The Golden Age of Murder by Martin Edwards

Although I read a lot of crime fiction my knowledge of the authors and their books written during the ‘Golden Age’ so far has been limited to Agatha Christie, Dorothy L Sayers, Margery Allingham, and Michael Innes so when I saw that Martin Edwards had written The Golden Age of Murder: The Mystery of the Writers Who Invented the Modern Detective Story I thought it would be the ideal book to find out more. And I was absolutely right and the works of a whole host of authors has been opened up to me.

This is the story of the writers who formed the Detection Club between the two World Wars. Edwards sets the authors and their works in context – that period when Britain was recovering from the horrors of the First World War, living through an age of austerity as unemployment grew, the cost of living soared leading to the General Strike whilst the rich partied and saw the beginnings of the end of the British Empire. But the writers and the works although well grounded in their own time and culture have a lasting appeal and influence on current story telling and film and television.

The Club grew out of the dinners Anthony Berkeley and his wife Peggy hosted at their home in the late 1920s, attended by people including Agatha Christie, Dorothy L Sayers, Douglas and Margaret Cole, Ronald Knox, Henry Wade, H C Bailey and John Rhode. Eventually the Club was formed, with Rules and a Constitution and a Committee. The members benefited in various ways, meeting fellow detective novelists, discussing ideas, supporting each other and even working together on collaborative writing projects – such as The Floating Admiral, in which a dozen writers each wrote one chapter. The main aim of the Club was to encourage and maintain a high standard of work in writing detective novels.

I was fascinated by the number of real crimes that influenced the writers, both current at the time and crimes from the past. Their interest as they discussed these cases, such as Dr Crippen’s poisoning of his wife, in turn inspired them not only to write but also to play the detective themselves. Indeed, Edwards shows that the image of the Golden Age as ‘cosy’ murder mysteries is false:

Their novels are often sneered at as ‘cosy’, and the claim that their characters were made from cardboard has become a lazy critical cliché. The very idea that detective fiction between the wars represented a ‘Golden Age’ seems like a misty-eyed nostalgia of an aged romantic hankering after a past that never existed.

The best detective novels of the Thirties

were exhilarating, innovative and unforgettable. They explored miscarriages of justice, forensic pathology and serial killings long before these topics became fashionable (and before the term’serial killer’ was invented). …

The climax of one of Berkeley’s novels was so shocking that when Alfred Hitchcock came to film it, even the legendary master of suspense, the man who would direct Psycho, lost his nerve. He substituted a final scene that was a feeble cop-out in comparison to Berkeley’s dark and horrific vision. (page 9)

There is no way I can do justice to this book in a short post; it is simply a tour de force, comprehensive, crammed full of fascinating information about the period and the authors.

Martin Edwards’ love of Golden Age fiction shines throughout the book, (skilfully writing about books without giving away any spoilers) and has spurred me on to read more books from this period.

First Chapter ˆ¼ First Paragraph Intros

First chapterEvery Tuesday Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea hosts First Chapter ˆ¼ First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, where you can share the first paragraph, or a few, of a book you are reading or thinking about reading soon.

I’m currently reading The Golden Age of Murder by Martin Edwards, described on the back cover as

‘the extraordinary story of British detective fiction between the two World Wars, and the fascinating people who wrote it. A gripping real-life detective story, this book investigates how Agatha Christie and her colleagues in the mysterious Detection Club transformed crime fiction. Their work cast new light on unsolved murders, whilst hiding clues to their authors’ darkest secrets, and their complex and sometimes bizarre private lives.

First Chapter:

Chapter I, The Ritual in the Dark

On a summer evening in 1937, a group of men and women gathered in the darkness to perform a macabre ceremony. They had invited a special guest to witness their ceremony. She was visiting London from New Zealand and a thrill of excitement ran through her as the appointed time drew near. She loved drama, and at home she worked in the theatre. Now she felt as tense as when the curtain was about to rise. To be a guest at this dinner was a special honour. What would happen next she could not imagine.

Many congratulations to Martin Edwards who is to be the next President of  the Detection Club when Simon Brett, the current President retires in November. I really cannot think of a better choice than Martin, a well-deserved honour indeed!

The Frozen Shroud by Martin Edwards

The Frozen Shroud is the sixth book in Martin Edwards’s Lake District Mystery series. I’ve enjoyed the previous five, featuring historian Daniel Kind and DCI Hannah Scarlett, head of the Cold Case Review Team and this one is no exception; it kept me guessing almost to the end.

The Frozen Shroud begins at Halloween in Ravenbank, an isolated community on the shores of Ullswater. At Ravenbank Hall, Miriam Park tells Shenagh Moss the ghost story of the Faceless Woman, Gertrude Smith who was murdered on Hallowe’en, just before the First World War. She was found, battered to death, her face reduced to a pulp and covered with a woollen blanket like a shroud. Her murderer wasn’t hanged and the story goes that her tormented spirit walks down Ravenbank Lane on Hallowe’en. Later that night Shenagh goes missing and is found, battered to death and with her face covered by a rough woollen blanket.

Five years later, Daniel Kind sets out to discover more about Gertrude Smith’s murder when a third murder occurs on Hallowe’en; another young woman with her face shrouded from view. This time it’s Hannah’s best friend Terri Poynton, who was at a Hallowe’en party at the Hall.  Is it the same killer or a copycat murder?  DCI Fern Larter investigates this latest murder and because it looks as though there are connections with Shenagh’s murder, Hannah reopens that case. She and Daniel work together once more to discover the truth.

In Martin Edward’s books, the characters are all so alive, the settings so vividly described and the plots so intricate and compelling. I love all the historical and literary references he uses, weaving them seamlessly into the books, and then there is the ongoing friendship between Daniel and Hannah – both Daniel’s sister and Hannah’s friends keep insisting they’re right for each other.

I think each book can be read on its own, but it helps to fully understand the characters’ relationships if you read them in order. The earlier books are as follows (linked to Fantastic Fiction):

1. The Coffin Trail (2004)
2. The Cipher Garden (2005)
3. The Arsenic Labyrinth (2007)
4. The Serpent Pool (2010)
5. The Hanging Wood (2011)
6. The Frozen Shroud (2013)

The Frozen Shroud is available in the USA in both hardback and paperback, published by Poisoned Pen Press. I received my copy from Maryglenn McCombs Book Publicity.

In the UK the hardback, published by Allison & Busby will be released in June this year.

crime_fiction_alphabetThis is my contribution to Kerrie’s Crime Fiction Alphabet 2013 for the letter F. To take part your post MUST be related to either the first letter of a book’s title, the first letter of an author’s first name, or the first letter of the author’s surname, or even maybe a crime fiction “topic”. But above all, it has to be crime fiction.

I’ve taken part in all of Kerrie’s previous Crime Fiction Alphabets but this is my first one for this series. I decided to contribute when the books I’ve read or am reading coincide with the letter of the week. Actually this book could equally as well be for the letter E too.

The Hanging Wood by Martin Edwards

The Hanging Wood (Lake District Mysteries 5)The Hanging Wood is another great book from Martin Edwards. It’s his 5th Lake District Mystery, and although each one can be read as a stand-alone, I think it’s good to read them in order of publication. Full details of his books are on Martin’s website.

Historian Daniel Kind is carrying out research at St Herbert’s Residential Library where Orla Payne works. She is obsessed by the disappearance of her brother Callum,  twenty years earlier when he was a teenager and she was a child of seven. When her uncle was found dead in Hanging Wood, the police assumed he had committed suicide after killing Callum, even though his body was never found. Daniel encourages Orla to speak to DCI Hannah Scarlet, who heads the Cold Case Review Team at Cumbria Constabulary about her brother’s disappearance. However, a drunken Orla fails to convince Hannah to reopen the case and it is only after Orla’s death that the police decide to review Callum’s disappearance. As Hannah tries to discover what happened to Callum, she begins to think their deaths are connected and were not accidental or suicide.

I really enjoyed this book, with its interesting characters and atmospheric Lake District setting. The Hanging Wood itself with its towering wych elms, rowan, ash and oak trees, and old paths obscured by grass, heather and brambles is not a pleasant place:

The sun was barely visible through the canopy of leaves and there was an earthy primitive smell in the air. Even on a day like this, the Hanging Wood had the odour of decay. Purple foxgloves supplied a scattering of colour, but for Hannah, the flowers conjured up sinister memories. They were poisonous, and when she was small, a thoughtless uncle warned her that nibbling the stems in his garden would kill her. She’d spent the rest of the day in a state of terror. She remembered his name for foxgloves: dead man’s bells. (location 2225)

The case is intriguing and cleverly constructed. I thought I’d worked it out and I did, but only after several red herrings threw me off track for a while. I like the mix of cold and new cases, the sense of history and the characterisation – a most satisfying read.

I also like the sub-plot of Hannah and Daniel’s relationship. Both of them are now living on their own, but Marc is still trying to patch things up with Hannah and Hannah is just not sure. I think for this strand of the novels it really does help to read the books in sequence.

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 518 KB
  • Print Length: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Allison & Busby (25 July 2011)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language English
  • ASIN: B005C1AMFU
  • Source: I bought it

The Serpent Pool by Martin Edwards: Book Review

I’d been eagerly looking forward to reading Martin Edwards’s latest Lake District Mystery, The Serpent Pool and it didn’t disappoint. It’s a  terrific book. It has everything, a great sense of location, believable, complex characters, a crime to solve, full of tension and well paced to keep you wanting to know more, and so atmospheric. I loved all the literary connections, the secondhand bookshop, the book collectors and historian, Daniel Kind’s research into the 19th century writer, Thomas de Quincey and his history of murder.

The earlier books in the series are The Coffin Trail, The Cipher Garden, and The Arsenic Labyrinth, featuring DCI Hannah Scarlet, in charge of the Cumbria’s Cold Case Team, her partner Marc Amos, a rare book dealer and Daniel Kind, a historian and the son of Hannah’s former boss, Ben Kind. See Martin’s website for more information.

The Serpent Pool begins with the death of George Saffell, one of Marc’s customers, stabbed and then burnt to death amidst his collection of rare and valuable books.The motive for his killing, the subsequent death of another of Marc’s customers, Stuart Wagg, and the connection with the cold case Hannah is investigating gradually become clear.

Hannah is investigating the apparent suicide of Bethany Friend who had drowned 6 years earlier in the Serpent Pool, a lonely, isolated place below the Serpent Tower, a folly high on a ridge. Her mother refused to accept she had killed herself, she had no suicidal tendencies and no known history of depression. She had drowned in just eighteen inches of water and was found with her hands loosely tied behind her back and her ankles tied together. Hannah and Greg Wharf, her new detective sergeant set about re-interviewing all the witnesses.

When Hannah discovers that Marc knew Bethany she wonders what he is hiding and why he had never mentioned it to her. Their relationship is not going well and to make matters worse she is still attracted to Daniel. Marc, in turn, seems dangerously attracted to Cassie Weston, a new employee.

The complex plot kept me guessing to the end of this gripping murder mystery.