After a manic August for classic crime, September was calmer. However I am now following so many blogs that I’m reading a enormous quantity of qualifying entries.
As usual, thanks to all the busy bloggers who keep me so entertained and informed about crime fiction. Here are some highlights…
In a winningly personal piece, Bev at My Reader’s Block penned a hymn to Nancy Drew in a review of Carolyn Keene’s The Secret of the Old Clock (1930):
Nancy Drew was my gateway to reading. She was my introduction to mysteries. More than than that Nancy and her blue roadster stood for adventures. My parents have always supported me no matter what. They believe I can do anything I want–and made me believe it too and taught me that it never mattered that I was a girl. Nancy was my first reinforcement of that idea in book-form. She was supported by a loving and interested father who had taught her to be independent and to take care of herself. When Nancy has a flat tire while out detecting in her roadster, she doesn’t have to wait for some strong man to come along and change it for her. She sets right to work.
In another personal piece, Marina Sofia discussed P. D. James’ Shroud for a Nightingale as part of Crime Fiction Lover‘s Classics in September strand:
This is an author who took on the constructs of crime fiction of the Golden Age and made them resolutely her own. Yet, perhaps because of her very longevity – she is still planning another Dalgliesh novel – it is impossible to box her into any single decade, other than to say that this is unhurried prose that you would expect from a few decades ago. There is a real sense of ‘we’ve got all the time in the world’ in a PD James novel. The plot does not shock or turn you and your expectations upside down in a single instant. Instead, it builds atmosphere brushstroke by brushstroke, with many cunning and telling little details.
Classics in September also carries an interview with some of the team behind the British Library’s excellent crime list, Lara Speicher and Kathryn Johnson, in The First Female Detectives. It’s a good interview, although they don’t quite answer the reservation I had about the mystery-less Mr Bazalgette’s Agent‘s place in the genre (a thought shared by the Puzzle Doctor in his review). By the way, I still think it’s a good book, just not a crime novel in any real sense.
Q: Mr Bazalgette’s Agent is quite sophisticated rather than sensational in its diary-entry form. Given that it doesn’t feature a murder, how do you think it stands up today as a crime novel
A: Rather well. The author put his own experience of South Africa to good use so that there is a real sense of place and the character of Miriam Lea is intriguing. Making Miss Lea an unsuccessful actress who has been making a respectable living as a governess until her employers discover her thespian past neatly gets the reader on the side of the central character and also links us to a more recognisable era. The general atmosphere of the novel is also a world away from the lurid melodrama of the penny dreadful era, and is a good pointer to the fact that the almost exclusive concern of the crime novel with murder did not come about until well into the 20th century.
The Broken Bullhorn looked at the Detection Club’s round-robin novel The Floating Admiral – written by Christie, Sayers, Chesterton and others – and shared my analysis of it (except for one small detail):
It’s no surprise that a mash-up like this results in a pretty average story, but the process kept me reading.
The small detail? It didn’t keep me reading…
Moira at Clothes in Books had a richly deserved big month – appearing in the Guardian Books Podcast and writing on literary sex scenes for the same paper’s Books. She also made me smile in her review of Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep:
Perhaps surprisingly, Raymond Chandler is big on description – rooms, clothes, the state of characters’ souls. (Philip Marlowe is undertaking this investigation wearing a powder-blue suit and smoking a pipe, details which we kind of wish we didn’t know.)
Nick Cardillo at The Consulting Detective is (obviously) a Sherlock Holmes fan. That’s fairly uncontroversial. However, he may occasionally venture into hyperbole. Why “The Sign of Four” is Perfect:
“The Sign of Four” begins as a mystery, becomes a Gothic thriller and finishes off being a wildly entertaining adventure as the story nears its finale. The fact that the story crosses these genre lines is what makes this novel so interesting. I love the uniqueness of the whole thing. It is by far the most unconventional (in a good way) story in the entire Sherlock Holmes canon.
Finally, to end on a sad note, Martin Edwards at Do You Write Under Your Own Name? told us of the death of British crime stalwart Robert Barnard in a personal tribute:
He was a winner of numerous awards, most notably the CWA Cartier Diamond Dagger, in recognition of the sustained excellence of his crime writing. He was a distinguished academic, a former worker for the Fabian Society, an expert on the Bronte family and their writings, a passionate opera fan, and the author of a definitive study of Agatha Christie’s crime writing, A Talent to Deceive.
Bob Barnard was also one of the first friends I made in the crime writing world.
A Penguin a Week
At the Scene of the Crime
- Joyce Porter’s Dover One
Battered, Tattered, Yellowed, & Creased
- Theodore Tinsley’s Jerry Tracy, Celebrity Reporter
Beneath the Stains of Time
- Patricia Wentworth’s The Benevent Treasure (1956)
Bitter Tea and Mystery
- Agatha Christie’s Murder at Hazelmoor
Confessions of a Mystery Novelist
- Patricia Moyes’ Dead Men Don’t Ski
Crime Fiction Lover
In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel
- Leonard Merrick’s Mr Bazalgette’s Agent
The Passing Tramp
- Death of a Mystery Writer: Robert Barnard (1937-2013)
- Joel Townsley Rogers’ Killing Time
The Rap Sheet
- James Ross’ They Don’t Dance Much
At the Scene of the Crime
- Pamela Branch’s The Wooden Overcoat
- Mike Ripley – In Memoriam Robert Barnard
Tipping My Fedora
- Patricia Highsmith’s This Sweet Sickness (1960)
- Whit Masterman’s Badge of Evil (1956)
- Ed McBain’s Jigsaw
- Edgar Wallace’s The Four Just Men
Vintage Pop Fictions
- Rex Stout’s The Rubber Band (1936)
- Edwin Balmer and William B. MacHarg’s Luther Trant, Psychological Detective
Past Offences by Rich Westwood is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.