Detective story

Taking Detective Stories Seriously

Sayers

 

Taking Detective Stories Seriously: The collected crime reviews of Dorothy L. Sayers, edited by Martin Edwards, Tippermuir Books Ltd, 19/02/2017.

                        A book review by Jonas Rohe, Queen’s University Belfast

 

Taking Detective Stories Seriously is a collection of the reviews of Dorothy L. Sayers (1893-1957), covering mainly the period in which she was a professional reviewer for the Sunday Times from 1933 to 1935. Sayers is not only famous for her successful crime fiction novels, but was also respected and revered for her work as a translator of Dante, her writing on various religious subjects, but was also, as this volume shows, an excellent critic and anthologist of the detective genre at the height of the Golden Age.

The volume is edited by Martin Edwards, who also provides a lengthy commentary on Sayers’ reviews. He details Sayers critique of several well-known crime fiction authors like John Dickson Carr, H.C. Bailey and other notables of the Golden Age. Edwards also casts light on Sayers’ view of the crime fiction genre in general, and her ideas of what a good detective story should be like. Overall, he paints a vivid picture of a thoughtful as well as passionate woman whose intelligence and articulacy command respect, even when her strong opinions provoke disagreement.

Indeed, Sayers was very articulate about the kind of writing she was expecting from her peers, and one point that she mentions quite frequently is the necessity for what she sees as “good English” in writing. She points out flaws in style or grammar relentlessly in her reviews and even issued a resolution in 1935 in her own inimitable style: “I will not cease from mental fight nor shall my sword sleep in my hand till I have detected and avenged all mayhems and murders done upon the English language”. Through her reviews, she also regularly reveals a particular dislike for unimaginative titles (like “The Murder at …” or the “The Mystery of …”). There, she anticipates Chandler’s satire of them in the introduction to The Simple Art of Murder („… nobody goes near them but an occasional shortsighted customer who bends down, peers briefly and hurries away; while old ladies jostle each other at the mystery shelf to grab off some item of the same vintage with a title like The Triple Petunia Murder Case, or Inspector Pinchbottle to the Rescue“).  When a title displeases her one can be sure to find a witty retort or pun that casts shame on the perpetrator for their banal or uninspired story titles, e.g.: “What in the name of Chaos and Old Night possessed Mr Vivian to call his humorous, well-written, well-characterised and altogether delightful and sensible story by such a slip-slop, sob stuff, rotten-ripe, rat-riddled title as Girl in the Dark?”

Sayers had her own idea about “good writing” in crime fiction stories, and from many reviews one can read that she was frequently disappointed in lax characterisations, plot holes or “unfair” solutions for detective stories, which were impossible for the reader to figure out for themselves. Not only was the “fair play” imperative a critical part of crime writing for Sayers, but also the combination of style and good characters, which were necessary for crime fiction to be something that she would have consider good literature: “Plot is not everything; style is not everything; only by combining them can we get a detective story that is also good literature.”
She expresses her distaste for rushed writing and overproduction, which many writers of the genre fell victim to. Although she herself was often under pressure to earn money through her literary works, she always criticised over-productivity as dulling the originality of the works in question.  She reviews, among others, the third Anthony Gilbert book within a year, An Old Lady Dies, where she stated that, although the text was up to his usual standards, “… I do not feel that there was any strong and compelling reason for writing it.” She criticised not only the writers but also the audience which was, in her eyes, too accepting of lacklustre writing:

“There are many reasons which may prompt an author to produce books at this rate, ranging from hyper-activity of the thyroid to the grim menace of rates and taxes. The greatest genius is usually attended by a considerable fertility, but, as a rule, it is too much to expect a fresh masterpiece every four months. With the detective story the temptation to over-production is especially dangerous: first, because it is only too easy to shake up the old pieces of the kaleidoscope into what looks something like a new plot, and, secondly, because the public (and this means You!) is still to indulgent in hasty and mechanical writings where mysteries are concerned”

With the growing interest in classic crime stories today, Sayers´ reviews offer the reader a detailed inside look not only into the various titles of the Golden Age, but also into the crime fiction genre as a whole. Sayers part witty, part cynical and part serious appreciative reviews are a well-written and entertaining way to get a new perspective on classics of the genre as well as an inside view into the personality of one of the key figures of crime fiction writing in the 1930s. Her inimitable style and quick wit as well as her evident expertise and care make this collection a good addition for fans of the Golden Age of Crime and anyone who enjoys the art of the well-written review, of which this one is such a shining example.

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Continental Crimes

Continental Crimes

Edited by Martin Edwards – Continental Crimes, British Library, 10/06/2017.

                        A book review by Jonas Rohe, Queen’s University Belfast

 

Continental Crimes is a collection of classic crime short stories from writers of the British tradition which are set, as the name suggests, on the European continent. Edwards’ anthology contains fourteen stories dating from the early 20th century, through the Golden Age of Crime, to the 1950s. The tales are roughly in chronological order by date of publication, starting with Doyle’s The New Catacomb (1898) and ending with Michael Gilbert’s Villa Almirante (1959).  Continue reading

The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books

Edwards

 

Martin Edwards –The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books, The British Library, 2017

 

A book review by Jonas Rohe, Queen’s University of Belfast

 

 

Martin Edwards’ The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books (2017) offers a literary history of crime fiction of the first half of the 20th century, focusing mainly on the British tradition. The hardcover book is beautifully edited with an artfully designed cover and includes several high gloss pictures of different classic crime fiction book covers. Edwards, as a successful crime fiction author himself, has selected a wide variety of stories that cover the “Golden Age of Crime” of the thirties to the post-World War II crime fiction period. Continue reading

Book Cover Design and the Legitimation of Crime Fiction in Czechoslovakia (1960- 1980) – The Smaragd Series

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by Marcela Poucova, University of Brno

 

After the 1948 coup which brought the Communist Party to power in Czechoslovakia, the cultural climate changed considerably. Before then, there had been a number of publishing houses whose production covered various literary fields. With the dictatorship of the proletariat, the Soviet cultural model came to the fore. Socialist Realism was the order of the day, together with its vision of culture as a means of educating the masses. Private publishers gave way to several state-run ones led by the most devoted party members. Not only some authors, but even certain genres became undesirable.

Both high-brow literature of the highest quality (unless of Soviet provenience) as well as paraliterary genres fell out of favour. Works from the other side of the Iron Curtain without any strong leftist tendencies were deemed to be propaganda. Popular fiction, namely the ‘lower’ genres such as westerns, romances, and crime or spy novels were considered unworthy of the new builders of Communism. Of these, it was only crime and spy literature which managed to ‘turn coat’ and find its place under the new regime, albeit by adapting to the new political order by capitulating to its demands. As a result, from the 1950s, the vast majority of spy novels depicted the uncovering of clandestine activities of imperialistic countries whose ‘prime interest’ was to destroy the new  (Communist) democracies. Similarly, crime novels portrayed individual criminal activities of people who could not identify with the revolutionary ideals of the new society.

In the 1960s, the political scene began to change and editorial policies were relaxed. Culturally, this decade was the most interesting part of the era. As for domestic crime novel production – talented authors emerged for whom the genre brought an interesting challenge and a novel way to describe the reality of society. At the same time, the number of translated novels also increased. Naturally, in the spy genre these were by authors from the Soviet bloc. However, the crime and detective genre started to open up to more global influences. The reasons for this were clear. The public was hungry for a relaxing read that was not burdened with ideological content and, economically, this genre was profitable. Nevertheless, in a socialist state, when it came to ideology, profitability was pushed aside. Publishing houses with devoted party members at the helm created a number of measures designed to select the ‘right’ authors, novels and genres: Continue reading

The 100 Greatest Literary Detectives

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Sleuths, Private Eyes, and Policemen: An International Compendium of the 100 Greatest Literary Detectives

 Edited by Eric Sandberg (University of Oulu) eric.sandberg@oulu.fi

 

Contributors are sought for of a new reference work, titled Sleuths, Private Eyes, and Policemen: An International Compendium of the 100 Greatest Literary Detectives. The Volume is under contract with Rowman & Littlefield for publication in late 2017.

This collection will focus on the investigators who lie at the heart of crime fiction (and who appear with surprising frequency in other genres), and will offer academics and general readers a rigorous, opinionated, and entertaining survey of the key figures in one of our richest literary traditions. The hundred entries will offer broad historical and international coverage, but must be based on books available in English.

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Trash to Goldmine: High Returns Investments in Crime Fiction Collectibles

 JP!

The auction, currently live on ebay, of an August 1939 issue of Jean-Pierre,  a relatively obscure and long disappeared French Magazine, which featured comics and detective stories aimed at young readers, looks certain to fetch a substantial price. With still five days to go, the auction price for the magazine has  already surpassed more than one thousand times its nominal price (1 Franc from 1939 is worth 0,44514 Euros, according to the tables of the French Statistics Office, l’INSEE). Continue reading

“Death Wears Yellow Garters” : Chandler on good and bad Detective stories

Trouble

(Raymond Chandler, Trouble Is My Business, Pocket Books 823, 1951 : Cover Art by Herman Geisen)

Compiling a list of chandlerisms is possibly not the most reverent way to assess how the golden age of Crime Fiction was perceived outside from the self-selected happy few of members in the famous “Detection club”. But it is certainly a fun way to start.  Here are a few excerpts from Chandler’s seminal essay (1950) : “The Simple art of murder”.

Every detective story writer makes mistakes, and none will ever know as much as he should. Conan Doyle made mistakes which completely invalidated some of his stories, but he was a pioneer, and Sherlock Holmes after all is mostly an attitude and a few dozen lines of unforgettable dialogue.

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Colección El Séptimo Círculo: The first 120 Titles

Circulo1e

(Click to enlarge)

The first 120 volumes in the  Seventh Circle (Septimo Circulo) series were selected by Borges and Bioy Casares, both practitioners and very well- informed observers of the crime genre and its developments since the 1930s. It is well known that the pair had previously co-written, under the pseudonym of Bustos Domeq the ultimate armchair detection classic, Six problems for Don Isidro Parodi, published in 1942. The Septimo Circulo series reflects their tastes (even though, unlike Borges, it favours novels over short stories) and views on crime fiction aesthetics. Given the global status and influence of Borges especially, the vision of a canon of international crime fiction which emerges from this selection is interesting. The visualisations below show which authors were published, between 1945 and 1954 in the series’s first 120 volumes, and highlight their relative importance there. Continue reading

Tintin’s adventures in Hardboiled America

Chicago

Tintin en Amérique, the third album installment of the world famous series of realistic comics drawn by Hergé, was first serialized in the Brussels-based Petit Vingtième, between 3 September 1931 and 20 October 1932. The colour version of the album dates from 1945. Tintin en Amérique is therefore, both for Americans and for Europeans, a contemporary of early noir novels. Not only does Tintin visit America just after the noir genre was invented there in the 1920s pulps (the first “hardboiled” novel considered to be Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest, published in 1929), but the colour edition coincides with the genre’s real discovery and vogue (in film and publisher’s series such as Gallimard’s Série Noire) in post-war Europe, when curiosity for America was at its peak. Of course, the plot of Tintin en Amérique owes more to the spectacular gangster-film tradition (and, in parts, to the western) than to the cultural malaise associated with the noir genre. Himself a product of media culture, Tintin was born in the newspapers. He works, diegetically, as a journalist (although he never sends any articles): his is a newsreel vision of America. Not by coincidence, his American adventures are set in Chicago and feature Al Capone.

  

en Amerique Chicago petit 20e

(1945 version)                                                          (1931 version)

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World’s Favourite Agatha Christie

Dead Man

What is your favourite book by Agatha Christie? Which are the most popular amongst readers worldwide? Here are a few titles to choose from, as presented on the website http://worldsfavouritechristie.com/books :  This website  asked fans to vote for the World’s Favourite Christie book and will release the results in September.

AGAC

AC

For more information on the vote

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/apr/27/famous-fans-vote-for-worlds-favourite-agatha-christie-novel