THE GOLDEN AGE OF THE BRITISH 
DETECTIVE NOVEL
Bibliography compiled by Helene Androski
University of Wisconsin-Madison/2001


What is a Golden Age classic?


During roughly the 1920s and 1930s, between the World Wars, the British detective novel flourished and set the standard for its type. These books were meant to be entertainments, games where the reader matched wits with the author, so their hallmarks were cleverness of murder and detection methods, graphic violence or sociological comment kept to a minimum, stylish writing, and a satisfactory conclusion where order was restored to the community by an essentially honorable detective to confirm the reader's notion that the English way of life was the best on offer. The modern reader, looking for an escape from a world where social and political problems seem insurmountable, can be just as entertained by the plots and characters and also by the glimpse into the customs and attitudes of a by-gone era.


Some Useful Definitions


Detection Club: Founded in 1928 by a circle of detective story writers and dedicated to the cultivation of the art. Members swore to abide by a set of rules of fair play with the reader: no concealing of vital clues allowed; the detective solves the crime by his or her wits; no divine inspiration or supernatural intervention allowed; the King's English must be honored. The club still exists, although the rules have been abandoned. Original members included G.K. Chesterton (first president), Dorothy L. Sayers, Agatha Christie, Anthony Berkeley, Gladys Mitchell, Miles Burton/John Rhode, Freeman Wills Croft, and Father Ronald Knox.

Donnish School: a style, usually written by an academic, that featured an academic setting or detective plus a liberal sprinkling of esoteric literary and classical allusions.

Humdrum School: coined by Julian Symons (see Bloody Murder below) to describe a style where a complicated puzzle plot predominated at the expense of character development, realism, or interesting dialogue.

Inverted Mystery: a style where the identity and method of the murderer is revealed at the outset, the suspense then built on detailing the detective's process of discovery. 

Locked Room Mystery: a category of impossible crime where the murder victim is found in a locked room with seemingly no avenue of escape for the murderer. 


The Novels


Six Against Scotland Yard [English title: Six Against the Yard] (1936). Great introduction to the genre. Each of six Golden Age authors, all members of the Detection Club, writes a story presenting the perfect method of murder and a real-life Scotland Yard Detective describes how he would solve the case. The authors are Margery Allingham, Anthony Berkeley, Freeman Wills Croft, Father Ronald Knox, Dorothy L. Sayers, and Russell Thorndike.

Herbert Adams (1874-1958)
Difficult to find now, but worth it for the period detail (including ethnic slurs) and sly wit in the writing style. Features Roger Bennion, amateur sleuth and son of a wealthy baronet. He is more amoral than is usual for the period, often willing to obstruct justice to help a pretty damsel in distress, but basically a decent and charming chap. Recommend:
The Golf House Murder (English title: John Brand's Will, 1933). A non-Bennion. A month after the black sheep relatives of a wealthy man move in with him, he has changed his will, leaving all to them and cutting out his beloved goddaughter. And then he dies. The family solicitor suspects skullduggery and sets out to solve the case. Nice picture of life among the country house set. 
The Chief Witness (1939). Two brothers appear to have committed suicide at the exact same moment and by the same method in different parts of London. Coincidence or cover-up for murder? Bennion gets involved when the attractive fiance of the accused murderer begs for his help.
Crime Wave at Little Cornford (1948). Set in the quintessential English village when the lady of the manor is poisoned during the fete to raise funds for the local cottage hospital. Nice look at immediate post-war English social conditions as Adams digresses often to rant against the imposition of the National Health Service.

Margery Allingham (1904-1966)
Features Albert Campion, upper class amateur sleuth with mysterious connections to the royal family, and his aptly named manservant, Lugg. Very good at eccentric characters. More psychological depth than puzzle plot. All her titles are recommended and are best read in order, beginning with The Black Dudley Murder (English title: The Crime at Black Dudley, 1929).

H.C. Bailey (1878-1961)
Features Dr. Reggie Fortune, upper class consulting surgeon and gourmand, in one series and lower class, Bible-quoting solicitor Joshua Clunk in another. Both are intuitive detectives, far more brilliant than the plodding police they assist. Recommend:
Black Land, White Land (1937). Fortune, reminiscent of Peter Wimsey before he met Harriet Vane, solves murders old and new in a rural county riddled with ancient feuds among the gentry. Good look at country life and attitudes.
The Bishop's Crime (1940). Fortune's chattiness may begin to annoy but he also entertains with his humor and classical allusions. This is set in a cathedral city with interesting elements of church history and Dante woven into the plot. Added bonus: a librarian is depicted as smart and attractive! 
The Queen of Spades (English title: Slippery Ann, Clunk, 1944). Suspicion shifts from one resident to another in a port city on England's south coast as murders are committed to protect a black market/Nazi spy ring. Interesting look at home front life in WWII.

Josephine Bell (1897-1987)
Usually a medical setting. She was a doctor herself. No series character. Recommend:
Curtain Call for a Corpse (English title: Death at Half Term, 1939). Set in a boarding school for boys being visited by a travelling troupe of Shakespearean actors. Very good characterizations of the school staff and the acting troupe. 

E.C. Bentley (1875-1956)
Despite his extremely limited output, he is rightly credited with ushering in the Golden Age with his brilliant and charming amateur detective and a sophisticated literary style that was a needed departure from the mechanical Sherlock Holmes clones of the time. His influence on Dorothy L. Sayers is evident and acknowledged. All are recommended but especially:
Trent's Last Case (1913). Despite the title, this is Trent's debut. Clever plot twists, country manor setting, appealing character in Trent, and a touch of romance.

Anthony Berkeley (1893-1971). See also Francis Iles.
Featured Roger Sheringham, writer. He's unmethodical, egotistical, and very loquacious. Murder and detection are treated truly as games, with just as much attention paid to witty repartee among the characters as to the solving of the crime. Recommend:
The Wychford Poisoning Case (1926). Based on a celebrated case of the time, the Florence Maybrick affair. Sherringham is particularly chatty and sometimes offensive, but also brilliant in his self-appointed investigation into a supposedly open and shut case.
The Poisoned Chocolates Case (1929). Members of a club, much like the Detection Club, each take a hand at solving a murder case. Five brilliant solutions, all wrong. A clever satire on the deductive methods of typical Golden Age sleuths. 
The Picadilly Murder (1929). A follow-up to Poisoned Chocolates, featuring the milquetoast Ambrose Chitterick, a brilliant comic creation. This amateur detective, solver of the Poisoned Chocolates Case, witnesses what surely must have been an act of poisoning in a London hotel tea room, but the case gets complicated. 

Nicholas Blake (1904 - 1972). Pseudonym for C. Day-Lewis.
One of the Donnish school. Features Nigel Strangeways, modelled after English Poet Laureate Day-Lewis' friend W.H. Auden. All are elegantly written and recommended. They are best read in order beginning with A Question of Proof, 1935.

Christianna Brand (1907-1988)
Usually features Insp. Cockrill, a brilliant intuitive detective. The reader's entertainment comes from matching wits with him, but Brand is also very good at clever dialogue and eccentric characters. All her titles are recommended and need not be read in order.

Leo Bruce (1903-1979)
Noted for humor, psychological insight, and ingenuity of plot. Features aptly named brawny Sgt. Beef of Braxham village constabulary later turned private detective. His boorish manner belies a very sharp intellect (a forerunner of Det. Columbo?). In a wry bow to Sherlock Holmes, he has a Watson, Lionel Townsend, to chronicle his adventures. In the 1960s, Bruce wrote a second series, featuring Carolus Deene, history master of a boarding school, which is also good but outside the definition of this list. Recommend: 
Case for Three Detectives (1936). A spoof on Lord Peter Wimsey, Hercule Poirot, and Father Brown. Each tries to solve the murder but Beef outwits them all. 
Case Without a Corpse (1937). Sgt Beef next solves a crime that stumps Scotland Yard. A young man walks into the village pub, announces he has just murdered someone, and swallows a vial of poison. So the murderer is known but who is the victim?

Miles Burton (1884-1964). See also John Rhode. Pseudonym for Maj. Cecil John Charles Street.
Features Insp. Arnold and Desmond Merrion, former member of the British Naval Intelligence and consultant to Scotland Yard. Wrote 69 detective novels, often with a village setting, which he depicts well. More noted for his inventive plots than characterizations. Recommend: 
The Secret of High Eldersham (1930). Merrion's debut. When the local pub lord is murdered in a close-knit East Anglian village where there is evidence that a witch cult is active, Merrion is asked to help investigate. He also finds romance and a smuggling operation. A lot of action and eerie depictions of satanic rituals.

Joanna Cannan (1896-1961)
Her two novels featuring Det. Insp. Guy Northeast, a working class police detective and an appealing contrast to the aristocratic amateur sleuths popular at the time, have recently been attractively reprinted by Rue Morgue Press. Recommended: 
They Rang Up the Police (1939). Introduces Northeast. The seemingly idyllic lives of three grown daughters and their mother in a pleasant country manor are disrupted when one of the daughters disappears and a number of suspects have reason to want her dead.
Death at The Dog (1941). Set in a country pub. Northeast faces a challenge to his professionalism when he finds himself attracted to one of the suspects in a murder. Excellent evocation of home front life during World War II.

G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936)
Features Father Brown, Catholic priest (modeled after the priest who converted Chesterton to Catholicism) who is kindly and absent minded but a shrewd judge of character. Although Father Brown's detection methods are ingenious, the purpose of these stories is not so much to entertain as to provide moral lessons. Recommend: 
Father Brown: Selected Stories (1955). Edited and introduced by fellow Golden Age author, Ronald Knox, this selection gives the reader a good taste of Chesterton's style.

Agatha Christie (1890-1976)
The most enduringly popular of the Golden Age writers. Ingenious plots, charming wit, and eccentric, if cardboardish characters make her the ultimate escapist read. Her detectives, Tommy and Tuppence Beresford, and especially Miss Marple, and Hercule Poirot are now cultural icons. Too many good titles to recommend, although The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926) is a must because of the furor it caused for breaking the Detection Club's rules of fair play.

G.D.H. (1889-1959) and Margaret Cole (1893-1980)
Features ex-CID now private investigator Henry Wilson, an everyman who came up through the ranks and not an aristocratic genius. The Coles were Socialist historians and economists who wrote detective novels as a relaxing hobby, and it shows in the leisurely pace and witty style of the novels. Recommend: 
Off With Her Head (1938), set in Oxford. A woman's severed head is found in the rooms of an undergraduate who had been sent down for bad conduct. On the wall of that room is also a sketch of the woman in a compromising position with one of the dons. Great evocation of the university and an entertaining cast of academic eccentrics.
Murder at the Munitions Works (1940). Unique among Golden Age novels because it is set in a factory during an industrial dispute, providing much more social realism than the norm. 

J.J. Connington (1880-1947). Pseudonym for Alfred Walter Stewart, a scientist.
Features Chief Constable Sir Clinton Driffeld and his friend Squire Wendover, two epitomes of the decency of the English ruling class so espoused in the Golden Age. Usually set in imaginary village of Ambledown providing good depictions of English provincial life. Connington's scientific background shows in the forensic details in his books. Recommend:
The Boathouse Riddle (1931). Mysterious doings in Squire Wendover's new boathouse. Lights going on and off, strangers coming in and out, a game warden found murdered nearby. The unintentionally quaint depiction of "the second most dangerous woman in the world," a female criminal named "Cincinnati Jean," is worth the read.
The Sweepstakes Murders (1932). A group of acquaintances form a syndicate to buy a set of sweepstakes tickets, agreeing to split the winnings among the surviving members. When their horse wins, one by one they begin to die "accidentally" thus increasing the shares of the survivors, one of whom must be the murderer.

Edmund Crispin (1921-1978)
Of the Donnish School, featuring Oxford Don Gervase Fen. Sardonic wit, rural English or Oxford settings, many allusions to English literature, and clever plots. All are recommended but particularly: 
The Moving Toyshop (1946). A major English poet glimpses a body in an Oxford toyshop. When he returns the next day, the toyshop has vanished so he calls on his friend Fen to help investigate. The story has the pacing and the absurd situations of a farce.

Freeman Wills Crofts (1879-1957)
One of the Humdrum School. Features plodding, methodical Insp. French. Complex, mechanical plots written by a civil and railway engineer, and it shows. Recommend: 
Inspector French's Greatest Case (1925). The clerk of a diamond merchant firm is found murdered and the safe plundered. Although French does not get to discredit alibis by painstaking analyses of railroad timetables (his forte), he does, over the course of several pages, decipher a bogus stock transaction ledger which is, in fact, a coded message, which enables him to track down the suspects.
The Box Office Murders (English title: The Purple Sickle Murders, 1929). Set in London involving a convoluted counterfeiting scheme. The depiction of "tough" criminals is unintentionally quaint to a modern reader used to American hard boileds.

Mary Fitt (1897-1959). Pseudonym for Kathleen Freeman.
Features quietly efficient Insp. Mallett. In real life, Fitt was a scholar of ancient Greece and her highly literate detective novels bear witness to that. They are usually set among the cultivated upper classes, and the characters are well-drawn. Recommend: 
Death Finds a Target (English title: Death on Heron's Mere, 1942). A weapons designer is found shot with his own rifle and many members of his country house set have a motive. 
Death and the Pleasant Voices (1946). A young man takes a wrong turn on a country road on a - no joke - dark and stormy night and seeks shelter in a forbidding looking country mansion. The residents greet him with hostility thinking he is the new heir come to dispossess them. When that heir is murdered a few days later, the blame shifts from one family member to another. This is not so much a detective story - no detecting gets done - as a novel of psychological suspense.

J.S. Fletcher (1863-1935)
In the Humdrum School. Read these for the puzzles and the interesting look at English life between the wars. Recommend: 
The Middle Temple Murder (1918). Favorite of Woodrow Wilson. A man with no identification is found dead on a London street, a Member of Parliament is implicated, and an enterprising newspaperman sets out to further his career and help the MP's pretty daughter by solving the case. Not only does this story foreshadow the Golden Age but it also reminds us that OJ Simpson was not the first time the media exploited a murder case. 
The South Foreland Murder (1930). Set near Dover involving stolen jewels and marital infidelity.

R. Austin Freeman (1862-1943)
In the Humdrum School. Features medical Dr. Thorndyke. A master of the scientific detective story, where the detective possesses a body of scientific knowledge which enables him to solve the case, and much admired by other Golden Age authors, Freeman himself tested the various forensic procedures that Thorndyke uses. Also credited as inventor of the inverted mystery. Recommend:
Mr. Pottermack's Oversight (1930). An inverted mystery. Mr. Pottermack, in an altercation with a blackmailer, accidentally kills him. He takes ingenious steps, described in great detail, to cover up his crime, but Dr. Thorndyke discovers one slight oversight, also described in great detail, which had gone unnoticed by the police. The story rises above the usual Humdrum School with its depiction of Pottermack's state of mind as his plans begin to unravel. 
The Best Dr. Thorndyke Detective Stories (1973). Selected and introduced by E. F. Bleiler. Prime examples of inverted mysteries and scientific detection, allowing Dr. Thorndyke to demonstrate his amazing skill at solving cases with only the meagerest of clues to work with.

Anthony Gilbert (1899-1973). Pseudonym for Lucy Malleson.
Very prolific. Features Arthur Crook, wily and disreputable Cockney lawyer, who does not so much solve the crimes as come to the rescue of the protagonists late in the story, often in a car chase, when all the pieces of the puzzle fall together. Recommend:
Death Lifts the Latch (English title: Don't Open the Door!, 1945) Some muddled detection and a cloying damsel in distress, but Crook and the minor characters are entertaining and the depiction of wartime conditions in London and the countryside interesting.

Cyril Hare (1900-1958). Pseudonym for Alfred Alexander Gordon Clark.
Two recurring characters, Insp. Mallett of Scotland Yard and "Rumpole-ish" lawyer Francis Pettigrew. Written with great style and humor by a lawyer and county court judge. All are recommended but particularly:
Tragedy at Law (1942). Pettigrew's debut. After repeated threats on his life while hearing cases on the Southern Circuit of assizes and after running down a pedestrian while driving uninsured, a judge is murdered when he returns to London. A clever plot, a very appealing character in the wry Pettigrew, and an interesting look at the day to day practice of British jurisprudence. 
The Wind Blows Death (English title: When the Wind Blows, 1949). Pettigrew, now happily married and living outside London, is asked by the Chief Constable to assist in a case where the guest violinist with the local orchestra has been strangled right before the concert is to begin. A good whodunnit with entertaining characters and a bonus for literary snobs: the solution hinges on an esoteric allusion to Dickens. 
The Christmas Murder (English title: An English Murder, 1951). A non-Mallett/Pettigrew. Set in a snowbound country house at Christmas. A guest is found murdered in his room. Since no one from the outside can get in, the murderer must be one of the other guests. 

Georgette Heyer (1902-1974)
Her mysteries have some of the elements of her better known Regency romances: scapegrace nephews, delightfully acid wit plus clever plots. These are detective comedies of manners. All are recommended and need not be read in order.

Richard Hull (1896-1973). Pseudonym for Richard Henry Sampson.
Witty and urbane. Recommend: 
Murder of My Aunt (1934). Inspired by Francis Iles (see below), Hull wrote this inverted mystery set in Wales. The narrator recounts why and how he murdered his aunt, fully confident that he was justified because she was insufferable. Instead he unintentionally reveals just who the insufferable one was. Very funny character study.
Keep it Quiet (1935). Set in a London gentleman's club where the secretary tries to cover up the accidental poisoning of a member and becomes a blackmail victim. Unbeknownst to him, his blackmailer is also his accomplice in the coverup, and the resulting misadventures make this the forerunner of the modern caper novel. Also included is a great spoof on Holmesian deduction methods. 

Iles, Francis. See also Anthony Berkeley.
Noted practitioner of the inverted mystery and novels of character rather than plot. Recommend: 
Malice Aforethought (1931). On page 1, we learn Dr. Bickleigh plans to murder his wife and we continue privy to the inner workings of a murder's mind until the surprise ending. 
Before the Fact (1932). The basis for Alfred Hitchcock's Suspicion. An early psychological suspense novel. A wealthy woman becomes convinced her playboy husband plans to murder her for her money.

Michael Innes (1906-1995). Pseudonym for J.I.M. Stewart
Witty, literate, elegantly written comic detective novels by an Oxford don. Features Sir John Appleby of Scotland Yard, not of aristocratic birth but possessed of erudition and elegant manners. Each of the 40 novels falls into one of 4 sub-catergories, all with a Donnish School tinge. All are recommended but good examples of each:
The Secret Vanguard (1941) and The Unsuspected Chasm (English title: From London Far, 1941). High adventure "pursuit" novels featuring a fugitive on the run.
One-Man Show (English title: A Private View, 1952). Satire on the art world.
Seven Suspects (English title: Death at the President's Lodgings, 1937) and The Weight of the Evidence (1944). Academic settings much like Oxford with satires on university politics and characters.
Appleby's End (1945). Almost pure farce with villages named Drool, Sneak, and Snarl.

(Father) Ronald Knox (1888-1957)
Anglican priest, Oxford don, and uncle of the novelist Penelope Fitzgerald. Features Miles Bredon, detective for the Indescribable Life Assurance Society, Ltd, a spoof on Lloyd's of London. Witty and highly literate. Recommend: 
The Footsteps at the Lock (1928). Set in Oxfordshire countryside. Overly intricate plot but charming characters and scenery. 

E.C.R. Lorac (1894-1958). Pseudonym for Edith Caroline Rivett. 
Features Insp. Macdonald. Solid, realistic writing style, good puzzles, genteel characters. She wrote a second series featuring a similar character, Insp. Rivers, but most of the books were written after the scope of this list. Recommend: 
Murder by Matchlight (1946). Interesting puzzle plot enhanced by a vivid depiction of life in London during the Blitz plus an equally vivid cast of suspects, a boardinghouse full of vaudevilleans.
Speak Justly of the Dead (English title: Murder in the Mill Race, 1952). Set in the idyllic Devon countryside. A hypocritical religious fanatic is murdered and Scotland Yard is called in on the case. 

Philip MacDonald (1899-1980)
Features Col. Anthony Gethryn, Oxford scholar, WWI hero, secret agent for the British government, painter, poet, and possessor of independent wealth, who can give Lord Peter Wimsey a run for his money when it comes to wit, charm, and skill at detecting and literary quote dropping. MacDonald is a superior writer, excelling at style, plot, humor and character development. All are recommended, but especially: 
The Rasp (1925). Gethryn's debut and a perfect gem. All the elements of a Golden Age classic are here: a distinguished government minister found murdered in his study, a brilliant intuitive amateur detective aiding and outwitting the police, clues scattered along the way to tempt the reader, a touch of romance, all ending with a most satisfying summation of a most improbable murder method.
Murder Gone Mad (1931). Gethryn is laid up with an injury, but his colleague at Scotland Yard, Superintendent Pike, is called in on a baffling case of a serial killer in an erstwhile peaceful town outside of London. MacDonald's usually delightful ironic style does not work so well here in his depiction of a community in the grip of terror as the bodies pile up, but he creates some entertaining characters and provides some insights into English class consciousness.
Warrant for X (English title: The Nursemaid Who Disappeared, 1938). An American in a London tea room overhears what sounds like a plan to kidnap a child for ransom and asks Gethryn's help to prevent a crime before it occurs. Gethryn, now married and with a child of his own, is more than willing and undeterred by the dearth of clues. Some good action scenes here as well as Gethryn's usual wit.

Ngaio Marsh (1895-1982)
Features Supt. Roderick Alleyn and his artist wife Troy. Very good at sense of place and creating interesting characters. Often a theatre setting. All are recommended and are best read in order, beginning with A Man Lay Dead (1934).

Gladys Mitchell (1901-1983)
Features Mrs. Beatrice Bradley, psychiatrist and amateur detective who looks like a pterodactyl (and NOT like Diana Rigg!) and has a devastating sense of humor. She applies the methods of a researcher to her crime solving and is not above meting out justice on her own. Quirky humor and some indulgence in the macabre. Recommend: 
Speedy Death (1929). Introduces Mrs. Bradley, who actually commits a murder in the story.
The Saltmarsh Murders (1932). Set in a village on the coast where Mrs. Bradley happens to be visiting. An unwed mother is strangled and her baby disappears. The presence of a black man in the village affords a view of the offensive racial attitudes of the author and her characters.

John Rhode (1884-1964). See also Miles Burton. Pseudonym for Maj.Cecil John Charles Street.
Features Dr. Priestley, mathematician, and Police Supt. Waghorn, who enlists his aid from time to time. Wrote over 70 detective novels. More noted for his inventive plots than characterizations. These are essentially amoral stories, since Priestley's interest in solving the case is the intellectual puzzle and not justice. Recommend: 
The Claverton Affair (English title: The Claverton Mystery, 1933). Set in London. Priestley suspects poison when his old friend dies suddenly but there is no forensic evidence. He perseveres in his detection, using a sťance to supplement his rational powers.
Death in Harley Street (1946). A prominent physician is found dead in his dispensary with a syringe of strychnine dangling from his arm. The coroner rules accidental death and the case is closed, but Priestley challenges Waghorn, as an intellectual exercise, to prove or disprove any of the possibilities: suicide, accident, or murder. After seemingly endless theories and recapitulations of the evidence by Waghorn, Priestley comes up with a fourth alternative, a brilliant solution of his own.

Dorothy L. Sayers (1983-1957)
Still popular master of the genre. Features Lord Peter Wimsey, wealthy, genteel amateur sleuth and Harriet Vane, writer of detective fiction. Ingenious plots and character development of a much greater depth than was the norm. All her books are recommended and are best read in order, beginning with Whose Body? (1923). 

Josephine Tey (1897-1952)
Features Insp. Alan Grant. Noted for well-drawn characters and plots that do not necessarily have tidy endings. All eight of her books are recommended and need not be read in order.

Henry Wade (1887-1969). Pseudonym for Henry Lancelot Aubrey-Fletcher.
Was once high Sheriff of Buckinghamshire so knew rural police work first hand. Pioneer in police procedural technique. Features Insp. Poole of Scotland Yard. Recommend: 
The Hanging Captain (1932). The local constabulary must call in Scotland Yard when a local magistrate is found murdered and the rivalry between the two police forces is well depicted.
Mist on the Saltings (1933). Set in Norfolk. The sex scenes are a bit silly by today's standards but the evocation of the marshy sea coast and the characterization of the locals are well done. An "outsider" is found dead on the mudflats when the tide goes out, and the police must overcome the locals' reticence to solve the case.

Edgar Wallace (1875-1932)
Prolific (over 150 books and plays) and popular in his day. At his peak, one out of every four books in print in Britain were written by Wallace, everything from drawing room comedies to jungle adventure stories (he created King Kong). His detective stories are noted for clever plots, wry humor, some action, and interesting characters. Recommend:
The Four Just Men (1905). Wallace's debut, an incomplete locked room mystery. To promote sales, Wallace included a message in each copy that offered 500 pounds to a reader who provided the solution. He meant to say the first reader and was nearly bankrupted when the solutions poured in, but the gimmick launched his career as a popular writer.
The Man Who Knew (1918). A spoof on the Sherlock Holmes clones of the time. The Man Who Knew is a font of esoteric knowledge and deductive skills who gets it all wrong in a complicated case of forgery, murder, and a damsel in distress.
The Murder Book of Mr. J.G. Reeder (English title: The Mind of Mr. J.G. Reeder, 1925). Reeder's self-effacing manner hides an acute insight into the criminal mind, brilliant detecting skills, and a willingness to get tough if necessary as he assists the police in nabbing a variety of nasty characters in London.
Sergeant Sir Peter (1930). A collection of stories about a young aristocrat who becomes a policeman for the fun of it. Excellent light comic touch with an O. Henry twist at the end of each.

Patricia Wentworth (1878-1961)
Best known for her Miss Silver series, featuring a spinster ex-governess and inveterate knitter, who is also the only professional female private detective in the Golden Age. Solid, straightforward puzzles and atmospheric settings in London or quaint villages. Usually Miss Silver not only solves the murder but also helps out a pair of young lovers who, although innocent, have been caught up in the intrigue. All are recommended for a dependable, comforting read and need not be read in order.


Some Useful Reference Books


Bloody Murder: From the Detective Story to the Crime Novel: A History by Julian Symons. The chapters on the Golden Age provide an interesting, if opinionated, overview of the strengths and weaknesses of the major authors.

Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 77: British Mystery Writers, 1920-1939. Long bio-critical essays on many of the authors on this list plus suggestions for further reading.

A Reader's Guide to the Classic British Mystery by Susan Oleksiw. A comprehensive listing of authors and titles with plot summaries but no critical comment. Good for a checklist, though.

Snobbery With Violence: Crime Stories and Their Audience by Colin Watson. A not-always-flattering but entertaining analysis of British crime fiction, including the Golden Age, and its sociological underpinnings by a writer of detective stories himself.

Twentieth Century Crime and Mystery Writers. 1st edition. Excellent critical overviews and complete bibliographies for mystery writers from the beginnings of the genre to 1980. Many Golden Age writers have been dropped from subsequent editions of this series to make room for new writers, so the first edition is the most useful.


Helene Androski
University of Wisconsin-Madison/2001