As I mentioned in my last post, I’m looking more carefully than usual at the Golden Age of Detective Fiction at the moment, mostly so that I don’t look like an ill-informed twerp at The Bodies From The Library meeting in June. But while I read some more books from the authors that have are generally regarded as writers of the era, I thought I’d take some time to consider what exactly makes a book a “Golden Age” novel.
By the way, readers who want more than my random musings, I have every confidence that you can get a much more informed opinion from Martin Edwards’ latest tome, The Golden Age Of Murder. But I haven’t picked up a copy yet, so figured I’d take my own, less informed, stab at it, and who better to ask than Ronald Knox himself.
1939, the village of Chippingwood. The great and the good of the village – the local squire, his son, the vicar, his daughter, two old ladies, the village doctor and his femme fatale – are planning a play to be staged for charity. After much contention about the choice of text – modern vs very traditional – the only thing left to decide is who shall play the overture to the play?
Both of the old ladies are reluctant to back down, but eventually Miss Campanula wins out. She plays the first few chords, puts her foot on the soft pedal and… would you believe it, someone’s wired a gun up to the pedal and Miss Campanula is no more, shot right between the eyes. Enter Inspector Alleyn…
Albert Campion awakes in a hospital bed and… well, he’s got absolutely no idea how he got there. Or what he was doing. And who exactly he is… Suspected of assaulting a police officer, Campion goes on the run. Soon, however, he finds himself in the middle of the intrigue that put him in hospital in the first place.
The ancient order of the Masters of Bridge, a town in south-west England, are at the centre of mysterious goings-on that Campion was investigating but now, with his memory seemingly lost forever, he finds himself playing a dangerous game. Can he fool his mysterious adversaries into thinking that they’re up against Campion at the height of his powers? But given that he can’t even recognise his fiancée and his manservant Lugg, will he be able to fool anyone?
Well, those nice folk at WordPress inform me that this is my 700th post, so, as I usually do, it’s time for a special post. As I was getting close to this “milestone”, I was at a bit of a loss as to what to write about. After all, I’ve kind of done most of the “Top Five” posts that I could think off – I’ll do an Ellery Queen one, once I’ve read them all, but that’s a way off. But then I saw a link to this article on Twitter. The 101 Best Crime Novels of the Past Decade.
To be fair, that’s a bit of a misleading title. It’s the top ten of each of the past ten years over at the Mystery Showcase at The Booklist Reader. But as with every best of list, it’s biased towards the reader’s tastes – a lot of reviewers wouldn’t touch an historical mystery set more than two hundred years ago unless it had the name Sansom on the cover. Ditto a light-hearted mystery – some readers need their angst! I consider myself pretty well read in crime fiction – some new, some old. You might have spotted this. But out of the 101 books on the list, I’ve read exactly one. So I thought I’d do my version. Obviously, I’m not doing 101, you’ll be pleased to hear, but here’s my Top Ten Crime Books of the last decade, in no particular order.
Los Angeles 1928. The trial is underway for those involved in the C C Julian Petroleum stock scandal – a foreshadowing of things to come for the US economy. Sarah Kaufman, an Ohio probate officer, was one of the victims of the scheme and has come to the city to observe the trial, in particular to see the man who tricked her into investing be sent to prison. But Sarah has problems of her own, as she is still reeling from a series of murders that she helped to solve in Tennessee.
Content to simply observe the trial, Sarah’s plans are scuppered when a Mexican woman that she hardly knows is murdered. As she looks into the death to bring justice for someone that nobody seems to care about, she finds herself on a nightmare of a journey to Mexico and back again in pursuit of a deadly killer.
I’ve been wondering if I have what it takes to kill. Whether I can look a living creature in the eye and take the one irreversible action that ends a life. Asked and answered, I suppose. I have no difficulty in killing. I’m actually rather good at it.
Catrin Quinn – a woman whose life was destroyed three years ago – has plans to bring things to a permanent end. Her former best friend Rachel – a shadow of her former self – seeks forgiveness from the one person who will never grant it. Callum Murray – a veteran of the Falklands conflict suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder – is haunted by things that he may or may not have done. Three lost souls circling each other – but their orbits are thrown into chaos when a child disappears.
The Falkland Islands is a close community but spread over a wide area. The missing child is the third to vanish in three years – could a killer be stalking the islands? And is that killer someone nobody would ever suspect?
London, a party in St John’s Wood. Artist Laurence Newtree is hosting a soiree which includes on its guest list one John Christmas, an amateur criminologist. During the party, the dead body of Newtree’s neighbour is discovered – he has been stabbed but was seen by a reliable witness half an hour after his apparent time of death. No one in the party could have gained access to the flat – and who was the mysterious man in a fez seen lurking around the area in the fog?
Inspector Hemshow is on the case – assisted by John Christmas – but he is convinced that the witness was the murderer, simply lying about having seen the victim alive. But Christmas isn’t convinced that matters are as simple as that? But can he find the real killer before an innocent man pays the price?