Bodies From The Library 2016 – Conference Report

Yesterday was the second Bodies From The Library conference at the British Library, focussing on Golden-ish Age Detective Fiction, and the people who produced it. Last year’s conference was an outstanding success, so I quickly snapped up a ticket for this year once it was announced. And so, as with last year, I thought I’ve give my thoughts on the day.


First mystery of the day – what’s the point of spending an extra five quid to get a first-class ticket on London Midland? On the return trip, absolutely nobody checked the tickets and on the way into London, there was a conversation that basically went:

CONDUCTOR: These aren’t first class tickets.

TWO YOUNG WOMEN: But we can’t sit together anywhere else.

CONDUCTOR: OK then. Bye.

Grrr… No problems with allowing that, but surely they should refund people who paid (admittedly, an extra £3 each way) for the privilege.

Right, where was I? Oh yes, the conference.

I managed to locate Kate from Cross Examining Crime before the conference started and soon found Rich from Past Offences and JJ from The Invisible Event so we had some like-minded chats throughout the day. It was so nice to finally put some faces (and in one case, a name) to my fellow bloggers.

As with last year, I made a bunch of notes as I went along – let’s see if I can make sense of them.

Simon Brett, Martin Edwards, Janet Laurence and Stella Duffy kicked things off, talking about the Detection Club and, more specifically, The Sinking Admiral – a collaborative novel following a similar idea to The Floating Admiral, a book written by the club in 1931 that goes some way towards funding the three dinners a year that seem to be the main point of the club. [Note to self: Write a decent mystery novel and wangle an invite – they do seem like fun!] I’ll be reviewing both Admirals very soon as I managed to pick up a pre-release copy of the new one, which is now adorned with some lovely authors’ signatures. Those of you who weren’t there, beware – I might need to get the complete set… Oh, and Simon announced that Stella Duffy was in the process of writing a Ngaio Marsh continuation, Money In The Morgue, based on a few short chapters and the notes on the back of an Anthony and Cleopatra script. I think it’s from the middle of her career, rather than what she was working on when she died, as it’s set in the 1940s. I might have misunderstood that bit…

Tony Medawar then spoke about Anthony Berkeley (Cox). I didn’t make many notes on this – usually the sign of a great talk, as it was in this case – other than he once wrote stories for something called “The Happy Magazine”. What a great title.

Then Jennifer Morag Henderson, Josephine Tey’s biographer, spoke about – guess who? – Josephine Tey. I’ve only read The Daughter Of Time, so I’m no expert here, but it was a fascinating informative talk, and I’ve every confidence that fans of Tey will enjoy the biography. Fascinating Fact – Penguin weren’t whether The Man In The Queue should be a Green Penguin or not, as it wasn’t a traditional crime novel. And was it my imagination, but did she dodge my question about the fictionalised Tey in Nicola Upson’s books a bit?

Then, after a tea break (or coffee break for the uncivilised among us), Len Tyler and Susan Moody went head to head to propose a new member of the Detection Club – Philip MacDonald vs Georgette Heyer. Two things probably led to Heyer winning the crowd vote – Len did start off with examples of MacDonald’s sexism and xenophobia and, probably more importantly, I’d guess that more people have read Heyer than MacDonald. As I’ve read more MacDonald (well, the score is 1-0), he got my vote – but we lost. Boo!

Then Martin Edwards and Rob Davies came to the stage to talk about the upcoming Crime Classics releases. The most interesting one is a re-issue of The Poisoned Chocolates Case by Anthony Berkeley containing the ultra-rare extra ending by Christianna Brand and the (technically) even rarer ending by Martin Edwards (as the Brand ending has appeared elsewhere whereas the Edwards ending only appears here). There’s more coming in the range from Freeman Wills Crofts (to Kate’s delight) along with books from Gil North, George Bellairs and John Bude. There are more short story anthologies coming as well… Oh, and The History Of Crime Fiction In 100 Books (or something similar) by Martin is on its way too.

Stella Duffy spoke on Theatricality in Ngaio Marsh’s work – note to self who suffered through Death In The Dolphin in preparation for the talk, theatricality doesn’t mean “se in the theatre”! She concentrated primarily on the New Zealand books and while some of the quotes were a bit long, she’s made me want to take another look at Marsh – no mean feat!

John Curran then spoke about the history of the Collins Crime Club – in part due to the upcoming history of said club to be written by Curran – an utterly fascinating talk with some insight into the club itself and a variety of the authors who wrote for it, with some great cover images. The fact that stood out for me was that John Rhode stopped writing for the club in 1945 but Miles Burton carried on until the 1960s. Of course, Rhode and Burton were actually the same person…

And then a talk that I was really looking forward to, on H C Bailey. Unfortunately, Barry Pike instead chose to just talk about Bailey’s characters, mostly Reggie Fortune, citing numerous examples from books that few in the audience had read. Not the best of the talks – you can tell by looking at my notes, as at this point, they contain three pages of lesson plans for next week… I will be looking at a collection or two by Bailey soon…

The final session kicked off with Dolores Gordon-Smith talking entertainingly about G K Chesterton. Dolores seems to have a habit of picking authors that I’m not a fan of – she did Wills Crofts last year – and making them sound interesting… Which just inspires me to read more of Dolores’ work.

And then all the speakers took to the stage for their favourite Golden Age adaptation – note that favourite doesn’t necessarily mean best… Some of the obvious choices came up, along with a couple of Margaret Rutherford Miss Marple films (both for personal reasons, rather than faithfulness). Nobody mentioned the recnt Partners In Crime… until someone asked about the panel’s least favourite adaptations – this was pretty unanimous.

So it all finished off with Simon Brett asking if we would be back next year – Yes! – so off I went, with my goodie bag consisting of a Paul Temple book, The Z Murders (read it, so someone got a bonus book) and The Crime Club (short stories by Frank Froest and George Dilnot – no, me neither). A highly enjoyable diversion via a pub with my fellow bloggers (where I discovered the horrendous sounding Cola Cider – and JJ actually drank the stuff!) and then it was the train home.

Hopefully next year we’ll get a talk on Carr and possibly Rhode/Burton, but to be honest, finding out about authors that I’ve never heard of is sort of the point of the conference. Many thanks to the organisers and the panel and I’ll see you next year.


*not really – if you were at the conference, you’ll get the joke.


  1. haha the amount of times Edwards’ book was mentioned at the conference it definitely should have been turned into a drinking game (or perhaps not depending on how drunk you want to be). And I think it is Dolores’ enthusiasm which makes you want to give these authors another go, as that is what happened with me with Freeman Wills Crofts last year. It was great meeting up with you and I was relieved that you managed to find me as I didn’t really want to go around the conference asking people if they were the Puzzle Doctor!


  2. Sorry to have missed it chum, but I just couldn’t get away – I am sorry to see Philip MacDonald get treated so badly though. if only I;d been there maybe my vote could have swayed the result 🙂 Maybe next time …


    • It wasn’t that close… about 2:1. I just think not enough people have read him – when I asked Len why he didn’t mention the important X vs Rex, he admitted that even he hadn’t read it…


  3. Thanks for the great account of the day and the nice comments about me. I do hope you’ll try GKC again but don’t read too many at once, as they can get a bit indigestible. As a big MacDonald fan, it I was ace to hear him talked about and I did find Len Tyler’s comments very funny. If you do read my books – well, I really hope you enjoy them. I am a complete dyed in the wool GA fan and it never occurred to me to write in any other genre. Incidentally, the Premier inn bar across the road is the prime hang out for the vast majority of the speakers if you want to mingle afterwards.


    • Thanks, Dolores. If you hunt around on the blog, there are reviews of A Fete Worse Than Death and The Chessmen – that one got the book of the month award, come to think of it – absolutely loved it. I’ve put another of yours on my 20 books post so keep an eye out for that one too. And maybe see you in the Premier Inn bar next year…


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