Regular visitors to this page, and/or regular listeners to the podcast, surely are familiar with the term "Golden Age of Detective Fiction." It refers - to define it very roughly - to the years between the two world wars of the 20th century and to the writers, especially English writers, who flourished during that period (or at least began their writing during those years).
Now, British mystery author Martin Edwards has come up with a deeply-researched, eminently readable history of those authors and those years, in an examination aimed at showing precisely how that Golden Age came about. The book is called The Golden Age of Murder: The Mystery of the Writers Who Invented the Modern Detective Story, and it was published in May by HarperCollins. It deserves a place on the bookshelf of anyone who enjoys the traditional detective story and wants to learn more about the authors who created those stories. Although this blog and podcast generally focus on the fine mystery fiction available to be read and re-read, rather than looking at non-fiction, The Golden Age of Murder is the subject of this week's audio review on the Classic Mysteries podcast. You can listen to the entire review by clicking here.
At the heart of the Golden Age, and at the heart of this book, was a group of authors who banded together into an organization called The Detection Club, an organization which still exists in the U. K. today. It began, formally, in 1930. The members were all selected by their colleagues by unanimous vote. You'll know the names of many of those members - Dorothy L. Sayers, Agatha Christie, G. K. Chesterton and Anthony Berkeley, for example - and will learn about so many more in this book: people such as J. J. Connington, John Street, R. Austin Freeman, G. D. H. and M. Cole, Freeman Wills Crofts, and H. C. Bailey, to name only a few. Without the Detection Club, we would hardly have had such a Golden Age. Edwards, who has served for many years as the club's archivist, takes as his thesis the idea that by examining these people, their beliefs, the things they held dear and the things they loathed, and how they interacted with each other, today’s readers will better understand how these authors in effect created the modern detective story, in all its many forms.
This is a large book – nearly 450 pages of stories, anecdotes and insights, lovingly detailed, illustrated by portraits of the authors and assorted other memorabilia. Edwards makes it quite clear that when too many of today's critics and academics limit their discussion of the Golden Age to the work of a handful of "crime queens," they miss the reality of the enormous talent of so many other writers and their significance in shaping the detective story. Happily, some publishers are stepping forward to re-issue the work of some of these authors for the enjoyment of a new generation of readers. I think The Golden Age of Murder is an indispensable popular history, one which often reads like a detective story in its own right. It should not be missed.