Saturday 2 February 2008

America's Agatha Christie?

The US publishers Crippen & Landru, presided over by Doug Greene, a great expert on the genre, have resurrected many ‘lost classics’ over the years, quite apart from producing attractive volumes of short stories by present day writers. I had the privilege of co-editing, with the late Sue Feder, a selection of obscure stories by Ellis Peters which featured in the C&L series and I’ve just received the latest: Dead Yesterday, a chunky book of stories by Mignon G. Eberhart.

The collection is co-edited by Rick Cypert and Kirby McCauley; Cypert is also the author of a 2005 biography of Eberhart, the title of which proclaims her as ‘America’s Agatha Christie’.

In her day, Eberhart was both prolific and commercially successful. Her life more or less spanned the 20th century and she produced 59 novels and a good many stories, plays and essays. Possibly her most popular character was Susan Dare, a detective story writer who can’t help getting mixed up in murder – a sort of Jessica Fletcher of the Golden Age.

I admit to never having read anything by Eberhart. I’ve gained the impression that she followed in the footsteps of Mary Roberts Rinehart and that her work was far less ground-breaking than Christie’s. But we'll see.

One of the joys of the Crippen & Landru books is that they give modern readers a chance to reach back into the past. Not all their rediscovered authors are great writers, but most of them have something of interest to offer – a nice example, by the way, is Joseph Commings’ collection of ‘impossible crime stories’, Banner Deadlines. The detective is an American senator who rejoices in the name of Brooks U. Banner and the mysteries are very clever. In one of them, someone is shot in a guarded room, and then a smoking gun is delivered, seconds later, in a sealed envelope next door. Worthy of John Dickson Carr.

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