Sunday 10 October 2010

The Murder and Mr Akroyd

Last Monday evening, I hosted my Victorian murder mystery at Akryod Library, Halifax. It was an enjoyable occasion, and I found the venue especially fascinating. The library shares premises with Bankfield Museum, and the building is in a park – unfortunately, it was too dark for me to look around much outside.

But there were some treasures inside, including information about the long defunct Halifax Literary and Philosophical Society – a name that greatly appealed to me. The exhibits included the Halifax Gibbet, a truly fearsome means of execution. I was told it was a precursor to the guillotine. I’m not sure about the historic details, but I did wonder if gibbets had featured much in detective fiction – I imagine so, but can’t call any example to mind.

Bankfield Mansion was once home to a leading Yorkshire worsted and wooleen manufacturer – Edward Akroyd. He developed it into a palatial Italianate-style home. The original Library is one of the most impressive of the rooms. It still retains original oak bookcases, and a great marble fireplace. At one time Akroyd had a staff of 25 servants working at the house. But business problems forced him to sell Bankfield, and the Halifax Corporation took it over, creating the public museum and library. I’d never have gone to Bankfield had I not been invited to host the mystery evening. Yet another example of the unexpected pleasures that can come a writer’s way.

One more bit of news, by the way. Take My Breath Away will make its appearance in a US edition, published by Five Star, next June. I’m really pleased, as it is a book I remain proud of.


Anonymous said...

Martin - Very interesting stuff about the Akroyd Library. Thanks for sharing it. I'm going to have to do some thinking about whether crime fiction features gibbets... ;-). And good news about your U.S. release, too.

Fiona said...

I just Googled 'Crime novels about Gibbets' and found a reference to Simenon's 'Maigret and the Hundred Gibbets'. The mind boggles....I didn't pursue the topic.

There were also references to the killing of the Unknown Sailor at Hindhead and the gibbet upon which his killers were hanged, but this is factual (and not far from where I live); Dickens mentioned it in Nicholas Nickleby.

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks, Margot.
Fiona, great work, why didn't I think of that?!

Mason Canyon said...

Congratulations on the U.S. release. Interesting post.

Thoughts in Progress

QuartPot said...

Re gibbets in crime literature: I've come rather late to this topic, Martin, but as it ties in with your more recent posts on Anthony Berkeley and Andre Steeman, I thought I'd add my ha’p’orth anyway!
I've just finished reading Berkeley's Dead Mrs Stratton, originally published in 1933 as Jumping Jenny. It's set during and after a country house 'murder-and-victim' party, and opens with a striking first sentence: "From the triple gallows three figures swung lazily, two men and one woman." The gallows is, of course, one of the party decorations[!]. The figures are all life-size dummies - but as Berkeley intends, we rightly assume that will no longer be the case by the end of the party, and the gallows is indeed central to the whole story.
Unfortunately, after this brisk start, the first few chapters are quite hard going. We are introduced to about a dozen people and have to remember not only their names (several have surnames in common) and their relationships, but also the characters they have come as. Worth persevering, though, as it's a cleverly-constructed plot with a mystery that is only fully explained by the book's wonderfully throwaway last line.
Berkeley's gallows/gibbet isn't, of course, a guillotine, but I think the decapitating Halifax Gibbet may well be one of a kind: it has its own entry in the OED.
Incidentally, the French title of Maigret and the 100 Gibbets is, less dramatically, Le Pendu de Saint-Pholien. Simenon apparently based the story on the suicide of an early friend of his, who hanged himself from the knocker on the door of Saint-Pholien church in Liege. Clearly Simenon had "the splinter of ice in the heart" which Graham Greene said was essential to a writer!
Oh - and the Steeman connection is that he and Simenon were contemporaries and both born in Liege. Your and Xavier's praise for him have set me looking out for his work!

Martin Edwards said...

Quartpot, very interesting, thanks. I am a huge Berkeley fan, though I agree Jumping Jenny isn't one of his best. Not a bad ending, though, as you say!