MURDER MYSTERIES: A NEW GOLDEN AGE? asks Tom Mead
Like many people, I grew up in thrall to the Golden Age of Detective Fiction (GAD for short). Our home was heaped with Agatha Christie paperbacks, so even before I picked up a single one and actually began to read it, the genre had started getting under my skin.
Perhaps it’s not surprising that my first book, Death and the Conjuror, is a tribute to the legends of the genre like Christie, Christianna Brand, and a personal favourite of mine: John Dickson Carr. But I also hope my work has a part to play in the ongoing mainstream revival of fair-play, orthodox puzzle mysteries written in the classic style.
For instance, Anthony Horowitz’s marvellous Hawthorne novels offer a string of exquisitely crafted whodunits, plus the ingenious touch of featuring himself (“Tony”) as the unwilling narrator; an amusing device favoured by such GAD luminaries as Leo Bruce. Even Christie does it after a fashion with Ariadne Oliver. So really, Horowitz is continuing the grand tradition laid out by the genre’s forbears. Meanwhile, in the sensational Magpie Murders, he takes things a step further, creating a neo-GAD novel within a neo-GAD novel. Truly, a bravura performance.
Likewise Robert Thorogood has continued the tradition with TV’s Death in Paradise and, in print, the Marlow Murder Club series, which is pure neo-GAD in the guise of a conventional “cosy.” Similarly, Victoria Dowd’s Smart Woman’s Guide to Murder series offers razor-sharp puzzle plotting. Of the four books published to date, the third (The Supper Club Murders) remains a particular favourite on account of its irresistible impossible crime setup.
Which brings me to Martin Edwards, who is in many ways the godfather of the current GAD renaissance. His Rachel Savernake novels are not only historical mysteries, but also pacy thrillers with a decidedly contemporary feel to them. Additionally, he is one of the foremost scholars of the genre. I am hugely grateful for his continued work with the British Library on the Crime Classics series, which has single-handedly rescued a plethora of brilliant GAD authors from undeserved obscurity, and helped to keep discussion and enjoyment of the Golden Age alive.
Personally, I’m delighted to see so many up-and-coming authors embracing the style and complexity of the orthodox puzzle mystery. To name a few, I immediately think of Tom Hindle, Janice Hallett, M.H. Eccleston and Alex Pavesi. Though of course it is important not to take for granted the likes of Catherine Aird, Peter Lovesey and Simon Brett, who have been producing masterclasses in GAD-style plotting for half a century apiece.
So is the classic puzzle mystery alive and well? Absolutely, and long may its new Golden Age continue.
Tom Mead’s latest release Death and the Conjuror is out now. You can read more about him and his books here.