A few weeks ago I was delighted to welcome Martin Edwards to this blog. If you missed his post, the link to it is here.
I knew this book was up and coming and I awaited it with eager anticipation and when it arrived started reading immediately. I read it solidly over two days, surfacing now and then for sustenance and chocolate before diving back into it. The Golden Age of Murder is unputdownable and as exciting and intriguing as any of the books of this age. This is not a book about the books written at that time, though of course there are descriptions etc, but it is a book about the AUTHORS and, goodness me, what an intriguing bunch they are.
I, of course, knew all about Ngaio Marsh, Dorothy L Sayers and Agatha Christie and a few others of this time but the amount of detective fiction produced alongside these luminaries is enormous. Margery Allingham I have still to come to terms with, I have tried but not sure I ever will, Gladys Mitchell leaves me cold but but there are so many others that if I read all the books I have flagged up (my copy of this book is bristling with post it stickers) I will be on my death bed before I read a fraction of them.
All the writers featured in this book are members of the Detection Club and what a marvelous mixture they all are. In 2015 we view these writers and their books as 'cosy' murders and many of them are marketed as such. We could not be more wrong. Members were gay and lesbian writers, Socialists and Marxists and the content of many of their books were pretty graphic by the standards of the day. On the whole not a harmonious collection of personalities, all having their own quirks and prone to jealousy and nastiness just like anybody else. But, oh my goodness, such a huge output, such a rich vein of writing for us all to explore.
Stories about the authors tantalise and interest us all the way through, page after page. Martin tells us of an odd connection between Agatha Christie and fellow club member, Anthony Berkely when in 1926, he serialised the Wintringham Mystery in the Daily Mirror. The news paper offered a prize of £500 to the winner. One of the runners up turned out to be Archie Christie and one assumes that Agatha solved the puzzle but may have felt it better that the entry was under another name. This gave Agatha Christie an idea for one of her novels in which the plot depends upon one character winning a competition under someone else's name (Pretty sure this is the Sittaford Mystery, one of Christie's stand alone books).
For me the most fascinating part of this book was the relationship between Berkeley and E M Delafield for whom he formed a passion. From the Diary of a Provincial Library I think we can understand the author's boredom with her marriage and her life. In The Way things Are the heroine, Laura, a self portrait, becomes obsessed with a male admirer, Duke Ayland but will not abandon her marriage. Ayland writers music, as Berkeley did while another character is a novelist who has the same initials as Berkeley.
I shall be re-reading Diary of a Provincial Lady again I think and when I read the line 'writers are too egoistical to make ideal husbands for anybody' I will now nod and think Ah Yes....
It is impossible to write about all the joys and delights of this book. If you are a crime lover as I am, then it is a must buy and a must keep. As well as a pen portrait of each author, their writings are taken out, read, reviewed and information given for us the reader so that we an make our minds up if we wish to explore further. And oh how I do! Martin is the Series Consultant to the British Library's Crime Classic Books, which are now finding their way back into the public eye and selling extremely well, and his love of this genre is evident in all his writing.
A quite wonderful book and I cannot recommend it highly enough.