Monday, 16 May 2016
I'm drawing breath after a hectic week with a number of highlights. I've been involved in three events, including a murder mystery evening at Wrexham Library (hence the photo) which attracted a very large audience and a talk at Alsager Library. At both these events, a lot of interest was expressed in Golden Age detective fiction, and the same, perhaps more predictably, was true on Saturday, when I was the guest speaker at the annual general meeting and lunch of the Margery Allingham Society.
The theme of my talk to the Society was the recent renaissance of interest in Golden Age fiction - not just the work of Crime Queens such as Margery, but also other writers, many of them much less well known. John Bude is an example who springs to mind. Another is Christopher St John Sprigg. When asked which book I was happiest to have persuaded the British Library to publish in its series of Crime Classics, I chose Death of an Airman, and it's clear from reaction on Saturday, as on other occasions, that this is a widely appreciated title. I also made the point that some of the as yet unpublished titles n the series are, in my view, among the best of the list. Plenty to look forward to there, I can promise you.
The Society is clearly thriving under the chairmanship of that great expert on the Golden Age, Barry Pike, and the audience included two contemporary novelists, Mike Ripley (who has continued the Campion series) and Ann Granger, as well as a leading agent and several other luminaries. I enjoyed being shown the 'Crossed Red Herrrings' award (a forerunner of the CWA Silver Dagger) given to Margery for Hide My Eyes, and Barry also showed me an interesting part of the venue - the University Women's Club in South Audley Street, London- which was the room fictionalised by Dorothy L. Sayers as the place where Harriet Vane did her writing.
Although my talk was, to some extent, off the cuff, my theme was one I've been thinking about lately, with a view to the St Hilda's Crime and Mystery Week-end in August, where I'll be giving a paper on the Golden Age revival. That there is a revival, and that it is significant, is to my mind beyond dispute. There's a recent blog post by Curtis Evans on this subject, which I was pleased to read; I agree with his observations about the renaissance.
A few years ago, I assumed it was inconceivable that The Golden Age of Murder would attract a major publisher, let alone achieve lots of glowing reviews and two major awards. I think it's fair to say that the British Library were equally taken aback by their successes with the Crime Classics. What we GA fans must try to do now is to seize the moment, and help maintain this revival by encouraging the publication of more of the good books of the past, and continuing the very constructive discussions of them that are to be found on many blogs and elsewhere.
This isn't always straightforward. In particular, copyright complications (even assuming one can trace the copyright holder - no luck so far with one or two of my favourites, such as Milward Kennedy) can make the process of republishing in-copyright books fraught with difficulty. Never mind; estates of deceased writers are, more and more, realising the benefits of a co-operative approach, and realistic financial expectations, and I hope this trend will continue. On the larger question of spreading the word about the merits of the best GA fiction - and the fact that some of it is far from 'cosy' - I am aiming to make further contributions to the debate - watch this space!