Bodies From the Library Selected and Introduced by Tony Medawar – 16 stories of Mystery
The recent resurgence in all things Golden Age of Detection has suggested that while many novels and some collections of short stories have been republished, there is a whole mass of material waiting to be plundered. This collection of fourteen short stories and two short plays reveal the richness of that which is unpublished or has only appeared in limited circulation publications (including the Women’s Institute’s magazine). It includes one lesser known work of Georgette Heyer and Agatha Christie respectively, who are widely known, and others by authors who may be less famous but have come to recognition thanks to recent reprints by various publishers.
Some of these pieces are very short, while others require quite a few pages to set up the situations and solve the mysteries. All are tied up by the end of the tale, even if some are more sophisticated than others. Not all involve actual murders but there are crimes aplenty in this book by clever and successful writers. There are some which will attract and be more enjoyable than others, for this is a mixed bag, and it is only at the end that a publication date is given, though some come with warnings about some of the language reflecting a different time and sensibilities.
Each story or play is followed by a short biography of the author so whether it is A.A. Milne’s 1950s “Bread upon the Waters” or the less well known Arthur Upfield’s 1948 “The Fool and the Perfect Murder”, the orgins of the story is discussed and some of the writer’s other output is listed, including series with a specific detective. Here are motives aplenty, honour to be satisfied, inheritances to be secured. The earliest story is 1917, and there are representative pieces from each decade onwards within the Golden Age. The two plays require a different visualisation, but one is a radio play and the other a short stage sketch involving Japanese martial arts. Most are extracts of British life from the early to mid twentieth century, but there is one based in Australia, while Christie exhibits her international understanding.
Each author’s background is examined in terms of the Detection Club and similar organisations for those who were significant in the construction of detection writing. Many sorts and types of characters are depicted in these pages, all with their own agendas and thoughts. None are too long, and there are some undoubtedly pithy stories which take very little time to get the story over. One of my particular favourites is Anthony Berkeley’s “The Man with the Twisted Thumb”, featuring the resourceful Veronica and her two excellent friends. A female “Friend of the Family” discovers her true vocation in December 1939, but really many of these are not firmly linked with their dates.
I found this an enjoyable and varied read, with different pace, settings and characters playing so many variations on the mystery theme. Sometimes the mystery is solved at the start, and just the why and how needs to be explored. I am confident that anyone with even a passing interest in the Golden Age of Detection and writing from the early to mid twentieth century will find much to enjoy here. It also serves as a useful introduction to the writing of sixteen authors, many of whose writings are being rediscovered in novels which have been recently republished. An excellent investment in a book which has many moods, virtually all very interesting.