fiction, and of course it is exceptionally difficult to find good stories that are not well-known to fans  However, I've set myself an informal goal of including in each book a minimum of two stories (preferably more) that are genuinely obscure and unlikely to have been read by more than a small number of people.

In this aim I've been assisted by a number of friends, and also one or two correspondents whom I've never met. And now, I wonder, are there any readers of this blog who can point me in the direction of an enjoyable but more or less unknown Golden Age short story (treating the Golden Age here very broadly, so as to extend beyond the inter-war period) and with a setting in a country house or the countryside generally? If so, I'd love to hear from you.



29 comments:

scott herbertson said...

I rather like the short story "Heredity" by Anthony Marsden which appeared in the "Century of detective Stories" by G K Chesterton published by Hutchinson.

Although this book had a big circulation I am not aware the story has been republished much. It isn't much of a detection story, but has a nice final twist

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks, Scott, very helpful. It's many years since I looked at that book. I'll check that story out.

R.T. said...

You begin with this: "He was asking me why I thought there was such a revival of interest in Golden Age detective fiction at the moment. I came up with a number of reasons, but I'd also love to know the opinions of readers of this blog. Why - assuming that you agree there is such a revival - do you think it's happening right now?"

I think the short answer is this: We long for older stories with plot and character as the centerpieces rather than contemporary stories with testosterone, psychosis, and market driven action and mayhem. In other words, too many contemporary writers forget that they are writing novels; they seem to be writing treatments for screenplays -- hoping for the big studio made R-rated extravaganza (and big $$$).

In other words, dare I invoke the dreaded "C" word, there is among many readers a conservative longing for the styles from the good old days (even if the old days were not necessarily either good or better).

Well, that is a short, simple, off-the-top of the head theory. But even as I write it down, I make a confession -- the theory explains my preference for the Golden Age and its contemporary imitations. Let's see what others say.

Stephen Leadbeatter said...

Dear Mr Edwards ,

Inexplicably missing from the Crippen & Landru collection of Vincent Cornier's Barnabas Hildreth stories was the short novel ,"The Space-Time Masterpiece" . Might that not be a nicely subversive choice ?

Compliments of the Season ,

Stephen Leadbeatter

avidmysteryreader.com said...

I'm new to your blog. You were pointed out to me as being a fan of the Golden Age of detective fiction. I know I'm more interested in that era than I was before and am dedicated to reading it and learning more about the style and the authors of that era. I've read Christie and Sayers and a few others so I'm just getting started. The most memorable discovery was The Blank Wall by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding.

Martin Edwards said...

Tim, very interesting as always. Thank you.

Martin Edwards said...

Hello Stephen, good to hear from you. Barry Pike suggested a while back I should contact you. Thanks for the suggestion, and would you mind letting me have your email address, please?

Martin Edwards said...

Hello Avid Mystery Reader. The Holding is a book I have - but I have to confess, I haven't read it yet. Ed Gorman, a very wise chap, is a big fan of Holding too.

Les Blatt said...

Martin, how about "The Haunting of Grange," by Sax Rohmer - one of his tales about Moris Klaw, "The Dream Detective"? It's not a great mystery as such, but it's Golden Age (1925, I believe)and full of the atmosphere Rohmer always managed to put in his stories, and it has a fine ending.

Les Blatt said...

While I'm at it, are you familiar with one of Ellery Queen's best anthologies, Challenge to the Reader? Published in 1938, EQ chose a number of stories of (then)-famous detectives in some of their more obscure stories, changed the name of the central character, along with one or two secondary ones as needed, and challenged the reader to identify the detective and the author based on method of detection, setting, etc. The stories, generally ones that are not frequently anthologized, feature some well-known names and a few who were famous in 1938 but are largely forgotten today (Astro, anyone? Dr. Hailey?), and the challenge adds a nice touch to the stories.

Martin Edwards said...

Les, thanks very much. It's many years since I read either the Klaw stories or Challenge to the Reader, and you're right, I should refresh my memory. I don't remember 'Haunting of Grange' at all.

TracyK said...

Martin, I have always divided my mystery reading half and half between Golden Age and current writing, and I have been reading mysteries at least half a century. So I could not answer why a revival of interest. Maybe with ebooks and the internet some people now have better access to the books? Whatever the reason I am very glad you are doing a reference book on the Golden Age mysteries and I will be getting a copy as soon as it is available in the US.

R.T. said...

Belatedly I return to your final question, but with an answer that probably violates the terms of your question because the story might be too well known. In any case, I have always been fond of "The Adventurous Exploit of the Cave of Ali Baba" by Dorothy Sayers. I think it combines all that is "typical" of Golden Age stories. And it is a lot of fun.

karabekirus said...

As a reason for revival of interest in Golden Age detective fiction, I might point out that they do their job in less than 200 pages.

Sappho said...

I find the resurgence of interest in Golden Age mysteries fascinating too, but not surprising. So many of us are heartily sick of serial killers, extreme violence, monsters, and other devices.

And speaking just for myself, I simply enjoy glimpses into the vanished world of early 20th-century England. Many times I enjoy the slice-of-life action before the murders (or whatever the mystery is) happens as much as solving the riddles; Robert Player's superb The Ingenious Mr. Stone is a great example, with the middle-aged Scottish spinster describing life at a girls' boarding school in all its intricacies. And then there are cases when the quality of writing is so good, the dialogue and characters so entertaining, that the mystery is simply the vehicle for showing them off. I think Dorothy L. Sayers is the best example (for my taste) of this.

Long-winded response, but I believe that mysteries enable writers to describe everyday life in a way that we don't otherwise see much of it in literature: the places people work, the routines of their life at home which are typically overlooked or taken as unnecessary to describe in "straight" novels, where the emphasis is elsewhere.

Martin Edwards said...

Tracy K, thanks. I'm sure that, as you say, digital publishing and increased availability are playing a part. And I'm glad to say the Golden Age book is now available for pre-order on Amazon!

Martin Edwards said...

Tim, it certainly is, though I think it is pretty well known. There are some very familiar stories in my anthologies, but I'm trying to come up with a mixed bag for each book.

Martin Edwards said...

Karabekirus, I share your enthusiasm for conciseness in a novel!

Martin Edwards said...

Sappho, a great comment, thanks. I must re-read Mr Stone. I share your admiration of Sayers.

Gigi Pandian said...

I adore Golden Age mysteries, and I'm having such fun making my way through so many fantastic books.

I loved reading popular Golden Age authors when I was a kid, but it was only recently that I've been able to FIND more obscure books and authors. Both eBooks and inexpensive sets of used books on eBay have helped my Golden Age reading habit.

Plus, blogs such as this one (and online listserves and Goodreads) turn me on to books I wouldn't have otherwise discovered.

In other words, I think modern technology has helped this rediscovery.

Martin Edwards said...

Nice to hear from you, Gigi, and a very good point about technology.

TracyK said...

I have preordered The Golden Age of Murder. Thanks for letting me know.

Martin Edwards said...

Hope you enjoy it, Tracy. And thanks.

TomCat said...

The response I was initially writing turned into a blog post, which you can read here, if you're interested. I hope it isn't too long and rambling.

Love the cover art for The Golden Age of Murder!

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks, TomCat. I really like your blog article, needless to say, and will comment on it shortly.

stephen leadbeatter said...

Dear Mr Edwards ,

My email is - stephenleadbeatter@hotmail.com -

but I much prefer the telephone 02920790264 .

Happy New Year .

Stephen Leadbeatter

Deb said...

As usual, Deb is late to the party--and my response to your question about the resurgence of Golden Age mysteries has already been touched upon in the comments, but here goes anyway: I think Golden Age mysteries are becoming popular again because, even aside from the mystery element, they tend to be well-written with strong characters and descriptive elements, and they also illuminate gone or forgotten corners of society (bell ringing, making apple cider, how petrol was stored prior to WWII, it's all there in the Golden Age). I also think the internet has done its part: even obscure books can usually be found (admittedly for a price) and blogs like yours and John at Pretty Sinister Books and many others share your love and admiration for these "forgotten" books, generating more interest. I hope the publication rights to many of these books get worked out so some publication houses can reprint them and get them circulating around again.

Sorry for being so long-winded. Happy New Year--I look forward to reading your books and blog in 2015!

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks, Stephen. I shall ring you next week and look forward very much to speaking to you.

Martin Edwards said...

Deb, great comment as ever, and it's never too late to come to the party! A good point about abstruse info (bell ringing etc) We tend to think of this as a newish trend, but as you say, it really emerged in the Golden Age.