Every month at Past Offences is devoted to a particular year from the history of crime and mystery fiction – it’s called Crimes of the Century. This month Bev from My Reader’s Block nominated 1922, at the dawn of the Golden Age.
Coincidentally, Golden Age commentator Martin Edwards posted a review at Do You Write Under Your Own Name of Eden Philpotts’ The Red Redmaynes on October 31st, which was close enough to be included in the round-up. He pointed out the book:
…isn’t a tightly plotted whodunit with a large pool of suspects of the kind for which Christie, Anthony Berkeley and others would become celebrated later in the same decade, but it does boast one notable plot twist, a pleasing device that on its own suffices to lift the story out of the ordinary. Another notable feature is that the “great detective”, an American called Peter Ganns, only makes an appearance in the second half of the story. There’s a particular reason why Philpotts deployed this unusual structural device, but to explain why would be a spoiler.
Bev at My Reader’s Block was less impressed when she read The Red Redmaynes:
There are a great many descriptive passages, whether about the countryside or the characters, that just go on forever and could have been better served in quick summation rather than rambling prose. It makes the reader long to skip pages and perhaps miss something vital.
Another red title: Santosh beat the rush to review The Red House Mystery, a country-house murder by the trailblazer of twee, A. A. Milne.
Antony Gillingham is a traveller and adventurer, rich enough to please himself and apply himself to any occupation that interests him. He decides to assume the role of “Sherlock Holmes” and solve the mystery of the murder of Robert and the disappearance of Mark Ablett. His friend Bill assumes the role of “Watson” and together they are able to solve the mystery. This is a classic Golden Age detective fiction. It is a pleasant and enjoyable read, full of wit and humour. A fun and lighthearted mystery.
Tracy at Bitter Tea and Mystery also ventured into The Red House Mystery, quoting the author’s dedication to his father:
Like all really nice people, you have a weakness for detective stories, and feel that there are not enough of them. So, after all that you have done for me, the least that I can do for you is to write you one. Here it is: with more gratitude and affection than I can well put down here.
And finally, I thought it a rock-solid piece of Golden Age work.
Edgar Wallace managed to produce four titles in 1922, one of which, The Crimson Circle, was reviewed at A Crime is Afoot.
Without doubt, a very original novel. And the story, although quite unrealistic, should probably be judged in the context of the times in which it was written. What I mean is that, in my view, it has not stood well the pass of time, although it is not without certain merits. The reader will do well in being dragged by the plot, with no concern if, occasionally, it seems unrealistic. The story is quite ingenious and entertaining, even at today’s eyes; but it is also extremely naive, what makes it more appropriate for a juvenile audience.
I read another Wallace, The Angel of Terror, which is well worth a read for its magnificent female villain. Jean Briggerland leads a small group of baddies as she attempts to bring around the downfall of the saintly Lydia Beale. I don’t think I have yet encountered such a strong female villain. Jean is intelligent, capable, implacable, and daring.
From Wallace to another master of suspense, E. Phillips Oppenheim’s The Evil Shepherd. Col’s review at his Criminal Library summed it up:
Francis Ledsam is a defence barrister and is congratulating himself on a brilliant performance which has just seen Oliver Hilditch acquitted of murder. His ego is pricked by Margaret Hilditch confessing to him that Hilditch was guilty. The man himself boasts of it to Ledsam a day or two later. Cue moral crisis and a vow never to defend anyone again unless he is sure of their innocence. Can you enjoy a book that is total nonsense? Hmm…probably. I quite liked this and a fair bit more than I expected to.
The Great Detective was still active in 1922, of course. JJ at The Invisible Event was the first to hit upon a Conan Doyle short story, The Problem of Thor Bridge, pointing out its roots in a true crime:
a man identified only as A.M. who, after a night spent drinking, was found shot in the head on a bridge in a manner not unlike (that is, exactly the same as) our victim herein. The same key clue is in evidence as in this story and the same resolution is also reached (perhaps explaining why Holmes doesn’t insist on a particular course of action here, for fear of simply rehashing everything about this case). There’s not really any controversy in this, the use of real life crimes was hardly a new thing by the time this was published in 1922, but it is quite compelling to see such an unvarnished repetition of the circumstances.
Jose Ignacio also read The Problem of Thor Bridge:
The story is notable within the canon of Sherlock Holmes for the initial reference to a tin dispatch box, located within the vaults of the Cox and Co. Bank at Charing Cross in London, where Dr Watson kept the papers concerning some of Holmes’ unsolved or unfinished cases. According to Watson: ‘Among these unfinished tales is that of Mr James Phillimore, who, stepping back into his own house to get his umbrella, was never more seen in this world’.
(Also based, I think, on a true story.)
Kate at crossexaminingcrime reviewed two titles this month, starting with Marion Harvey’s The Mystery of the Hidden Room
A short but action packed novella beginning with the narrator, Carlton Davies being summoned to his married, ex-fiancée’s house late at night. In these initial opening pages it turns out that Ruth, only married another man named Philip Darwin, (which in a way is rather an apt surname for him) so he wouldn’t inform the police about the fact he saw her brother, Dick shoot another man in a gambling den […] in the puzzle clue sort of tradition [sleuth McKelvic] even presents Davies and therefore the reader with 15 questions which if answered correctly will lead to the solution of the murder.
She also read G. K. Chesterton’s The Man Who Knew Too Much, featuring a sleuth operating in political circles.
Horne Fisher […] a man with an aristocratic background and known for knowing a lot about pretty much everything. Overall I found Fisher to rather an anti-hero in the stories, frequently flouting the expectations readers have of detectives.
Moira at Clothes in Books took in Carolyn Wells’ The Vanishing of Betty Varian, where the investigator is…
a man called Pennington Wise (later references to Penny Wise confused me slightly) with a very strange female assistant called Zizi. They investigate the family background of Betty Varian, the missing girl – it’s not difficult for a modern reader to get one step ahead, but it is a complex and interesting tale. As a book of 1922 it was highly enjoyable, with plenty of fascinating details. I was charmed that on the day in question, all the staff are out of the house because they have all gone to the circus: every servant in the neighbourhood has gone.
And finallly, The Puzzle Doctor read Freeman Wills Crofts’ The Pit-Prop Syndicate so we don’t have to…
…off to France they go, never envisaging how exciting their upcoming adventure is going to be…
Just to make it clear – the answer to “how exciting is their upcoming adventure going to be?” is “not very exciting at all”. In fact… this is probably the dullest book that I’ve read in a long time. And that’s before they crack out the railway timetables for the finale.
Thanks to everyone who contributed a 1922 book – if I missed you I’m sorry and feel free to link out below. Anyway, a rich crop for such an early year – and a good deal of creative verve in the stories on offer.
Please join in next month if you like. MarinaSofia has chosen us 1941 for December.