Saturday, 2 May 2015

The Golden Age of Murder



GUEST POST BY MARTIN EDWARDS


I am delighted today to welcome Martin Edwards as a guest blogger, to mark the publication of his new book The Golden Age of Murder. Martin is a crime writer and all-round good chap, whom I met through the glorious and friendly world of crime-fiction-blogging – several entries here on Clothes in Books arose from his recommendations, and he has a key role in the republication of classic crime stories, including the recent surprise bestseller Mystery in White - as featured in my recent Guardian article on train scenes.

Like all his online friends I am looking forward to the new book, out very soon.
 
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See Martin’s website here, and his blog here.


Below, Martin personally introduces us to the book, and to the great age of crime fiction writing:


 
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My thanks go to Moira for allowing me a guest spot on this splendid blog. I could never claim to be an expert on clothes, and my children would tell you that my dress sense rather proves this, but one or two things I do have in common with Moira became clear when we first corresponded, about eighteen months ago.

Moira contacted me in connection with the Wallace mystery, the legendary Liverpudlian murder case from the early 30s. She told me that she hailed from Liverpool, and had worked as a young journalist for Radio City, the local commercial radio station. This was in the days when Roger Wilkes, building on previous detective work by true crime expert Jonathan Goodman, investigated the case, and established to widespread satisfaction that William Herbert Wallace was indeed innocent of the murder of his wife. He even pinpointed an alternative suspect, a man named Parry.

Moira, a true crime aficionado as well as a lover of detective fiction, discussed the case at length with Roger Wilkes, and I found her reminiscences fascinating. By a curious coincidence, at a later date I became the solicitor to Radio City, and this was a relationship that gave me a good deal of insight into a world I found extremely intriguing. I even featured a fictionalised radio station in my novel, I Remember You, but took very great care to distance my imaginary station from the real one!

Roger Wilkes’ detective work would have appealed, I am sure, to Dorothy L. Sayers, who is one of the main protagonists in The Golden Age of Murder. My book is a study of the Detection Club in the 1930s, an account of the authors who shaped detective fiction for generations to come, and focusing on their lives as well as their books. Most of the Club’s members, such as Sayers, Agatha Christie, Anthony Berkeley, and John Dickson Carr, shared an intense interest in real life crime, and wrote about famous cases (sometimes putting forward their own solutions) as well as using elements from real life cases in their novels and short stories.

Sayers researched and wrote about the Wallace case in detail, and an expanded version of her original essay appeared in The Anatomy of Murder, a Detection Club publication in which members re-examined celebrated murder cases. Sayers’ detective work (she argues, in effect, that Wallace did not have the right psychological profile to be guilty of battering his wife to death) strikes me as persuasive. Not everyone is equally convinced. At a Detection Club dinner a couple of years ago, I discussed Wallace’s conviction and subsequent reprieve with the late, great P.D. James – who kindly helped me with aspects of my research for The Golden Age of Murder. Phyllis was a huge admirer of Sayers, but didn’t agree with her about Wallace, and put forward an alternative view in a magazine article written not long before her death. She argued her case ingeniously and well, as one would expect. But I’m still with Sayers.

The Wallace case is only one of a large number of real life murder cases which had a bearing on Golden Age detective fiction, and which I discuss in my book. I also explore some cases which are much less well-known than the Wallace case, yet which emerged during my years of research as having an unexpected bearing on the lives and work of Detection Club members.

Among these was the mysterious death of Frank Vosper, an actor and playwright who was responsible for a stage adaptation of a story by Agatha Christie. The Vosper story strikes me as exceptionally intriguing, although it was never established as a case of murder. While travelling by liner from the United States to his native England, Vosper entered the sea, and his naked corpse was discovered some days later. How did this tragedy happen? The characters in the drama included a beauty queen, a gay Jewish bullfighter, and Ernest Hemingway. You really couldn’t make it up...but the case did, I think, haunt Christie, and two of the novels that she wrote years after the tragedy make indirect reference to Vosper.

“True crime” continues to fascinate us, and detective novelists whose work it influences. This isn’t a phenomenon confined to the Golden Age of Murder between the two world wars – you can see it in the work of Edgar Allen Poe, Wilkie Collins, and Arthur Conan Doyle, and also in contemporary books written by the likes of Ian Rankin and Val McDermid - but it was especially evident during the 1930s. Agatha Christie spoke nothing less than the truth, though, when she wrote during the early days of the Second World War, “Wars may come, and wars may go, but MURDER goes on forever!”

 
[Martin’s book is published in hardcover and as an ebook in the UK and the USA, from all the usual places.]















16 comments:

  1. Fascinating about the Vosper case especially, didn't know about that- thanks Moira and Martin -

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    1. Yes, really interesting - I am so looking forward to reading this book....

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  2. Moira, thanks for hosting Martin as a guest writer on your wonderful blog. I'm looking forward to reading "The Golden Age of Murder." It was interesting to read about the impact of "true crime" stories on detective fiction writers, particularly the case of Frank Vosper. I never thought of "the Golden Age of Murder between the two world wars" which, I'm sure, is really fascinating if one looks at the detective fiction it spawned. This give me some idea of crime fiction of that period.

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    1. Yes indeed, Prashant, you don't think of real-life crime having that effect, and I'm looking forward to reading Martin's take on it.

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  3. This is absolutely fascinating! The true crime/fictional crime connection is so interesting and this one especially so. Thanks, both!

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    1. It's such a great avenue to explore, isn't it Margot? And Martin the perfect person to do it with his background in law as well as all his other talents and interests.

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  4. Thanks for a fine post. I was not surprised to read of the interest of crime fiction authors in real life murder. A few years ago I read The True Crime Files of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle rediscovered by Stephen Hines about the efforts of Doyle to overturn wrongful convictions a generation before the Golden Age era detectives discussed by Martin

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    1. I've read something similar about Conan Doyle, Bill, and agree - very interesting.

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  5. Probably not my favourite era for my reading, but I'm sure it will entertain and inform a lot of readers. I hope it does well.

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  6. Fascinating! Thanks to you both.

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    1. Thanks Harriet, from both of us - it sounds like a must-read doesn't it?

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  7. I have my copy of The Golden Age of Murder but have just skimmed here and there so far. I look forward to reading it. True crime is not really an interest of mine; that is more my husband's area. This was a very interesting post. Thanks, Martin and Moira.

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    1. Lucky you Tracy, still waiting for my copy to arrive...

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  8. Moira, thanks so much for hosting me on this terrific blog.

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