Thursday, June 4, 2015

Martin Edwards--The Golden Age of Murder

DEBORAH CROMBIE: I had a huge treat when I was in London this past February. I was invited to the annual Detection Club dinner by my friend Kate Charles, who is a member.  The dinner was held at the Garrick Club in the West End, a most august institution, and was hosted by the current president of the Detection Club, Simon Brett. It was a "pinch yourself" occasion--so many brilliant writers, such fabulous atmosphere (and food), and such a wonderful slice of London history!

I caught up with a good many old friends that evening, but a special pleasure was visiting with writer Martin Edwards. Martin is from Cheshire (I always imagine that Martin sounds a bit like Duncan--or vice versa), and writes terrific English mysteries, one series set in Liverpool and another in the Lake District. But Martin is also a very accomplished writer of non-fiction, and when he told me about his latest project I knew he had to visit us on Jungle Red.

THE GOLDEN AGE OF MURDER is THE book on Golden Age mysteries. It's getting rave reviews on both sides of the Atlantic. Here's a snippet from the starred review in Publisher's Weekly: “A comprehensive and well-written narrative that combines biography with literary criticism... Along the way, he dispels numerous myths about Golden Age detective fiction: for example, that it was ‘an essentially British form of escapism... an effete counterpart to the tough and realistic crime fiction produced in the United States’...The trenchant analysis is coupled with revelations about the private lives of these very public authors, offering new information for casual fans and students of the genre alike.” 

Here's Martin to tell us more.


Detective fiction from the “Golden Age” between the wars is enjoying a renaissance. The British Library’s Crime Classics series, for which I’m Series Consultant, has sold over a quarter of a million copies in paperback alone in rapid time. To everyone’s surprise – including mine, to be honest - Mystery in White, by the long-forgotten J. Jefferson Farjeon, was a surprise number one best-seller last Christmas. It even outsold Gone Girl!

So I’d like to think that the time is ripe for publication of my study of the genre between the wars, The Golden Age of Murder. The sub-title is: “The mystery of the writers who invented the modern detective story.” And they really were a very mysterious lot. Agatha Christie’s eleven-day disappearance is merely the best-known of the various puzzles surrounding her brilliant contemporaries such as Anthony Berkeley and Dorothy L. Sayers.

The narrative hook of The Golden Age of Murder is the story of the founding of the Detection Club in 1930 as the first ever social network of crime writers. It was a select band, with only twenty-six founder members. They prided themselves on the quality of their writing as well as on their facility for creating ingenious and unusual plots. The more I delved into the back stories of these authors, and their complex relationships, the more fascinated I became. Early reaction to The Golden Age of Murder suggests that many other people feel the same way.

The lives of the writers, and discussion about their books, which included many long-forgotten gems, are two of the four elements of The Golden Age of Murder. The third is the remarkable range of real life crimes which inspired so many detective classics. Some of the cases are well-known, but others are not. Among those which fascinated me was the still-unexplained death at sea of Frank Vosper, a famous actor and playwright; the people who were on board with him shortly before he disappeared overboard included a beauty queen, a gay bullfighter, and Ernest Hemingway...

The fourth ingredient of the book is the remarkable period of history during which so many classic mysteries were written. This was an age when people slowly recovered from the devastating consequences of one war, only to find themselves threatened by the prospect of another. The received wisdom is that classic mysteries tell us little or nothing about the times in which they were written. I disagree – in fact, my belief is that, if you read between the lines of the best books, you learn a very great deal about “the age of anxiety” as well as about the writers and their lives.

Above all, people love a good mystery, and there are plenty of Golden Age detective stories that have stood the test of time. Now so many books that were once almost impossible to find are available and affordable, supply is meeting a demand that, I suspect, has long existed. The wheel of fashion has turned in favour of Golden Age mysteries, at long last. And I couldn't be more delighted.

DEBS: This is a gorgeous book, a must-have for anyone who loves detective fiction!! And it's un-put-down-able from page one. Harper Collins is very kindly offering to give a copy to a lucky commenter (too difficult for Martin to ship from the U.K.) so get your name in the hat.

And then share you favorite Golden Age mystery! 

Martin Edwards was born at Knutsford, Cheshire and educated in Northwich and at Balliol College, Oxford University, taking a first class honours degree in law. He trained as a solicitor in Leeds and moved to Liverpool on qualifying. He published his first legal article at the age of 25 and his first book, about legal aspects of buying a business computer at 27, before a career as an equity partner of a law firm, where he is now a consultant. He is married to Helena with two children (Jonathan and Catherine) and lives in Lymm. A member of the Murder Squad (see the Links section) collective of crime writers, Martin is Vice Chair of the Crime Writers’ Association. In 2007 he was appointed the Archivist of the Crime Writers Association and in 2011 he was appointed the Archivist of the Detection Club.

Martin is recognised internationally as an expert on Golden Age detective fiction, and is the author of The Golden Age of Murder, a ground-breaking study of classic detective fiction written between the wars, published by Harper Collins in the UK and US.Len Deighton has described it as "illuminating and entertaining" and said it "provides a new way of looking at old favourites." American critic Sarah Weinman called it "this most delightful and necessary book" and British novelist Ann Cleeves described it as "a wonderful non-fcition book". The Times calls it "a richly rewarding study of the genre," while Mark Lawson described it in The Guardian as "an excellent work of detection...superbly compendious and entertaining."

REDS ALERT!!! Here are the winners of copies of Mark Pryor's Hugo Marston books. Instead of choosing three winners, Mark is sending a book to everyone who said they'd like to make Hugo's acquaintance!  So Mary Sutton, Susan b., Gail in Sequin, Deb Romano, Joan Emerson, and Diane Hale, could you send me your mailing addresses at deb at deborahcrombie dot com?  Hooray, Mark! You are so generous, and officially a JRW favorite!!!


  1. Wow, Debs, that must have been a truly fantastic evening.
    Martin, your book certainly sounds like a must-have . . . I’m looking forward to reading it.
    My favorite Golden Age mystery? It’s almost impossible to pick just one. Anything Agatha Christie; Philip Macdonald’s “The Maze;” Anthony Berkeley’s “Not to be Taken;” John Dickson Carr’s “The Hollow Man.”

  2. Agatha Christie's "Mirror Cracked". Looking forward to reading your book.

  3. Hi Debs. Great post! I've recently become interested in writers on the Golden Age, so I'm thrilled to find this blog here today–Martin makes the period sound like another great mystery. Sounds absolutely fantastic!

    I have a special fondness for Agatha Christie and mysteries set in England. English manors or London alleys, I love them all.

  4. Hi, Martin - I've got your book right here and looking forward to reading it this summer.

    For me it wasn't Dame Agatha but Dorothy L. Sayers was the Golden Ager that got me started. I powered through all of hers and mourned the religiosity that rerouted her writing.

    One of my favorite things about the Detection Club was their oath: Do you promise that your detectives shall well and truly detect the crimes presented to them using those wits which it may please you to bestow upon them and not placing reliance on nor making use of Divine Revelation, Feminine Intuition, Mumbo Jumbo, Jiggery-Pokery, Coincidence, or Act of God?

    Still stands up today.

  5. Oh, Hallie, you said it. That was too bad about Dorothy Sayers turn to religiosity.

    And... never heard of the Detection Club oath before! I love it!

  6. thanks for introducing us to Martin, Debs, that sounds like an amazing evening! And I love the oath--I think it should still hold for us writing today?

    Oh I have so much reading to catch up on...

  7. Martin - Good Morning! What a fun surprise to see you here this morning. Margaret Maron is one who is raving about your book also. Definitely a must have and I'm very much looking forward to reading it.

    Debs, you have the most fun adventures, you lucky little soul!

    Impossible to pick one favorite Golden Age mystery, but the one closest to my heart, I think, and the one I re-read often is Sayers' Gaudy Night.

  8. Welcome, Martin! And Debs, what a marvelous experience!

    Martin, I'm (slowly but surely) reading my way through The British Library’s Crime Classics series — fantastic to be the Series Consultant.

  9. The Golden Age panel at this year's Malice Domestic (of which, Martin was a part) was one of the highlights of the conference. And I was so happy to finally meet Martin, who I have respected for a very long time.

    For those that don't know, Martin has a great blog called Do You Write Under Your Own Name? Check it out if you enjoy The Golden Age of Mystery.

    As for the new book, The Golden Age of Murder, this is one every fan of crime fiction should have on their bookshelf. It's a fascinating read, filled with fun facts and interesting revelations about the folks who created the genre we all love so much.

    Glad to see you here, Martin. And happy to see that the book continues to get the great press that it deserves.

    (No need to include me in the drawing, I've got a copy)

  10. Ooo, new books! Thanks, Mark! Looking forward to meeting Hugo.

    Martin, the book sounds fascinating. I love losing myself in that period. Have to say just about anything by Agatha Christie is a favorite.

    Deb, what a great experience. And Hallie, that oath is fantastic! "Jiggery-pokery" =)

  11. The Crime Classics series-what a joy! And to be series consultant, as well as creating your new book, you has got to be so--touching, you know? The connections you are making , and the history you are protecting.

    Besides the Farjeon book--what are some other fabulous discoveries we may have missed?

    I was in the audience, too, at the Golden Age panel. It was fascinating! And inspiring.

  12. Oh, what riches. I've been reading one glowing review after another on various blogs. But -- choose a favourite golden age mystery? Tough task. So I'll cut it down to two: Envious Casca and Gaudy Night. I think Gaudy Night (along with other Sayers books) is an example of mysteries being a window into the times.

  13. Dorothy Sayers' Lord Peter Whimsey stories and Josephine Tey's Daughter of time are at the top of my list of classic favorites.
    What a marvelous book you have written. I look forward to it.

  14. I'm trying to get my little grey cells to work this morning. I love anything by Josephine Tey. I had a crush on Lord Peter for years and years. I also enjoyed Campion's mysteries. I'm sure there are more. I have a couple of John Buchan's books downloaded to read, but haven't managed it yet. My husband assures me I'll like him too. Martin, your book about the golden oldies sounds wonderful.


  15. It's hard for me to pick a favorite from the Golden Age, but lately I have been re-enjoying Margery Allingham's Campion stories.

    I second Kristopher's recommendation of Martin's blog -- Do You Write Under Your Own Name? Always a great read.

    I am looking forward to grabbing The Golden Age of Murder soon, but if Harper Collins wants to send me a copy, who am I to deny them that pleasure? ;-)

    Hallie -- love the oath, but I think I might be open to reading a mystery or two that features a little "jiggery-pokery."

  16. After attending the Golden Age panel at Malice, I'm really looking forward to reading more about the authors and their books from that period. I have some Agatha Christie and Josephine Tey books, but I'm excited to discover some additional Golden Age authors.

  17. Martin, I have your book on my Amazon wish list, and now I'm even more intrigued. What a great period of mystery and detective fiction to explore. I have to choose the popular choice of Agatha Christie for my favorite author of this period, as reading all of her books made me a lifelong mystery reader. It's too hard to pick just one of her books, but at the time I was reading them, I was partial to Miss Marple. Josephine Tey, also mention by others here, is an author who began her career during the time between the two wars, but one of my all-time favorite books, Daughter of Time, wasn't published until after WWII, so I'm not sure that book counts as a Golden Age one. Martin?

    Debs, I think your attendance at the Detection Club was so awesome. Did your feet touch the floor at all that night? And, Hallie, that oath is a hoot. Thanks for sharing it. Oh, and thanks, Kristopher for mentioning Martin's blog. I'm off now to check that out.

  18. Thanks, everyone, what fun suggestions!

    I'm a big Josephine Tey fan, too, but my favorite is Brat Farrar. I've started Martin's book and am so looking forward to all the scoop on the Golden Age writers.

    Kathy, that was the most fabulous evening. And before the dinner, Kate and I took each other's photos in front of the Agatha Christie monument in the West End. How appropriate is that??

  19. How exciting !!!! I would have probably sat there staring at everyone in Awe.

    I have 3 of Martin's books on my tablet, I really must Stop downloading books, I'll never get them all read ;) Plus the 200+ "tree books" stashed all over the house

    So glad you got to experience that !!

  20. It was a joy to have Deborah there - a very special evening.

  21. Thanks very much for all your lovely comments. I've enjoyed being part of this splendid blog today, and thanks again to Deb for allowing me the opportunity. I'm overwhelmed by the positivity of reaction to my book on both sides of the Atlantic, and it's a real bonus to be involved with the British Library's Crime Classics - what could be nicer than to be commissioned to read and write about fascinating forgotten books? As for the Detection Club, it's a truly unique and wonderful institution, and I'm optimistic that its future will be just as much fun as its past. More news about that before long!

  22. I can't believe no one mentioned the incomparable Ngaio Marsh! Agatha Christie was the first murder mystery writer I read, followed quickly by Dorothy L. Sayers, who remains on my reread pile, along with Josephine Tey's books. I would love a copy of Martin Edwards' book - it sounds absolutely fascinating!

  23. I'm a big Ngaio Marsh fan, too, Trudi G...Christie, Marsh, Sayers, in that order for me and as for my favourite? The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. Love the Detection Club rules - and love the way Christie then went blithely ahead and broke most of them (the one she broke with this book was so well worth breaking!)

  24. Just finished this book and it was really great. I'm inspired to try a few of the novels mentioned. I probably wouldn't have heard of it without your group. I really appreciate being introduced to authors from current authors I love.