The Golden Age of Murder by Martin Edwards

More fictional Murder! The title “Golden Age of Murder” sounds dated, but I think we still enjoy the Agatha Christies and so many other murder mysteries presented in books, television and film that this book is a fascinating insight into how it all began or at least how it got to be so popular.

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This is the ultimate source book for anyone interested in the crime writers of the interwar period in Britain. It has depth; I used some of the information for a talk on one of the writers it has large sections on, Dorothy L Sayers. It has breadth; many of the authors currently being reprinted by the British Library Crime Classics and the excellent Dean Street Press are mentioned in detail here. It is, perhaps most importantly, a very readable book about the writers of novels and stories with very few spoilers for the actual books. Edwards has published a very clearly written, detailed guide to an entire era in publishing of books that most of us have encountered at some point, and for real fans of the genre it gives so many starting points for further reading it provides a reason why it has taken me a while to read.

The subtitle of this book is “The Mystery of the Writers who Invented the Modern Detective Story”. This book features the writers, such as Sayers and Agatha Christie, who were the mainstay of The Detection Club formed by those British writers who wanted to meet to provide mutual support in the financially unpredictable pursuit of writing novel which featured mysteries, usually murder. Ritual and rules assumed different levels of support in a Society which invited members on the basis of their achievements in a genre which was emerging with the twentieth century, and gained its greatest popularity in the interwar years and in the beginnings of the Second World War. There are so many writers mentioned in this book I would suggest that most could find their own favourites among the ranks of Allingham, Berkeley, Doyle, Punshon, Jerrold and dozens more. Their interrelationships, personal issues and so forth are discussed here, as well as their relationships with other writers and publishers. The human stories behind the creation of the classics of criminal endeavour in terms of what the stories were based on, as well as highlighting why and how the stories were constructed provides some fascinating reading.

True life crime and moral questions as well as the detailed working out of seemingly impossible crimes are detailed here, especially in brief notes at the end of each chapter which can trigger many ideas for further reading. It is possible to read this book straight through as a study of people who wrote books, why and how, but it is also an extensive resource for more detailed study of an entire genre. Sometimes dismissed as cosy, dated storiess, this book covers an enormous range of writing which provides an invaluable social history and mysteries which still confuse and are popular today in their many tv and film outings.

My particular reason for enjoying this book, aside from the detailed notes and indexes, is the fascinatingly human stories of writers such as Sayers and Christie in their context. Women writers and indeed readers have been the mainstay of murder mysteries for decades. Edwards, together with the British Library and Dean Street Press, together with so many other publishers and groups, are keeping fictional murder alive (!) in all its complex and entertaining “Golden Age”.

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