Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Mysteries Unlocked

This year, I've been pleased to contribute essays to three widely diverging books, and each of them was a different writing and publishing experience. The first essay was a study of the short fiction of Arthur Conan Doyle, for Morphologies. Another is a discussion of Gilbert Adair and detective fiction for a forthcoming Adair festschrift. And the third is also a contribution to a festschrift, this time Mysteries Unlocked, which is sub-titled Essays in Honour of Douglas G. Greene.

Regular readers of this blog will know that Doug and I go back quite a long way. So long, in fact, that I can't quite recall when and where we first met. I've been a long-time subscriber to the wonderful books he publishes under the Crippen & Landru imprint, and edited one of them, a collection of Ellis Peters' "lost classics." He has helped me a great deal with my researches into the Golden Age, with that generosity that seems to me to typify the overwhelming majority of people in the crime fiction community. He is the author of a wonderful biography of John Dickson Carr, which I strongly recommend, as well as editor of a number of extremely interesting short story collections. In person he's very good company, and we've dined together a couple of times this year, most recently at Malice Domestic. So I'm very glad that Curtis Evans proposed celebrating Doug's 70th birthday with a book that includes essays, almost all of them brand new, about different aspects of crime fiction. The book is introduced by Steve Steinbock, who was at that same rather memorable dinner in Bethesda last May. Yep, it's a small world.

My contribution discusses Anthony Berkeley's short stories, and I'm currently enjoying reading the others, ranging from a lovely piece by Peter Lovesey about Eric the Skull of the Detection Club to a fascinating article by Mauro Boncampagni about the Q. Patrick/Jonathan Stagge/Patrick Quentin writing collective. I've never met Mauro, but I have the pleasure of corresponding with him, and I'm indebted not just to him but also to his wife, who has been translating The Coffin Trail into Italian - as a result, Mondadori will be publishing the first Lake District Mystery later this year, I'm thrilled to say.

Barry Pike and Julia Jones, leading lights of the Margery Allingham Society, are the authors of a pair of excellent studies. Barry's deals with Allingham's commercial fiction and Julia's tackles The China Governess. Julia's article is both interesting and wise; she explains how her view of the book has changed over the years, and I think this typifies the best scholarship. I admire critics who are willing to revisit their opinions, Both Dorothy L. Sayers and Julian Symons were admirable in this regard; it seems to me to be a sign of strength. Julia casts fascinating new light on the novel. To find out how she does this, you'll have to read the book!

John Curran, supremely knowledgeable about Agatha Christie, tackles her attempts at "locked room mysteries" with his customary authority. Mike Ashley (whom I've never met, but for whose anthologies I've written numerous stories) discusses Max Rittenberg. I'd never heard of Rittenberg, but Mike makes me want to read him. Roger Ellis writes interestingly about J.S. Fletcher, and Steve Steinbock about one of Carr's rivals in the impossible crime field, the under-rated Hake Talbot.

And there is more, much more. A wealth of other material of high quality, in fact, contributed by commentators including Jon L. Breen and Marv Lachman (against whom I once competed in a game of Mastermind, at the Nottingham Bouchercon) who combine to make this a truly wide-ranging reference book. I love devouring essay collections about the genre, and this is one of the best to have appeared in years. Editor Evans, himself the author of two of the essays, is to be congratulated on having come up with a great idea, and then on having done the spadework of turning it into a reality.


Jamie Sturgeon said...

A shame Bob Adey's essay for the book never made it. Also a pity it is so expensive

Martin Edwards said...

I didn't know Bob had written an essay for the book. About locked rooms?

The Passing Tramp said...

Since Jamie brought this up: Bob Adey's essay was much too short for McFarland's length requirements, as I explained to Bob. It was a piece he had done earlier, on The Red Right Hand,and it was published in CADS. I offered that Bob do a short piece about working with Doug, but I didn't hear back about that.

I think it's a shame too the book is expensive, but I think the greatest shame would be had it never been done at all. One can but try to get the best arrangement with a publisher that one can. I don't know what else I could have done.

The Passing Tramp said...

Martin, thanks for taking time to write about the book and thanks for contributing. It was an honor to be able to put together a book for Doug, to whom I first wrote a fan letter nearly twenty years ago now!