Something a little different today. Since the sad death of Bob Adey, author of the wonderful Locked Room Murders, I've been reflecting further on books about the genre, and those that I've enjoyed over the years, including some that are not often discussed nowadays. I'm tempted to write about several of them, and today I'm going to talk about one that has just been made available again to a new generation of readers
Deadlier than the Male was originally published in 1981. Its sub-title then was: "Why are respectable English women so good at murder?" which is a question that's been given various answers over the years, not least by P.D. James. The author was a friend of Phyllis James, and herself a crime novelist of distinction, Jessica Mann. Her books often have a feminist perspective, in a way that is persuasive and appealing, and this title is no exception.
Unfortunately, this particular book has been out of print for years, and it would, I think, be fair to describe it as a Forgotten Book. Happily, we live in an age when, with a bit of luck and enterprise, forgotten books need remain forgotten no longer. And Deadlier Than the Male is now available again, as an ebook, for the modest sum of £1.99. The sub-title now is "an investigation into feminine crime writing". As the blurb says, on its original appearance, the book was described by one critic as “obligatory reading for any reader of crime fiction”, while another wrote, "I cannot recall a better work of criticism devoted to the crime story."
I bought and devoured the book a good many years before I met Jessica, and I found the coverage of the "crime queens", especially those other than Agatha Christie (about whom I'd already read plenty) informative and enjoyable. It is fair to say that the range of books in this area has greatly improved over the past thirty years, and in some cases, more information has come to light about the lives of the authors. But that does not devalue the significance or merit of this consistently interesting book, and I'm delighted that it has returned to enjoy a new life and attract a new set of readers.