So here we are – the final results for the top eight Golden Age mystery writers of all time.
OK, arguably that’s not quite right – I did a third-to-eighth place play-off to get round any issues with someone getting an unlucky draw in the first round, but there are writers who went out in earlier rounds that maybe – maybe – would have made it through with a different first round draw. Would Christianna Brand have made it further if she’d been up against Rex Stout? Would Chesterton have got pace Josephine Tey? Who knows? But this is what did happen in the poll as it stood. In reverse order, obviously.
Eighth Place – 6% of the vote – Josephine Tey
Not a particular favourite of mine, but to be fair, I was put off by The Daughter Of Time (which I know a lot of people love). Possibly the relatively small number of titles counted against her?
Seventh Place – 9% of the vote – Anthony Berkeley
Another non-favourite – I know people like his experimentation with the genre, but some of that experimentation moves the book too far from the genre for my liking. And Roger Sheringham is such an unlikeable lead.
Sixth Place – 13% of the vote – Rex Stout
Easily the most successful of the authors who I omitted from my original list and the one who got the most requests to be put on the list. I’ve only read Prisoner’s Base but enjoyed it enough. Probably need to give Stout more of a try.
Fifth Place – 17% of the vote – Edmund Crispin
Crispin is a favourite of mine and I was pleased he got through to the semi-finals but he did have an easier passage to the semi-finals than others. Quite pleased he was still placed highly here.
Well, this is an interesting one. Dorothy L Sayers and Ellery Queen were left in this bit of the competition, and while Sayers took an early lead, she never was more than a few votes ahead of dear old Ellery. This morning when I checked the scores, she was ahead by a solitary vote.
At noon, as promised, and checked the votes for the final time. And…
Third Place Equal – 28% of the vote each – Dorothy L Sayers and Ellery Queen
Yup, a dead heat. Ellery caught up at the last minute but couldn’t overtake Sayers. I personally much prefer the good Queen books (which aren’t necessarily the ones that others think are the good ones) but at some point, I must give Sayers a little more time. Probably.
And so, the Grand Final – Christie vs Carr, as it always should have been.
Neither were particularly troubled on their way to the final, with Christie in particular steamrolling the competition. However John Dickson Carr proved to be much stiffer competition. So in the final, with just 54% of the 319 votes cast, the winner was…
Agatha Christie! Not a surprise, but this was a lot, lot closer than I thought it would be. So Agatha Christie is indeed the Queen of Crime (the one and only, in my book) and
Brian Flynn John Dickson Carr is officially the King of Crime.
Right, what poll can we do next? Or should I get back to actually reading books?
I have read quite a few by Stout and I can’t say I ever encountered a knock out brilliant one. Found them quite dull.
Which Sayers books have you read?
Not surprised Christie won lol
I enjoy both Tey and Stout, but I find them a bit similar in that what is memorable about them (for me) is not the mystery as such, but the characters and atmosphere and dialogue. Each time I read a Stout novel, I think “That was fun — I should read another right away” — and that’s always a mistake, because the books are too similar in their setup and payoff. One per month (at least) is enough.
As for Tey, I don’t know what to tell you about The Daughter of Time — I loved it, but it’s a one-off. But then so are all her books, despite a continuing character or two. It’s a slim output, 8 books, of which two have to be set aside — The Man in the Queue for completely violating fair play with the reader, and The Singing Sands for being a gigantic misshapen red herring (to be fair, it was published posthumously and she never got it into final shape, but the problems go deep, despite those appealing characters and scenes). I can reread The Franchise Affair and Brat Farrar endlessly with pleasure, though.
I find it unbelievable that John Dickson Carr got to the final. I found his books a bit of a let down.after the big build up he got from British Library Classics.
The BL books (apart from Till Death) are far from his best.
Well, a not surprising final two. Almost none of my favorite Golden Age writers even made it into the last round, so I’m glad at least Crispin got through. I’ve read very little Sayers and even less Tey—I disliked the first half of Brat Farrah so much I never finished it.
I’ve only begun my John Dickson Carr journey and also only read one Nero Wolfe, so can’t really comment on their whole output. Christie I agree with 100 percent. She gives one clues most of the time which one only realises in retrospect and sends one down the wrong path nearly all the time
I’ve been reading JDC on and off for the best part of half a century and my attitude is rather like that of Leonard Cohen’s record company when they said “Leonard, we know you’re great, we’re just not sure if you’re any good”. I remember reading “The Hollow Man” decades ago, then always billed as his best; I thought it was fine but not great, so didn’t bother much for years. One day, looking for something I’d not read before, I found Constant Suicides on my shelf and loved it. “Maybe I do like Carr then?” So I read a couple of others and… all a bit “How Grand was my Guignol?” (and I’m a fan of the early 20th century French school, Lupin, Rouletabille, Fantômas, etc.) More recently I happened on Goblin’s Wood in an anthology and loved it so read She Died a Lady and Judas Window. Terrific. Ditto Till Death Us Do Part. I can’t think of anyone else who manages to be both as good and as bad, and to do both with such consistency. With most authors either I love most of their stuff but there’s the odd dud or else I don’t care for most books but there’s the odd one I love. JDC manages the hat trick: some I love, some I really don’t like at all and some that just leave me cold. Quite a feat.
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“When he was good, he was very, very good, but when he was bad, he was horrid” to slightly misquote Henry Wadsworth
There seems little rhyme or reason to it. The ones I’ve loved are often late 30s/early 40s but it’s not even as simple as an imperial phase, or as there being one series that’s great and another that isn’t. I didn’t care for Bencolin but have yet to encounter anyone who did, but otherwise it’s as baffling as any of his plots. Oh and Steve, I’ve just ordered a handful of John Rhode books, found at reasonable prices, a few listed as “reading copy only” (a stroke of luck as that’s exactly what I’m planning to do with them) and a couple of cheap reprints. I’ve only previously read the BLCC Death in the Tunnel but as your tastes don’t seem too far from mine, albeit we don’t agree on everything (which would be an impossible crime). Anyway, I thought I’d give them a go on your recommendation. They appear to be a mixture of ones you love and ones you think are decent if not great but of course the problem with Rhode is that unless you’re very wealthy you can’t really choose.
Hope the Rhodes suit you. Good luck!
Steve, I’m halfway through The Motor Rally Mystery (arrived yesterday, “Whiter Teeth” edition) and this is right up my, ahem, Street. I spotted either the murderer or a continuity error on p82, the latter seems more likely but in case it’s the former I’ll say no more. I also received a decent (and cheap) Death in Harley St – he pre-empted the Trades Descriptions Act with his titles, didn’t he? – and another four in the post. I realise, from reading your reviews, they’re not all going to be as good as this, but if they’re half as much fun I’ll be pleased. Thanks for the tip-off. It’s always nice to find an author you’ve not read before, but even better when you find they wrote a zillion books, albeit tempered by the fact that, on a sub-Croesus income, I’ll never be able to afford more than a smattering unless there are more reissues.
I was disappointed that Agatha Christie won, I have read most of them and although interesting never found an ounce of atmosphere or emotion in any of them. what she did, she did a lot of…
This has been a curious exercise, and has at least proved to me that you should never take anybody else’s opinion into consideration when it comes to reading matter !
No, never take anyone else’s opinion – just agree with me. But I disagree with your assessment of Christie’s writing, but her priority was certainly towards the plot.
The problem with polls of this kind is that whenever Christie is an option, she tends to win. A World Cup of Golden Age Mystery Writers (Christie Excluded) would have been a much more interesting experiment. All the same, I enjoyed looking up the results of each round, even though two of my favourites, Innes and Hare, were dropped before the Quarter-Finals.
Daniel, I’m with you on the Innes and Hare, both of whom are favorites of mine. Innes gets enough people irked that I could see him being booted but Hare doesn’t seem to fit that bill either. Lorac was another who I wished had made it further. Also agree with you on Christie (and I didn’t vote for her in the final even though I wasn’t thrilled to vote for Carr) being just too “easy” a choice.
Very happy to see Ellery Queen take the (shared) bronze medal. Christie winning and Carr finishing second was very predictable but the rest of the list is intriguing!
That seems very appropriate actually, all round, and the Queen result is very pleasing. Well done Steve, great fun.
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It’s too bad that everyone forgets about Gladys Mitchell…
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I remembered her. That’s why I didn’t vote for her 😉
Great fun, thank you!
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