Wednesday 13 February 2008

The White Crow

When I was first starting to read crime fiction of different kinds in my teens, I benefited hugely from the opportunity to borrow from the local library in Northwich the reprints of genre classics that seemed plentiful. With hindsight, it was quite a privilege, because many of the books I encountered then are very difficult to find these days.

One of the best reprint series was Hodder’s ‘Classics of Detection and Adventure’, edited by Michael Gilbert. Thanks to his judicious selections, I encountered for the first time such entertaining writers as Anthony Berkeley, Henry Wade, Christianna Brand and Philip Macdonald. Each book included an introduction by Michael Gilbert which invariably revealed a real understanding of what the author was trying to do. And there’s no doubt that Gilbert’s comments helped developed my own understanding of the crime writer’s craft.

The Macdonald title in the series, which I mentioned recently, was The White Crow. Gilbert said that Macdonald ‘manages, with great skill, to combine the arts of the thriller and the craft of the whodunnit’. His remarks on the denouement are full of insight; he says it is the cleverest thing in the whole book. I’d agree with that, although when I read the book at the time, it didn’t as a whole seem to live up to Gilbert’s praise. Recent comments on the excellent GADetection Forum (where many very well-read fans of older books engage in fascinating debate) confirm that, thirty-plus years further on, it has not stood up well to the test of time. But I was interested enough to read other Macdonalds, and found quite a few that I thought really successful.

In the 1990s, Chivers’ Black Dagger series not only brought back enjoyable crime stories of the past, but included introductions from present day crime writers. I introduced several myself – I struggled to find much good to say about Joan Aiken’s Dark Interval, but enjoyed enormously the chance to re-read and then talk about Margot Bennett’s The Man Who Didn’t Fly and Cornell Woolrich’s The Bride Wore Black. Eventually, though, Chivers gave up on the introductions. A pity, I felt, remembering how much those Michael Gilbert intros had taught me all those years ago.

1 comment:

pattinase (abbott) said...

These were the names I first read in crime fiction and it's nice to see them in print here.