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The Golden Age of Murder Paperback – May 3, 2016
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‘Few, if any, books about crime fiction have provided so much information and insight so enthusiastically and, for the reader, so enjoyably’ THE TIMES
‘Illuminating and entertaining – provides a new way of looking at old favourites. I admire the way that Martin Edwards weaves the sometimes violent, sometimes unlawful, and always gripping true stories of these writers with the equally wild tales they tell in their books.’ LEN DEIGHTON, author of SS-GB
‘Forensically sharp and exhaustively informed… Crime fiction is driven by death. In this superbly compendious and entertaining book, Edwards ensures that dozens of authorial corpses are gloriously reborn.’ MARK LAWSON, GUARDIAN
‘Edwards knows his business. He understands how to parcel out the clues and red herrings so as to feed the reader enough information to keep a variety of possibilities open, while making sure to prepare for a satisfying solution.’ SEATTLE POST
‘You can learn far more about the social mores of the age in which a mystery is written than you can from more pretentious literature. I mean, if you want to know what it was like to live in England in the 1920s, the so-called Golden Age, you can get a much better steer from mysteries than you can from prize-winning novels.’ P. D. JAMES
About the Author
Martin Edwards has published eighteen crime novels, including series set in Liverpool and the Lake District. He has won the CWA Short Story Dagger and CWA Margery Allingham Prize, and his latest book, The Golden Age of Murder, won the Edgar, Agatha, Macavity and H.R.F.Keating awards. Martin is consultant for the British Library's Classic Crime series, as well as Chair of the CWA and President of the Detection Club. He has edited 30 anthologies, published about 60 short stories, and written seven other non-fiction books.
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Top Customer Reviews
Edwards is not shy about describing mysteries and scandals in these writers' lives, but neither is he sensationalistic about it. We learn in measured terms the story of Dorothy L. Sayers's "bitter sin," for instance, and its reverberations throughout the rest of her working and private life. We learn of writers' affairs, sexual orientations, passions, and jealousies, but all with an eye to how this played out in their work and in their public personae as members of the Detection Club. Scandal is always told in the service of literary knowledge, with the result that the reader feels as if he or she is a trusted member of the club rather than a prurient outsider.
Best of all, Edwards is very good about evoking the flavor of the times. The flamboyance of these Golden Age writers is mirrored by the times in which they lived. We learn about the fad for games, the advent of creative and really exciting advertising, the austerity movement, and the darkening political climate, all of which informed how these writers lived and wrote. The level of detail is very satisfying: we get to know how much people paid in rent and earned at their jobs, what they wore and how others responded to it. This creates an immediacy which gives the book even greater authenticity.
Inevitably, there is some repetition of information, but this is really not a book to wander around in (though the temptation is almost overwhelming!) as much as to sit and read, cover to cover, over time. Luckily, there are good indices, though the chapter end-notes are disappointingly brief. Edwards is careful not to include too many spoilers about the mysteries themselves, but this is frustrating for the reader who wonders, for instance, "Which Anthony Berkeley novel was so shocking that Hitchcock had to sanitize the ending for the movie version?" Of course, half the point is to get us to read these Golden Age novelists, many of whom are virtually forgotten today. The other half, I suspect, is to wink at fellow Golden Age enthusiasts who know the works backwards and forwards, but perhaps did not realize the background of some of their favorite mystery novels, nor the story of the people who wrote them.
I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in classic mysteries or in the Long Weekend of Britain between the wars. Entertainingly written, packed with information and illustrations (including photographs, diary entries, signatures, original book covers, and other fascinating stuff), it is a treat to be treasured.
The truth is, the Golden Age was a time of great variety and experimentation within the genre, and The Detection Club was formed in the late 20s in England. The exclusive club gave authors a chance to socialize, and since membership was attained only by secret ballot, it was also a way to ensure the quality of the genre remained high. Martin Edwards’ "The Golden Age of Murder" looks at the men and women who were members of The Detection Club during the Golden Age. It’s an enormous project, one which might overwhelm a lesser man.
The good news is, it’s a great read. This book is a love letter to the classic books and authors. Martin Edwards has clearly read his stuff and knows a lot about it. He examines the members of the Detection Club and looks at their work and how it reflected their desire to innovate. He talks about well-known writers like Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers, but he also extensively discusses the work of such members as Henry Wade and Anthony Berkeley, who are known to a smaller circle of devotees.
The book is written with enthusiasm, warmth, and humour. Along the way, Martin Edwards debunks several false narratives about the Golden Age. For instance, he denounces the oft-parroted claim that this was a time dominated by “Crime Queens,” and takes the time to seriously look at neglected writers such as John Rhode, Freeman Wills Crofts, and John Dickson Carr.
There are limitations to a project like this. Despite the book’s enormous size, Edwards cannot cover everything. His scope requires the omission of some things and the considerable simplification of others. However, any complaints I have in this area would be largely in the nit-picking territory; Edwards manages to sidestep the pitfalls other genre surveys fall into.
I was particularly delighted at all the true-crime scholarship throughout the book. Martin Edwards has done an absolutely brilliant job digging through the true crimes which inspired these writers and some of their plots. There are some familiar cases, such as the Dr. Crippen affair and the Charles Bravo poisoning, but then there are some cases which are much more obscure, such as the death of Cecil Hambrough (which may or may not have been murder), or the murder of Emily Kaye.
I did not get a review copy in advance. Thus, my Kindle edition was downloaded to my device at midnight on May 7th. As I write this review, it is currently 6:30 PM on May 9th. My point is, I have already finished this 448-page book, and I found it irresistible reading, very hard to put down. Martin Edwards has succeeded in making "The Golden Age of Murder" a veritable page-turner. So much of his passion for the genre has been transferred to the page that it made for a real pleasure to read.
Overall, "The Golden Age of Murder" is a very good overview of the members of the Detection Club during the Golden Age. Though there are some limitations to this project because of its sheer enormity, Martin Edwards is more than up to the challenge. This is a work of passion, a work which I hope will do much to revise lazy narratives about the history of detective fiction. If you are a casual fan just dipping your toe into the waters of classic mysteries, or if you’re a hard-core fan eager to learn more about how these great writers interacted, this is an accessible page-turner of a book for you.