A Golden Post about the Golden Age of Murder

PrintToday I’m excited to welcome Golden Age expert and talented crime writer Martin Edwards to Confessions of a Mystery Novelist…  Edwards knows far more than I ever could about Golden Age crime fiction and those who created it. You’ll learn more than you could imagine by visiting his blog, Do You Write Under Your Own Name? – a must for any crime fiction lover’s blog roll.  Edwards has just released his new book, The Golden Age of Murder, a unique look at the people who made the Golden Age what it was. Now, without further ado, here he is to talk about it. Writers, you’ll want to learn from his process. Crime fiction fans, you’ll be interested to know what went on ‘behind the scenes.’: 

It’s kind of Margot to give me the chance to tell readers of Confessions of a Mystery Novelist about my latest book – it’s one that means a great deal to me. The title is The Golden Age of Murder, and although it isn’t a novel, I’ve used novelistic techniques, and undertaken quite a bit of detective work in writing it. In short, I set out to tell a story about detective novels and detective novelists from that extraordinary period in history, the years between the two world wars. It’s a story I found as fascinating as any fictional mystery, and when undertaking my researches I felt rather like a would-be Poirot, presented with endless clues, but also plenty of false trails and red herrings.

The first confession from this particular mystery novelist is that I’ve always had a passion for ingenious and imaginative whodunits. Agatha Christie was the first adult novelist whose work I read, at the tender age of nine, and the intense pleasure her twisty plots and surprise solutions gave me then is something I’ll never forget. As I read more widely, enjoying contemporary crime fiction as well as the classics, it dawned on me that even today’s most prominent cutting-edge authors owe a considerable debt to those who went before.

As well as thousands of detective novels, I’ve devoured countless books about the genre, but none of them offer an in-depth study of the men and women who wrote Golden Age fiction. I kept wondering – how did those writers interact with each other, and how did their membership of the legendary Detection Club, founded by the brilliant yet tormented Anthony Berkeley, inspire them? When I became the Detection Club’s archivist, I was struck not only by the paucity of the records, but also by how little was known about most of its early members. These people were the leading exponents of popular fiction in the Thirties, yet apart from Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, and one or two others, most have been forgotten. So (at least until recently – the internet, digital publishing, and the diligent research of enthusiastic bloggers have been a boon) have their novels.

The idea came to me of a book that explored the Golden Age in general, and the Detection Club in particular. I felt I’d like to connect classic detective fiction to the society it came from, and the real life crimes which often influenced it – but this was a mammoth task. Nothing like it had been attempted previously, and I was far from confident that anyone would want to publish it. And how on earth to go about producing such a book? Nevertheless, before long, I became passionate about the project, and spent every spare minute working on it.

After I set up my blog, Do You Write Under Your Own Name? I found the blogging community very supportive. I was especially gratified by the interest shown in my posts on Forgotten Books. I found myself writing a book that developed some of themes hinted at in those posts, but before long the project took a new direction, as I decided to investigate the early years of the Detection Club’s existence. At first, this meant jettisoning a good deal of interesting material – but at a later stage, I managed to smuggle much of it back in, by way of end notes to chapters…

At one point, an expert in the field whom I’d told about the project suggested that we write the book together. I’ve done a lot of co-writing over the years, and enjoy it, but I felt that this book was too personal for the collaboration to work. But no writer is an island. I did want to take into account the views of others in forming some of my judgments, not least about how best to present all the material I’d accumulated. So I decided to consult a handful of people whom I trusted to be frank yet positive in their appraisal of the manuscript’s strengths and weaknesses. When I’d written about two-thirds of the draft, I shared it with three leading British novelists – all current members of the Detection Club. Ann Cleeves, Peter Lovesey, and Ruth Dudley Edwards each gave me invaluable help and encouragement. Energised, I pressed on.

When the book was at long last complete, I shared it with four genre experts. Two are American – Douglas Greene (biographer of John Dickson Carr, and founder of that splendid press, Crippen & Landru) and Tom Schantz (renowned bookseller, and owner of the Rue Morgue Press.) One is Irish – John Curran, who decoded Agatha Christie’s secret notebooks. And one is British – Tony Medawar, who is arguably the genre’s leading researcher. Again, they were constructive in their criticisms, and generous in their comments, and they saved me from many errors. So at a late stage did another American expert, Arthur Robinson, when he checked the proofs for me. I owe a great debt to all eight of my “advisers”, as well as many others who have supplied me with precious scraps of fresh information in my hunt for the truth about the Detection Club.

Thankfully, my long quest eventually had a happy ending. I was thrilled when Harper Collins – Agatha Christie’s publishers, no less! – bought the rights to publish The Golden Age of Murder in both the US and the UK. And I was ecstatic when that wonderful novelist Len Deighton read the book before publication, and said that it provides “a new way of looking at old favourites.” That was exactly what I hoped to do, when I started work on the book all those years ago, and such a response made all those years of writing and re-writing seem worthwhile. How others will react to the book, time will tell. But my hope is that it will, at least, convey my love of Golden Age fiction, and perhaps encourage readers who are unfamiliar with some wonderful books of the past to give them a try. Those who do will not, I’m sure, be disappointed.’

Thanks so much, Martin, for your insights! Folks, do check out The Golden Age of Murder


Filed under Martin Edwards

44 responses to “A Golden Post about the Golden Age of Murder

  1. I’m looking forward to reading this book, Martin – and thank you, Margot, for inviting Martin to talk about it. There is so little information out there about those authors (although some of the books are getting reissued, under pressure from the reading public). It will be nice to have it all in one place.

    • I’m excited about this book too, Marina Sofia. Learning a little about the authors behind the books is just fascinating. And I’m glad some of those great books are being re-issued.

  2. Margot, thanks for hosting Martin on your blog. It is wonderful. I look forward to reading his book. I am reading Mystery In White at present by J Jefferson Farjeon because of Martin’s involvement, and I am enjoying it a great deal. Thanks both. 🙂

  3. For years I felt I was the only person I knew who enjoyed Golden Age crime fiction: the internet changed all that and it has been such a pleasure to meet up online with other fans, Margot and Martin very much included. And now I am very much looking forward to Martin’s book….

    • Thank you so much for the kind words, Moira. I agree that the internet has done much to connect people with common interests. And I’m sure you’ll enjoy Martin’s book; he’s an expert.

  4. Sounds really great – can’t wait to get my hands on a copy and surely Martin is the only one who could truly have written it.

  5. Col

    Interesting, but if I’m honest not my preferred reading within the genre.

    • Golden Age isn’t everyone’s cuppa, Col; I honestly don’t know that anything is. But if you ever do decide to learn a little more about GA crime fiction, this’ll be a great resource.

  6. I am looking forward to reading that book. Sounds quite amazing.

  7. Your book sounds wonderful, Martin! There is so much we can learn from authors who came before us, paving the way, creating a richer landscape on which our stories can thrive. Looking forward to reading your work.

  8. Glad you hosted this, Margot. I am so much looking forward to reading Martin’s book.

  9. I pre-ordered a copy as soon as I heard about the book and my copy is arriving at my house today. I am very excited. I love mystery reference books and this one should be very special. Thanks for the additional info about writing the book, Martin, and thanks to Margot for hosting Martin.

  10. My copy is due at my home this evening, Margot – just in time, as I’m going off on a lengthy cruise and taking the book with me. It’s also worth pointing out (as you have in the past, I know) that Martin is himself a fine author of traditional mysteries, which are well worth reading.

    • It is indeed worth reminding everyone of that, Les. Folks, if you haven’t tried the Harry Devlin series, the Lake District series, or Martin’s standalones, do put them on your lists. And Les, I hope you enjoy your cruise – and the book.

  11. This is one book that will definitely make my bookshelf. I can’t think of anything better than a book that has a new way of looking at old favourites. Thank you so much for hosting Martin Edwards Margot, a great post indeed.

  12. Great post, and the book sounds fascinating! Like most people I’ve dabbled in the well-known names of the Golden Age, but I’ve not really ventured further afield. Sounds like a good way to be introduced to some of the forgotten ones…

  13. Thanks Margot for inviting Martin. I really want to read his book. Now I’ll go and check if it is available in my part of the world.

  14. Was alerted to your blog by Jane Risdon – and lo! who do I find but Martin Edwards talking Golden Age. Jane knows of my interest in GA, developed at my mother’s knee, so to speak, and the redoubtable Ngaio Marsh who I think was my inspiration for taking to a career in crime. I inherited all my parents’ books and still re-read them.

    • WordPress left off my surname, so here it is!

    • Thanks, Lesley, for your visit. You stopped by at a great time, too, as Martin Edwards is an expert in GA crime fiction. I think a lot of people began their crime fiction reading with GA authors. Ngaio Marsh was one of the real talents of that era, too, so I’m glad you’ve had the chance to enjoy her books.

      • I know Martin, we’re both members of the Crime Writers’ Association, and I did a thesis on John Dickson Carr and one on GA fiction for my Master’s Degree. My own series follows in the footsteps of the British GA novels, and to keep me going, I re-read my parents’ extensive collection of the books, to which I’ve added over the years.

  15. Thank you for inviting Martin to talk about his new book, Margot. It sounds right up my street! And thank you Martin for all the hard work and research. I’m looking forward to reading it 🙂

  16. Thanks so much for hosting me, Margot. Very grateful for the kind comments.

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