Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Top 10 Golden Age novels

Here, as promised, is my highly subjective and apt-to-change-in-the-blink-of-an-eye list of top ten favourite Golden Age detective novels. I've imposed some limitations - just one book per author, and I've focused on detection rather than psychological crime (hence, no room for the wonderful Malice Aforethought.) I've tended to choose books that were in some way very original. Mike Linane made a very good suggestion that I should pick novels that are not too difficult to obtain, and I've gone part of the way to doing this. The Hull book, for instance, was an old green Penguin that you often find in second hand bookshops or at book fairs, although I can't claim that it's very easy to find. The King book was republished by Collins Crime Club in the 80s, and again is not terribly rare. So I hope anyone who wants to track them down will be able to do so, even if it takes a bit of perseverance. Next week, however, I shall develop a theme which Mike put in my mind by listing ten Golden Age books that are very obscure, but in my opinion undeservedly so.

Finally, I should say that, to show how difficult this game is, I changed my mind several times during the course of writing this post. And I'll probably change it a few more times as I'm reminded of classics I've overlooked...

10. The Crooked Hinge by John Dickson Carr - I'm a great fan of "impossible crime" mysteries, and Carr wrote several superb examples. Hard to choose just one, but I did admire this mystery.

9. Tragedy at Law by Cyril Hare - several of Hare's books appeared as late as the Fifties,but like Christie's and that of Edmund Crisipin and Christianna Brand, his work belongs in spirit to the Golden Age. This is a classic study of law and crime. Very unusual.

8. Excellent Intentions by Richard Hull - a strangely under-estimated book by a writer who was always trying something different. Very clever twist on the idea of the courtroom drama.

7. Death Walks in Eastrepps by Francis Beeding - a wonderfully original serial killer whodunit, with a great twist and terrific seaside setting.

6. Obelists Fly High by C. Daly King - King wrote barmily implausible books, but this one is written with such gusto, and has such a detailed "clue finder" that I find it impossible not to include it in my list.

5. Trent's Last Case by E.C. Bentley - this is the book that was the catalyst for the Golden Age school of writers, and it's really very well done. Elegant and memorable.

4. Murder Must Advertise by Dorothy L. Sayers - I find it very hard to pick my favourite Sayers book. They all seem flawed to me - but usually because she was so admirably ambitious. The Nine Tailors and The Documents in the Case are really good too. I'm not a member of the Gaudy Night fan club, I'm afraid, even though again I respect what Sayers was trying to achieve.

3. Lonely Magdalen by Henry Wade - a police story, and much darker than most Golden Age books. But very impressive, and a landmark title in terms of police procedure mysteries.

2. The Poisoned Chocolates Case by Anthony Berkeley - witty and clever, this is a masterly example of the multiple solution detective mystery. Both Sayers and Christie loved it, and so do I.

1. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie - as I said on Monday, this one is simply unbeatable in my opinion...


Anonymous said...

There are some very interesting choices here, Martin - including some I've never read. Obviously it's time for me to broaden my horizons.

On Carr, by the way, I agree that Judas Window is excellent, but I think I would have chosen either The Judas Window or The Hollow Man (The Three Coffins). But that's today...tomorrow it might well be different.

J F Norris said...

Good picks, Martin! I've read seven from your list. I've not read anything by Henry Wade, though I have (as usual) a small pile of his books. Sadly, one of them is not LONELY MAGDALEN. You can bet that I will be looking for that as well as the Hull book, another I've not read. I like Richard Hull's innovations. Not one of his books is like any of the others. And I'd give a shout out for another one of Hull's books easily found in a Penguin paperback edition -- THE GHOST IT WAS. It's his most traditional detective novel and very much a homage to John Dickson Carr. BTW, a review of THE GHOST IT WAS is coming soon to my blog.

Martin Edwards said...

Les, great to hear from you. Not sure why it took time for your comment to show up.
John, I look forward to your review!

Martin Edwards said...

Les, great to hear from you. Not sure why it took time for your comment to show up.
John, I look forward to your review!

Puzzle Doctor said...

A great list that I must read more of, but I'd go with several Carr novels before The Crooked Hinge - Til Death Do Us Part, He Who Whispers or The Judas Window are my favourites.

Graham Powell said...

The Crooked Hinge is not my favorite Carr, although there are many memorable parts. I think my personal favorite is Death in Five Boxes, but there are many others.

I do agree that Murder Must Advertise is Sayer's best. It's also rather hard-boiled in a couple of places, in particular Wimsey's advice to the murderer near the end.

Martin Edwards said...

PD, Graham, I will readily admit that I could easily change my choice of Carrs! The Black Spectacles is another good one, but there are quite a lot.
Graham, yes, that scene at the end is very far from cosy, isn't it?

Unknown said...

I'm interested in your thoughts about Dorothy Sayers, Martin. I too think her books are flawed, but for me a lot of the time it's her desperate snobbery that spoils the stories for me. I get the sense she's on the outside looking in at a world she covets - and that Lord Peter epitomises that world for her. I think by the time of Gaudy Night she was pretty much in love with him! I do enjoy the stories, though. My favourite is Strong Poison, because it's quite a pastiche really. The Nine Tailors I thought was ridiculous, with its comic rustics and ridiculous solution. Have Murder Must Advertise on my Kindle, though, so we'll see what that's like.

Martin Edwards said...

Hope you enjoy it, Daniel. I'll comment further about Sayers on the blog today.