Selections From The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books

In 2018, Martin Edwards, crime author and editor of 38 crime anthologies, published The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books in which he explores the development of crime fiction from 1901 to 1950 and offers up not only 100 novels, but also recommends a number of other titles. In the opening paragraph of his introduction, Martin Edwards says, “ This book tells the story of crime fiction published during the first half of the twentieth century. I see it as a tale of the unexpected. The diversity of this much-loved genre is breathtaking, and so much greater than many critics have suggested. To illustrate this, I have chosen one hundred examples of books which highlight the achievements, and sometimes the limitations, of popular fiction of that era.”

The members of the Crime and Mystery Book Club from the Sydney Mechanics School of Arts Library picked out and read the following books from this list:

Murder of a Lady (1931) by Anthony Wynne

Murder at Cambridge (1932) by Q Patrick

The Middle Temple Murders (1922) by J.S. Fletcher

The Blotting Book (1908) by E.F. Benson

Clouds of Witness (1923) by Dorothy L Sayers

The Case of the Late Pig (1937) by Margery Allingham

The Nursing Home Murders (1935) by Ngaio Marsh

Death at Broadcasting House (1934) by Val Gielgud and Holt Marvell

The Moving Toy Shop (1946) by Edmund Crispin

The Hollow Man (1935) by John Dickson Carr

Trent’s Last Case (1913) by E.C. Bentley

The Red House Mystery (1922) by A.A. Milne

The Mystery of the Butcher’s Shop (1930) by Gladys Mitchell

The Perfect Murder Case (1929) by Christopher Bush

At the Villa Rose (1928) by A.E.W. Mason

Crime Novels Set or Written in the 1930s

A Selection of Green Penguins from the SMSA Crime Book Club

In this meeting we read books that had been published as a green Penguin. The original idea, according to wikipedia, was established by Penguin Books, a British publishing house that was established in 1935 that sold inexpensive paperbacks through high street stores.

"From the outset, design was essential to the success of the Penguin brand. Eschewing the illustrated gaudiness of other paperback publishers, Penguin opted for the simple appearance of three horizontal bands, the upper and lower of which were colour-coded according to which series the title belonged to; this is sometimes referred to as the horizontal grid. In the central white panel, the author and title were printed in Gill Sans and in the upper band was a cartouche with the legend "Penguin Books". The initial design was created by the then 21-year-old office junior Edward Young, who also drew the first version of the Penguin logo. Series such as Penguin Specials and The Penguin Shakespeare had individual designs (by 1937 only S1 and B1-B18 had been published).

The colour schemes included: orange and white for general fiction, green and white for crime fiction, cerise and white for travel and adventure, dark blue and white for biographies, yellow and white for miscellaneous, red and white for drama; and the rarer purple and white for essays and belles lettres and grey and white for world affairs. Lane actively resisted the introduction of cover images for several years. Some recent publications of literature from that time have duplicated the original look."

What a great design and marketing idea that has been fabulously executed and has been renewed throughout the years. This meant that the Sydney Mechanics School of Arts Library's Crime and Mystery Book Club members had a plethora of books to choose from to read. For the latest list you can go here to Penguin Australia. Here is a list of what was read by the group.

The Franchise Affair by Josephine Tey

The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells

The Godwulf Manuscript by Robert B Parker

Duet of Death by Hilda Lawrence

The 39 Steps by John Buchan

Frequent Hearses by Edmund Crispin

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

The Glass-sided Ant's Nest by Peter Dickinson

Traitor's Purse; Death of a Ghost; The Fashion in Shrouds by Margery Allingham

Bullet in the Ballet by Caryl Brahms & S.J. Simon

The Caterpillar Cop by James McClure

The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton

Death At The President's Lodging by Michael Innes

Recommendations from the SMSA Crime & Mystery Book Club

This month the topic was interesting authors. This gave us another wide range of choices and suggestions from old staples such as Agatha Christie and Margery Allingham to buried treasures like Eric Ambler, all who lived very interesting lives. The library at the Sydney Mechanics' School of Arts has a great selection of crime fiction, science fiction, romance and biographies. More so than the typical municiple library. It is in the heart of the city and is a lovely respite from the hustle and bustle of the streets.  You can find out more about it here.

Angel Court Affair by Anne Perry
This is a Charlotte and William Pitt novel, the 30th one actually. Set in Victorian London, William Pitt is a policeman who is married to Charlotte, who is from the aristocracy. As it is the 30th novel, William has risen through the ranks and as the characters have aged through the books. This is a very popular crime series and you get more joy out of reading this novel if you have read previous ones as it is just as much about the characters as it is about plot. Anne Perry was chosen as an interesting author due to her past that came to light in 2003. When she was 15 years old and living in New Zealand, she and her best friend killed the best friend's mother. The story was made into a movie, Heavenly Creatures, by Peter Jackson.  Perry served her time and changed her name upon release. If you would like to read more, click here

Murder in Mesopotamia by Agatha Christie
Murder in Mesopotamia is Agatha Christie's 14th novel and was published in 1936. It is set on an archeological dig in what is now Iraq and features Hercule Poirot, the infamous Belgian detective. Agatha Christie is most probably the most famous crime writer of the early 20th century and you can read about her here. What we are highlighting is those 10 days she disappeared in 1926. Her first husband, Archie, asked for a divorce as he was in love with another woman, and Christie, already a famous author, drove away from her house in Berkshire in early December, not to be seen for over 10 days. There was a nationwide hunt for Christie, with hundreds of volunteers and the press spinning theories and accusations of foul play as her car was found abandoned. There was so much speculation that contempories, Arthur Conan Doyle and Dorothy L Sayers were drawn into solving the puzzle. She was found registered under a false name living in a hotel in Yorkshire in mid-December. Christie claimed to have no memory of the missing days, but soon returned to her life. She divorced Archie in 1928 and remarried in 1930 to archeologist Max Mallowan, whom she travelled with extensively.   

An Expert in Murder by Nicola Upson
We have written about Josephine Tey previously, with the usual top level biographical information on the author. Josephine Tey is a pseudonym for Elizabeth Mackintosh, who was born in Inverness, Scotland. Not much is known about her as she was very private and did not give interviews. Here is what we know: She was a physical education teacher in England until her mother died in 1926 and she returned to Inverness to care for her father; she had a fiancé who died in World War One and never married; she was an accomplished gymnast; she started writing when she lived in Inverness; her writing also included plays which were published under the name Gordon Daviot; she wrote a play for John Gielgud and they became lifelong friends; she referred to her detective novels as her yearly knitting; in 1950 her father died and she moved to Stratham, south England and increased her writing output. An Expert in Murder features a fictional Josephine Tey who solves a murder in the London theatre district in the 1930s at the time the real Josephine Tey was writing plays. This fictional Tey works with Detective Inspector Archie Penrose to find the killer of a young woman who in some way is connected to her latest play. An Expert in Murder (2008) is Upson’s debut, she has written six more featuring the fictional Tey

Better to Rest by Dana Stabenow
Better To Rest is the fourth Liam Campbell novel by Dana Stabenow. Stabenow was born in Anchorage, Alaska in 1950, and she writing crime fiction, science fiction and historical adventures. Stabenow brings the experiences of living in Alaska to vivid life in her crime novels. You can read more about it hereAccording to an article written by Claire E. White in conversation with Stabenow in 2000, "she was raised on a 75-foot fish tender in the Gulf of Alaska. Her mother was a deckhand on a salmon tender called the Celtic, for five years, from the time Dana was in the third grade. Dana and her mother lived on board most of the time. After falling into the hold with a load of fresh fish one day, she refused to eat salmon again until she was 35. When she wasn't seasick, she wrote stories about normal children who lived on shore, and made her mother read them. She claims this was probably some of her best work.”

The Discourtesy of Death and The Gardens of the Dead by William Brodrick
According to Goodreads, ‘William Broderick was born in Bolton, Lancashire in 1960. Having lived in Canada since he was eleven, he went to school in Australia and England, and went on to take a BA in Philosophy and Theology, then a MTh (Master of Theology) and a Degree of Utter Barrister. Brodrick worked on a logging camp in British Columbia, Canada, before joining the Augustinian Friars (1979-1985). He began his life as a friar in Dublin, Ireland, based on a farm that deployed Iron Age techniques bringing him very close to nature. After several years as a friar, he left the order to help set up a charity at the request of Cardinal Hume, The Depaul Trust, which worked with homeless people. In 1991 he became a barrister. He holds British and Canadian citizenship and is married with three children with whom he lives in France.” 

Murder in the Frame by Dave Warner
Murder in the Frame is a light crime novel featuring a former rock star and recluse Andrew ‘The Lizard’ Zirk and is set in Australia. It is the second book in the series written by Dave Warner who is a former punk rocker. In the 1970s he formed the punk band Pus. He formed his next band, The Suburbs in 1977. This band was more successful with a number of hit singles. By the 1980s Warner started to diversify and he wrote a theatre revue, The Sensational Sixties, and later The Sixties and All That Pop. He started writing screenplays in the 2000s, both movies and episodes of Australian TV programs. He wrote his first novel, a crime story, City of Light, which was published in 1995. He started his Andrew Zirk novels in 1998.

The Secret of the Garden by Arthur Gask
Englishman Arthur Gask was born in London in 1869. He trained to become a dentist, which he would be his day job until he died in 195. He married in 1898  and had four children. He divorced and married his children’s nanny in 1909 and had another two children. He and his second wife and their children moved to Adelaide, Australia in 1920. He set up a practice and self-funded the publication of his first book, The Secret of the Sand Hills in 1921. It sold well and he was taken on by a London publisher. He wrote more than a crime novel a year, often set in Adelaide. Many of them became best sellers. He wrote 30 crime novels featuring his main character, Gilbert Larose, 14 short stories and four standalone crime novels. The Secret of the Garden (1924) is a standalone crime novel.

The Fear of the Sign by Margery Allingham and her biography by Julia Thorougood
Born in Ealing, London in 1904, Margery Allingham was the daughter of writers. Not writers of literature in the traditional sense of the word, but of more popular writing, such as stories for women’s magazines (her mother) and pulp stories (her father). She always wrote stories and plays as a young girl, getting published for the first time at the age of eight in her aunt’s magazine. She studied at the Regent Street Polytechnic studying drama and speech-training (she had a stammer since childhood) where she met her husband Philip Youngman Carter, whom he marries in 1927. Her first novel, Blackkerchief Dick was published in 1923, Allingham was 19 years old. It featured occult themes that continued to be prevelent in many of her subsequent novels. This book was not a commercial success, so Allingham wrote some plays and attempted to write a ‘serious’ novel, soon discovering that she preferred a more light-hearted approach. She began writing crime stories. The Crime at Black Dudley was published in 1929. It introduced Albert Campion, who was a minor character in this story. Her publishers encouraged her to develop Campion into her main protagonist and feature him in her next story. She wrote another 16 books and 20 short stories with Campion at the centre. Allingham died from breast cancer at 62 years old. Her final book was completed by her husband.

Journey into Fear by Eric Ambler
This is a great article about Eric Ambler that was published in The Guardian. It really explores his work and life. No point in writing anything further here. Just click on it and read about his life here.

 

The Competition by Marcia Clark
Marcia Clark has written four crime novels featuring her Los Angeles District Attorney Rachel Knight, in addition to some short stories and a non-fiction chronicling Clark’s famous trial as a LA prosecutor, the O.J. Simpson trial in 1995.  She was the prosecutor for the State of California at the time and took on the case herself, along with Christopher Darden, a 15 year veteran of the LA District Attorney’s office. Former American football star, actor and entertainment personality, O.J. Simpson was prosecuted for the murder of his wife, Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman. As a suspect, he was infamously chased through the streets of Los Angeles by the police, driving a black bronco SVU. Filmed by the TV news, this chase became the beginning of a sensational trial that found Simpson not guilty.  Although Clark failed to make her case, Simpson did not ultimately end up a free man. He was found guilty of robbery and kidnapping in 2007. You can read about it here

Coornaki the Ghost Finder by William Hope Hodgson
According to Wikipedia, “Carnacki, the Ghost-Finder is a collection of occult detective short stories by author William Hope Hodgson. It was first published in 1913.” So early pulp fiction. Hodgson was English, the son of an Anglican priest and his wife. He was the second of 12 children and three of his siblings died as young children. The death of a child is a common theme in his work. Hodgson ran away to sea at 13 years old, he was caught and returned to his family, but he did receive permission to become a cabin boy from his father. He was apprenticed for four years, and during that time his father died and Hodgson was left to help support his family. After his apprenticeship he studied and received his mate’s certificate, as such becoming a full time sailor and paid for his services. He was bullied at sea which led him to begin a program of personal training, whereby he developed his body. He was short and of a sensitive nature, with what was described as a beautiful face. He was a target who could now defend himself. In addition to physical health, Hodgson took up photography, honed his marksmanship and kept a journal about his time at sea. At 22 years of age, in 1899, he opened the W. H. Hodgson’s School of Physical Culture, in Blackburn, England. A personal trainer of sorts, who had amongst his clients, members of the Blackburn police force. He courted publicity by appearing on stage in handcuffs and escaping, like Harry Houdini, and doing other feats of physical strength. He discovered in a few years that he could not make a living as a personal trainer and closed down his business. He turned to writing and began to write articles for journals and magazines in 1903. He published his first short story in 1904 and his first novel in 1907. His stories we adventure tales with elements of horror and thrilling crimes. They were popular and he was able to earn a living, even if it was a meagre living. In 1912 Hodgson married and moved to the south of France, as it was cheaper than England. He continued to write. When war broke out in 1914, they returned to England. He joined the University of London’s Officers’ Training Corps and received a commission as a Lieutenant in the Royal Artillery. He was injured in 1916 by being thrown from a horse and was given a mandatory discharge. He refused to stay out of the war and recovered enough to re-enlist. He continued to write articles during this time, mainly about his war experience. He was killed in Ypres in April 1918.

Salinger by David Shields and Shane Salerno
This is seen as the definitive biography of the author of Catcher In The Rye (1951) and Franny and Zooey (1961). Shane Salerno also did a documentary on Salinger released in 2013 and is seen as a companion piece to the biography. He was an unusual man, who had issues with his own identity and had an unusual relationship with the women in his life. You can read about this more here. He fought in World War Two and was affected quite deeply by his experiences. His writing reflects this as well as his ever changing beliefs. Salinger isolated himself and whoever the woman in his life was and his tendency to more extreme approaches to life had him dabble in many 'isms' including early work by L. Ron Hubbard. We recommend reading the biography or watching the documentary to try and understand this quite peculiar man.

Recommendations for the SMSA Crime & Mystery Book Club

This month we focused on books written or set between the two world wars. Writers were rediscovered and some were discarded. Read on to see our recommendations.

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Birds of a Feather by Jacqueline Winspear
We have talked about Jacqueline Winspear before here, we we recommended her debut, Maisie Dobbs. Birds of a Feather is the second in the series and it continues to delve into how Maisie became a private investigator in the 1920s and how the past informs the actions of today. Well the today portrayed in the novel, not the present.

Jacqueline Winspear is an English writer and has won several awards for her Maisie Dobbs series.

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The Man and The Queue and A Shilling for Candles by Josephine Tey
Josephine Tey is not new to our group, and two of her novels were recommended this month.  The Man and The Queue is the first Inspector Alan Grant novel and A Shilling for Candles is the second. They may feature the same character but they were written years apart. A Man and the Queue was published in 1929 and A Shilling for Candles was published in 1936.  The next one in the series came out in 1950, so she obviously liked to have some time between novels with this character. This was the only series she wrote as she wrote seven other novels (one is a biography) and two plays. There is quite a difference in how the books are written and her experience as a writer is definately more prevelant in the seond novel. 

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Footsteps in the Dark by Georgette Heyer
Georgette Heyer is known for her historical romances set in the Regency era, however, she also wrote some crime fiction. Footsteps in the Dark is her first thriller, written in 1932, and it is set in a old house, The Priory.  Guests are charmed by the remote, ramshackle house as they stay during summer, however the frisson of a possible haunted house turns deadly when someone is murdered. It is a very light read and can be irritating and inplausible at times.  Only for the fans.

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The White Cottage Mystery by Margery Allingham

This is Margery Allingham's second novel, but first crime fiction, that was originally written as a serial for a newspaper. It has been edited into a novel by her sister in 1928. It is a single location murder in the English countryside. The body of a man is found in The White Cottage and as Detective Chief Inspector Challenor and his son Jerry begin to investigate, they find that he was not well liked by the community. To explain any further would ruin the plot.

Margery Allingham went on to write the Albert Campion series (21 in total) and 11 standalone novels and short story collections. She wrote her first novel, The Blackkerchief Dick, was published when she was 19 year old in 1923, and it had occult and supernatural themes. She included the occult in many of her stories.

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The Viaduct Murder by Ronald Knox
The Viaduct Murder was published in 1925 and is seen as a classic British crime story. It tells the story of four older gentlemen, a clergyman, a retired don, a former member of military intelligence and a vacationing golfer, stumble across a body below the railroad viaduct during a golf game. They set out to solve the murder.

According to the website Clerical Detectives and some other crime fiction, selected by Phillip Grosset, Ronald Knox was "Monsignor Ronald Arbuthnott Knox (1888-1957), was a well-known English Roman Catholic theologian, preacher, satirist and writer. Educated at Eton (which he liked very much. It probably really was the happiest time of his life) and Balliol College, Oxford, he had to give up being the Anglican chaplain at Trinity College, Oxford, when he converted to Roman Catholicism in 1917. He was (not very happily for him) sent by his bishop to teach Latin at St Edmund's College, Ware, then became RC chaplain at the University of Oxford (1928-1939), during which time he decided he would have to make ends meet by writing detective stories, five of the six featuring Miles Bredon. He also wrote a short story (Solved by Inspection) featuring Bredon"

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For the Defence: Dr Thorndyke by R. Austin Freeman
This is a Dr Thorndyke novel that was published in 1934. It is a very plodding novel that starts with crime and has a unrealistic mistaken identity that is the central conceit. If you can swallow this set up, you will enjoy the novel, if you can't employ the Nancy Pearl rule of reading. Dr Thorndyke is a medical/legal forensic investigator, which is a combination that is a little ahead of its time.

Richard Austin Freeman was a doctor in the British colonial service until that late 1890s, when he returned to London. During World War One he served as a Captain in the Royal Medical Corps. He brings this knowledge to his books. He started writing the Thorndyke novels in 1907 and wrote one just about every year until his death in 1943.

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The Santa Klaus Murder by Mavis Doriel Hay
The title does give the theme away, it is a yuletide murder mystery and it has been republished by the British Library Crime Classic series. The original came out in 1936 and it is English mansion crime mystery. The patriarch of the Melbury clan, Sir Oswald is found dead on Christmas Day dressed in a Santa Claus suit. The book gives you the different family members points of view before Colonel Halstock takes over as protagonist and investigates the murder.

Mavis Doriel Hay wrote three detective novels and thanks to the British Library Crime series all three are now available.

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The Dorothy Parker Murder Case by George Baxt
This is the first in the Detective Jacob Singer novels that merge fact and fiction and focus on famous people as co-investigators with Jacob. This novel is set in 1926 and as you can tell from the title, involves writer and witticist Dorothy Parker and some of her cohorts from the Algonquin Roundtable, George Kaufman and Alexander Woollcott, help solve the death of a New York showgirl. Baxt manages to capture how you think these people would talk to each other and has some lovely witty comments. 

George Baxt wrote 13 novels in the Celebrity Murder series as well as two other series, one featuring a gay black protagonist (Pharoah Love) and the duo Plotkin and Van Larsen. He also wrote five standalone novels. Baxt has also written screenplays for TV and cinema. He died in 2003.

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The Feathered Serpent and Mr J. G. Reeder Returns by Edgar Wallace
Two of Edgar Wallace's novels were recommended this month. One a Mr J. G. Reeder story and the other an Inspector Wade book.  

Edgar Wallace was a prolific writer with six crime series (which includes 36 novels), 83 crime novels, nine other novels, three poetry collections, 16 non-fiction novels, six screenplays, 48 short story collections and 25 plays. So, a few. As well as writing he was a war correspondent during the Boer War and stayed on in South Africa to write for local newspapers before moving back to the UK prior to World War One. After the war,  he continued to work as a journalist until the 1920s when he wrote full time. 

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In the Train by Frank O'Connor
In The Train is a short story by Frank O'Connor, one of the great Irish writers from between the wars. For some background on O'Connor, you can read this article from The Guardian.  Many of his short stories are out of print, but can be found now and again in collections such as the Collection of Great Irish Detective Novels. 

In the Train was written in 1935 and it is about the people on a train heading back to their country town from the city after they have all participated in one way or another in the murder trial of a townsfolk. The story unravels the story from different perspectives.  

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The Middle Temple Murder by J. S. Fletcher
Published in 1919, The Middle Temple Murder is of course set in the Middle Temple part of London, which is, according to wikipedia, "the Honourable Society of the Middle Temple, commonly known simply as Middle Temple, is one of the four Inns of Court exclusively entitled to call their members to the English Bar as barristers, the others being the Inner Temple, Gray's Inn and Lincoln's Inn. It is located in the wider Temple area of London, near the Royal Courts of Justice, and within the City of London." So it is safe to say that the murder is strongly connected to the legal system in England. This book not only searches for the killer but also the identity of the victim. 

Joseph Smith Fletcher was a British journalist and a crime writer from the early twentieth century.  He died in 1935. He was very prolific and wrote over 230 novels, both fiction and non-fiction.

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Bring the Monkey by Miles Franklin
Australian author Miles Franklin is better known for her non-genre books, however, this is her take on a crime novel and it is a spoof of an English country house cozy crime. The story is complete with eccentric characters such as the narrator, her dazzling companion and a monkey.  Published in 1933, the book satirises the English upper class but not in a mean way. It is fun to read.

Stella Franklin wrote under the name Miles Franklin so that she would be published. Her novel My Brilliant Career is an Australian and feminist classic. The top Australian Literary Award is called the Miles Franklin Award.  

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Thrones & Dominations by D. L. Sayers & Jill Paton Walsh
Dorothy Sayers has been written about before on this blog, and the continuation of her characters, Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane, by Jill Paton Walsh have also been touched on before here. Thrones & Dominations is the first book that continues the series after Sayers death. Sayers started writing the novel in 1936 and Paton Walsh completed it in 1998. It focuses on Lord Peter and Lady Harriet settling into married life and they are dragged into the death of a young woman. This is mainly a Harriet Vane story as Lord Peter spends most of the plot off doing Foreign Office business in the lead up to World War 2.

Next month we will be reading crime novels that feature rock, paper or scissors. A wide range indeed.