Friday 8 May 2009

Forgotten Book: Many a Slip

Detective fiction writers like to play games with their readers, and authors of all kinds are apt to fret, once their books have been published, that they have not done enough work on their stories, and that a little more revision would have worked wonders. This first edition of Many a Slip by Freeman Wills Crofts, my entry this week in Patti Abbott's Forgotten Books series, is a rather pleasing example of both.

Crofts was one of the giants of detective fiction’s Golden Age, creator of Inspector French and master of plots hinging upon a seemingly unbreakable alibi. His most famous books were novels, but Many a Slip is a collection of short stories. In a prefatory note, he explains their genesis thus:

‘All of these little stories were originally published in the Evening Standard (of London). Owing to newspaper space limitations they were then little more than skeleton plots and I have now tried to give them some small covering of flesh.

They are murder tales, and in all of them the criminal makes a mistake which gives him away. In the game with the reader, he wins if he spots these before they are revealed and (so to speak) I do if he doesn’t.’

An appealing concept. But in my copy of the book, Crofts noted sadly in his own hand:

‘Now that I see these little tales in book form, I think they should have been further expanded, with some build up of the characters. Alas, that is now too late!

Freeman Wills Crofts
11th June 1955’

By the way, I’ve added this title to the Collecting Crime Fiction page on my website: there are more examples there of books and crime-related material that appeal to me.


Leigh Russell said...

I know exactly how he felt, Martin. I wish I'd looked through my book one more time - and changed almost everything about it - before it went to the production team. I wonder with some trepidation how I'll feel when it's actually published. This 'fun' is suddenly becoming serious and I'm wondering what I've let myself in for, and why.

Ray said...

I remember this book - now that you have mentioned it. And the short stories that appeared in the 'Evening Standard'. What a jolt to the memory.

Rod Duncan said...

I'm too much of a coward to read my own novels! I know I'll find mistakes.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Oh, that is very sad. And whenever I see a story of mine in print, I think it too.

Dorte H said...

What a nice & humble attitude :)
And I can imagine how nerve-wrecking it must be to wait for the readers´ judgment. This is what is so good about the writing course I am in - we get response after a few hours, and if we write new versions, some critics are kind enough to come back and tell us what they think.

vegetableduck said...

Yeah, it's not that good a collection, I'm afraid. I see these Crofts short shorts as little mystery parables about the folly of greed.

Charming note from the author, everything I've seen about him convinces me that he was a very sweet man.

I forked over for some letters of his, to use in the book. I wasn't able to get a letter from him to "John Rhode," however.

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks for these comments. I'd assume that most writers are self-critical, as I am, and I hoped this piece about Crofts (who does indeed seem to have been a very modest and agreeable chap) would strike a chord - I'm glad it has.

Martin Edwards said...

Ray, I have now added Broken Trails to the blogroll.

Paul Beech said...

It’s the old question, isn’t it – when can we say that a work of literature is truly finished? That the addition or deletion of a single word, a single comma even, would detract from it? If a poet cannot be certain three stanzas, what hope a novelist after 300 pages? As with our children, it’s surely a case of knowing when to let go.

Good to see you’ve added the Crofts title to your excellent Collecting Crime Fiction page, Martin. I like your notes on the books. And of course there’s plenty of graphological interest in the authors’ inscriptions – contrast Agatha Christie’s cursive script with Michael Connelly’s hasty print (note his Greek d)! Any chance of adding HRF Keating’s crime novel in verse, Jack The Lady Killer, with his inscription daring you to have a go?


Martin Edwards said...

Thanks, Paul. Great point about graphology! I'll track down my copy of Harry's book as you suggest.