British Library Crime Classics – which is your favourite?

The Puzzle Doctor just commented that Christopher St John Sprigg’s Death of an Airman was his favourite British Library classic crime novel so far, making me wonder which was mine.

If you haven’t picked up on them yet, the BL’s series has probably transformed the face of crime publishing in the UK, revitalising the ‘long tail’ of brilliant crime novelists long neglected by mainstream publishers, and spawning some equally informed competition from the likes of Dean Street Press, Collins and others.

The series has been going for a few years, and has really picked up the pace recently – I began this post in the belief that I had probably reviews at least half of the books, but not so. Therefore my opinions are not 100% authoritative.

Revelations of a Lady DetThe series began with some forgotten early titles about female detectives, of which William Hayward’s Revelations of a Lady Detective was my favourite.

Her opponents are a bonkers mix of aristocratic bank robbers, conveniently-English-speaking Italian unificationists, evil nuns, live-rat-eating sideshow performers, the enormous wife of a pork-and-butter merchant, bent solicitors, evil twins, and larcenous postmen. She’s not afraid to get stuck in, adopting a take-no-prisoners approach reminiscent at times of Mike Hammer.

Notting_Hill_MysterySlightly less potty, but still authentically odd was the first detective novel, Charles Warren Adams’ The Notting Hill Mystery. What’s not to love about an evil mesmerist called Baron R** and an enigmatic solution?

As the Baron’s direct Mesmeric ‘manipulations’ are judged to be a little inappropriate, a young woman called Rosalie is drafted in to act as a go-between. The Baron Mesmerises Rosalie, and she passes on all the animal-magnetic benefits to Gertrude (see the picture at the top for what this odd little arrangement looks like). Rosalie and Gertrude have a link that goes beyond their Mesmerism, a link spotted by Baron R** and soon used to his nefarious ends.

Antidote_to_VenomThe series is now solidly in Golden Age mystery land, which is a more nuanced place than you might think, with the working lives of music hall performers, aerodrome manageresses, and zoo directors starring alongside the idle rich. For me, Antidote to Venom has been the first among equals – an inverted crime story with an ambitious depiction of a man’s fall from, and return to, grace.

Crofts cleverly hands us an inverted mystery in which the main character doesn’t quite know how the murder is committed, which is a fairly impressive feat of sleight-of-hand. It also means that the reader is in the dark about the mechanism of the crime, which is where Crofts specialises.

The Santa Klaus MurderMy least favourite so far? Mavis Doriel Hay’s The Santa Klaus Murder, which sapped my Christmas spirit so much I didn’t finish it. Still, a good cover in my opinion (although presumably it did the books no favours as it has been changed to something more like the rest of the list).

Which title is your favourite? Feel free to link in your reviews below 🙂

The full list seems to be:

The Notting Hill Mystery (Charles Warren Adams)
Revelations of a Lady Detective (William Hayward)
Mr Bazalgette’s Agent (Leonard Merrick)
The Cornish Coast Murder (John Bude)
The Lake District Murder (John Bude)
The Sussex Downs Murder (John Bude)
Death on the Cherwell (Mavis Doriel Hay)
Murder Underground (Mavis Doriel Hay)
The Santa Klaus Murder (Mavis Doriel Hay)
A Scream in Soho (John G. Brandon)
Mystery in White (J. Jefferson Farjeon)
Thirteen Guests (J. Jefferson Farjeon)
The Z Murders (J. Jefferson Farjeon)
The Female Detective (Andrew Forrester)
Murder in Piccadilly (Charles Kingston)
Antidote to Venom (Freeman Wills Crofts)
The Hog’s Back Mystery (Freeman Wills Crofts)
Death of an Airman (Christopher St John Sprigg)
Quick Curtain (Alan Melville)
Death of Anton (Alan Melville)
Murder of a Lady (Anthony Wynne)


Resorting to Murder
Capital Crimes
Silent Nights

About pastoffences

Past Offences exists to review classic crime and mystery books, with ‘classic’ meaning books originally published before 1987.
This entry was posted in British Library Crime Classics, Classic mystery book review, Golden Age detection, Information Received and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to British Library Crime Classics – which is your favourite?

  1. kaggsysbookishramblings says:

    I’m very behind reading these now, as there are so many. But I liked “Murder in Picadilly” very much for the setting and atmosphere.


  2. Having read 18 of those from the list this was a hard decision as there are a number I like but Death of Anton by Alan Melville is probably my favourite.

    The Hog’s Back Mystery by Freeman Wills Crofts was probably my least favourite:


  3. Are you deliberately excluding the short story collections? Silent Nights has some interesting tales but I’ve not read Capital Crimes


  4. heavenali says:

    Funnily enough I reviewed The Santa Klaus Murder this last week. I liked it OK, but I did think it was rather weak. I haven’t read any other Mavis Doriel Hay before so don’t know how typical of her work that one was. I’ve only read a few BL titles but my favourite so far has been Mystery in White which I read last Christmas.


  5. The Budes, so far. And I love the covers they are doing~


  6. Guy Savage says:

    Antidote to Venom. Loved it. I have a review copy of Silent Nights I’ll be getting to soon.


  7. Guy Savage says:

    Death on the Riviera: John Bude is another one I have yet to read.


  8. I would pick one of the short story collections, which didn’t seem to make your list; otherwise I’ve found the Budes and Farjeons to be my favorites. Antidote to Venom was also quite good, and I enjoyed Murder in Picadilly though I see it hasn’t earned the most favorable reviews.


  9. Andy Kelley says:

    I think the books are great….and what a boost to all your readers who love Golden Age mysteries. I would have to vote for Mystery In White.


  10. I liked Mystery in White, and see that I have a couple more on my shelves lined up. In fact, several people gave me them as presents, which is an unexpected plus of the series – it’s quite hard to buy books for a crime fiction fan, but these were successful choices that I didn’t already have and wanted to read. Job done.


    • pastoffences says:

      Lucky you, I can’t get Mrs Offences to buy me books any more, in case I’ve read them already (despite the fact I’ve carefully trained the kids to tell her I’d like some smelly old books for Christmas).


  11. I’ve read both your excellent blog and the comments with great interest. What pleases me in particular is that there are so many different favourites in the series, depending on personal taste. It’s rather like reaction to the short story collections: there are widely divergent views about which are the ‘best’ of the stories in each book, and that is what an anthologist hopes for (or at least, I do, when compiling anthologies). The breakthrough BL books were the first two Budes, which sold much better than the earlier books. The Farjeon is, to date, the biggest seller, while Silent Nights is already one of the biggest selling British crime anthologies of the last forty years. All very encouraging, and believe me, there are plenty more books on the way in 2016 and 2017, including some that I’m especially excited about..

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Anonymous says:

    Of the Victorian era titles (which I think need to be rated within their own era) it’s a toss up between NOTTING HILL MYSTERY and FEMALE DETECTIVE. I haven’t read many of the Golden Age reissues form this imprint, but I can highly recommend ANTIDOTE TO VENOM. Brilliant! Of the remaining titles I have read the runner-up would have to be THE CORNISH MYSTERY but it’s not as superior, in my estimation, as Crofts’ inverted detective novel. Not a fan of Z MURDERS at all. Oddly, it seems to be more popular among the bloggers than I would’ve expected. I think I’ve read too many Edgar Wallace type books that were better to have truly enjoyed it


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