Dorothy L. Sayers, Great Short Stories of Detection, Mystery and Horror, Second series, London: Victor Gollancz Ltd., 1931 (7th printing 1949)
Starting in 1928, Left-wing publisher Victor Gollancz devised some of the most eye-catching covers for the books it published. Their vibrant yellow colour stood out on the bookstalls. Gollancz had a special paper shipped from Germany to produce dust wrappers whose yellow would not fade (although it is obvious from the pictures here that it eventually did). Amongst these were a good number of Crime Fiction books, including those of Dorothy Sayers, who had herself worked in the advertising industry. The title of her novel Murder must advertise worked both as a description (it is set in the world of advertising) and as a commentary on the aggressive commercial signal sent by the conditioning of her books. Fittingly, the Sex Pistols would later use the same colours as the Gollancz publications for the packaging of their own attack on consumer culture.
The highly anticipated book by Martin Edwards on “the mystery of the writers who invented the modern detective story” is being released today. It promises to shed new light on the 1930s authors who published in Britain and formed part of the Detection Club. It invites readers to undertake a long overdue reconsideration of both their literary output and their worldviews. The problem with authors who were, for so long, as famous and dominant as Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, and John Dickson Carr is that it is easy to feel complacent about them. For a very long time, golden age authors have been seen as unfashionable in both literary and political circles. The noir genre, especially after WWII, seemed more exciting, modern and transgressive. While structuralists and narrative theorists have, from Todorov in the 1960s to Pierre Bayard, more recently, praised golden age authors’ artful plot construction, their politics had never really been reappraised. Chandler, in distancing the realistic, street-savy, brand of crime fiction he represents from the world of privilege and pure intellectual speculation he identified with the golden age output, inflicted terrible and certainly unfair damage to this group of authors. But treating them in an undifferentiated way, as conservative stalwarts of the established narrative and the social order, does not do justice to the great variety of authors and circumstances represented within the Detection Club. Continue reading