Raymond Chandler once wrote “The English may not always be the best writers in the world, but they are incomparably the best dull writers”. Himself a British subject for most of his life and career, one of his most obvious targets, conversely, was eminent author of “British-style” mysteries, John Dickson Carr (alias Carter Dickson), who was in fact an American. This is of course not strictly about nations, rather it is about sub-genres of crime fiction and the different forms and interpretations of its evolution. It is also against a well-recognized literary coterie; “the famous Detection Club, which is a Parnassus of English writers of mystery”. The statement helps to build an opposition, mostly between 1920s English mystery novels (and their authors and their readers), and American Pulp magazines of the same decade (and their authors and their readers).Famously, it is about “hardboiled”, realist novels which we now call noir, opposing “mysteries”, Enigma and Detective novels, which we now call classic crime fiction. Chandler made his case against the Golden Age of Detective Fiction as early as 1944, in his Atlantic Monthly essay titled The Simple Art of Murder. The 1950 publication, under the same title, both in a magazine and as an introduction to a collection of stories, gave added exposure to his quibbles against books “with a title like The Triple Petunia Murder Case, or Inspector Pinchbottle to the Rescue” or “Death Wears Yellow Garters”. It is abundantly clear from the 1950 text that Chandler objects to their “editions of fifty or one hundred thousand copies on the news-stands of the country”. It is all about competition. Who were the Detection club authors whose books were competing with Chandler’s in late 1940s and early 1950s America, during the golden age of the paperbacks? Here are a few of these “British” imports, in their American paperback editions. With their iconic kangaroo logo, Pocket Books, launched in 1939 were the market leaders, but English style mysteries were also published as paperbacks by many other publishers, such as Avon or Dell.
The text of Chander’s essay can be accessed through the University of Texas link :