Most fans of classic crime fiction have heard of the Detection Club, that mysterious gathering of the great and the good (and some not so good) writers of traditional (and not-so-traditional) mystery fiction. Founded in 1930, the workings of the club, and the relationships between club members have long been shrouded in mystery. But not any more.
Martin Edwards, ex-Archivist, current president of the Club, has diligently researched the club, the members, the relationships, their works and the events that inspired their works to produce this history of the Detection Club in the Golden Age of crime fiction. You’d have thought I’d have read it by now, wouldn’t you?
After all, I’m a crime fiction historian. Sorry, I have trouble typing that with a straight face – according to Dean Street Press, I’m a crime fiction historian, and probably the world expert on one tiny aspect of crime fiction (hint: he rhymes with “Try and win”) but I don’t come anywhere close to the Martin Edwards and Curtis Evans of the genre, walking encyclopaedias – I’m content with my little corner. But these books, that lift the lid off of the lives of the writers involved, especially when I don’t have to do any research, are fascinating to read.
While I expected insight into the major players of the Club – Sayers, Berkeley and Christie get the most time, although everyone gets a spot in the sun – what fascinated me was the discussion of the real-life crimes that inspired their stories. I’ve given Christie flak in the past for using the story of Gene Tierney for The Mirror Crack’d From Side To Side. What I didn’t realise was how many other real stories inspired the writers as a whole.
[“Fascinating” titbit from me: Martin writes about how the Wallace case inspired two John Rhode titles, Vegetable Duck and The Telephone Call. Oddly, in Vegetable Duck, everyone stands around and says how similar some events are to the Wallace case, whereas in The Telephone Call, which is a more “faithful” copying of the set-up, nobody says a thing about it. See, I can be a crime fiction historian occasionally!]
This is a labour of love and it shows on every page. While Martin hasn’t convinced me to go back and read Sayers or Berkeley, this is an essential and very readable book (not an easy feat for a factual tome) and everyone interested in the genre should read it. And I should have read it years ago… sorry, Martin.
Delighted by this review, Steve – thoughtful as ever. What particularly pleases me (as I think it does many writers) is to see a book written a few years ago receiving such coverage. We all want to promote our latest book, and I’m definitely no exception, but one of the lasting satisfactions for any writer is to see a book continuing to be read even when it is no longer the latest thing.
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