Friday 27 March 2009

Forgotten Book - The Scoop

The Scoop, my latest entry to Patti Abbott's series of forgotten books, was the second collaborative writing project undertaken by members of the Detection Club. It was originally written for broadcast on BBC radio, first appearing in ‘The Listener’ in 1931. Not until 1983 did the story appear in book form, when Gollancz published it, together with Behind the Screen, a similar effort from 1930. Essentially, The Scoop is a novella, and has the strengths and limitations of these round-robin efforts.

One great strength is the quality of the writing. In Golden Age detection terms, the authors really were the cream of the crop: Agatha Christie, Freeman Wills Crofts, E.C. Bentley and Anthony Berkeley among them. Dorothy L. Sayers kicked off the story and also finished it, and everyone else also wrote two chapters each. The only author whose other work I haven’t read is Clemence Dane. Dane was a pseudonym for Winifred Ashton. In her time, she was very well known in the world of theatre, but her reputation in the crime field has not survived too well (her three detective novels were co-written with Helen Simpson.) However, it seems that she was a successful playwright and even won an Oscar. Not many crime writers can make a similar claim.

The story centres around a newspaper, ‘The Morning Star’ (very different from the left wing publication of the same name, which continues to flourish to this day.) The main focus of interest for the newshounds is the Lone Bungalow Mystery – a woman has been found stabbed to death in mysterious circumstances, and a young reporter called Johnson is sent to investigate. He soon discovers the weapon, but is himself murdered, and a more experienced reporter, Denis Oliver, takes over the investigation.

The authors’ distinctive styles contribute to the fun. Sayers writes with her usual gusto. Christie is clear, witty and readable. When Crofts takes over, he switches attention from the amateur detective work to the plodding investigation of Scotland Yard. When Clemence Dane concentrated on the purchase of a puppy by one of the secretaries who works on the newspaper, I began to understand why her career as a crime writer was not exactly legendary – but in the end, the puppy contributes to the sorting-out of the story.

This story was a novelty when it was written. More than three-quarters of a century later, I still found it a highly engaging curiosity.


Anonymous said...

Sounds fun, I don't think I have heard of this one (I thought of Evelyn Waugh when I saw your post title! But of course, that book neither has an article nor is forgotten). I do like newspaper crime fiction, there does not seem so much of it about, nowadays. Denise Hamilton, but she seems to be moving away from that line now .....any others writing currently?

Martin Edwards said...

Lesley Grant Adamson wrote several good books about journalist Rain Morgan, but hasn't published a novel for a while - sadly.
Jim Kelly writes a series about a journalist which I haven' read, but want to check out.
I suppose blogging/the internet may supersede the newspaper world to some extent! But I still like newspapers and mourn the passing of some local papers in the current recession.

David Cranmer said...

It does sound like great fun and any book featuring these talents has got to be worth checking out.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Martin, will check out LGA. I have read the first three of Jim Kelly's, and enjoyed them very much. I enjoyed the Francesca Vierling series by Elaine Viets (Veits?). They are set in New Orleans which is quite poignant retrospectively, and often concern "rehabbers" - people who restore those lovely old houses there. But the main events are all to do with newspaper politics, which the author "gets" brilliantly - and they are funny. I do recommend them if you have not come across them before, they are light reads but very well written and put together.

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks, David and Maxine.
I shall investigate Jim Kelly further before long. Is Elaine Viets published in England, Maxine? I know of her, but haven't seen her books here.

Don Longmuir Scene of the Crime Books said...

Don't forget..
Beth Saulnier I enjoyed her series with Alex Bernier she now writes a different series under the name Elizabeth Bloom.
I always find the Reporter kind of character never takes off as well as some of the types.
Jonathan Segura is a new author. The novel is Occupational Hazards. I didn't like the character who is a reporter but by the end of the novel you do feel sorry for him.

Martin Edwards said...

Hi, Don. Good to hear from you - and to meet you at Baltimore last year.

Kerrie said...

My library hasn't heard of this unfortunately

SteveHL said...

A couple of mystery series about newspaper reporters - Edna Buchanan's "Britt Montero" books and Mary Willis Walker's "Molly Cates" books. Also, it doesn't really count, but Laura Lippman's Tess Monaghan is a former reporter.

Anonymous said...

I bought my copies of the F. V. series from Amazon UK marketplace sellers, pretty cheap - and according to Fantastic Fiction it looks as if you still can (the first at least):

I also have a couple of Beth Sauliners to read on my shelves - so I must have bought these in the mists of time after being recommended them as journalism crime! I had forgotten why I'd got them - now I know. Thanks, Don. And I might take a look at that Segura novel you mention.