‘If much of the action is set in a bookshop or a library, it is a bibliomystery, just as it is if a major character is a bookseller or a librarian.’ – Otto Penzler
A bookish puzzle threatens an eagerly awaited inheritance; a submission to a publisher recounts a murder that seems increasingly to be a work of non-fiction; an irate novelist puts a grisly end to the source of his writer’s block.
Martin Edwards presents, and introduces, sixteen tales from the Golden Age of Crime Fiction all centred around books, authors and bookshops, from some of the stalwarts of the era, featuring such detectives as Nigel Strangeways, Philip Trent and my absolute favourite*, Roderick Alleyn.
The British Library are always nice enough to send me copies of their short story anthologies – this is, maybe, the fifteenth such title. That might be right – I’ve fourteen on my shelves and don’t seem to have Capital Crimes, but I might have missed one out. But, I hear you cry, why haven’t you reviewed them all. In fact I haven’t reviewed many of them at all, as I’m not a big fan of reading anthologies cover to cover. There’s something about the rapid switching from author to author, style to style, that I do find quite jarring. However, sometimes you see a line-up of authors that you just can’t ignore.
Normally, there are a handful of obscure authors in these collections, but for me, there were only two here – Marjorie Bremner, who gives a nice little whodunit and S C Roberts, whose Sherlock Holmes pastiche was a little lacking in my opinion. On the other hand, there are stories here from the Coles, E C Bentley, Nicholas Blake, Philip MacDonald, A A Milne, Julian Symons, Gladys Mitchell, Michael Innes, Christianna Brand, Edmund Crispin and Ngaio Marsh. [The other three authors are Roy Vickers, Victor Canning and John Creasey, for completeness sake.]
The theme here is a pretty loose one – one story’s link is that the lead character leaves a bookshop at the start of the tale (unless I missed something) – but for the most part, they are an entertaining set of tales. I don’t think there is anything here that would be deemed an out and out classic tale, but there are some interesting oddities, such as an amazingly traditional (and obvious) by Julian Symons.
So, if you want to see a decent cross-section of the writing talent of the Golden Age (and a little afterwards), you could do an awful lot worse than taking a look in this direction.
*For anyone new to the blog, this is a lie. He is in one of the stories, but he’s not exactly my favourite…