This year marks the centenary of the book that made J.S. Fletcher's name. So it is fitting that The Middle Temple Murder should now make an appearance in the Detective Club series of reprints. And the first thing to say is that it's certainly worth reading if you're not familiar with it. This edition also benefits from an introduction by Nigel Moss, who makes the point that the plot is "well-constructed, complex and entertaining". As he says, Fletcher doesn't leave loose ends, and the storyline is rather pacier than many others of the period immediately before the arrival on the scene of Agatha Christie.
Frank Spargo, a young newspaperman, happens to discover the body of a murdered man in the entrance to Middle Temple Lane, a part of legal London that lawyers like Nigel (and me) are very familiar with. Spargo is a likeable character, and he lurked in the recesses of my mind when I first thought up Jacob Flint, the journalist in Gallows Court. As Nigel points out, the book has "a surprisingly modern feel, brisk and light." A bonus is the inclusion of a short story, "The Contents of the Coffin", which Fletcher drew on for a strand of the plot of the novel. The short story features Archer Dawe, an inquiry agent who doesn't appear in the novel.
Fletcher continued to write through the Golden Age, although in style and focus his detective fiction really belonged to an earlier period. He was extraordinarily prolific, and that counted against him. Like so many other mass producers of crime fiction, he struggled to maintain quality control. But at his best, he wrote very agreeable stories. By common consent, this is the best of them, although I suspect there may be a few little-known gems lurking in his backlist.
Harper Collins have announced that, following this title's publication, they are pausing the Detective Club hardback reprint series. I hope that it returns one day, but already the project has made a very welcome contribution to the revival of interest in Golden Age fiction. It's a highly eclectic series, including books by everyone from Gaboriau to Agatha Christie and many wonderful obscure titles as well. I have been very happy to contribute intros to five books in the series, and it's been especially gratifying to see two novels by Donald Henderson back in print after many years of being absent from the shelves. The editor who has overseen the series from day one is David Brawn, and fans of classic crime owe him a real debt of gratitude.