The Reprint of the Year Award
Kate Jackson, who blogs over at Cross Examining Crime, has strong leadership qualities: our little gang of GA crime fiction bloggers are all keen to do joint blogging and have some combined enterprises – but without Kate to organize us we would never get anything done!
This time she has had the brilliant idea of our awarding a prize for the Reprint of the Year. With the British Library Crime Classics leading the way, many forgotten crime novels are getting the chance to find a new audience, and we are all enthusiasts for the idea.
As Kate says in this blogpost:
The number of publishers reprinting vintage mysteries is on the increase, meaning us lucky fans are getting access to more and more of the books and authors we want to try. With so many novels and short story collections on offer, it can be hard to pick out the very best, which is where the Reprint of the Year Awards come in.
Sooo… we have each chosen two novels to put forward for the award,and today we are all going to post the review of our first one.
Next Saturday, 15th, we’ll each be writing about another title.
On 22nd December Kate will set up a poll for this award, listing the 18 titles we bloggers have chosen, as well as 2 readers’ choices. At this stage readers will be able to vote for their favoured titles.
On 29th December Kate will reveal the results of the poll, announcing the title which has won the accolade of Reprint of the Year!
There will be readers’ write-in candidates – put your suggestions in the comments either below, or on Kate’s blog.
And I guess someone will be collecting links to the various posts. I’m guessing – call me Mrs Intuition – it might be Kate.
**** Yes it is! Follow this link to read Kate's own first post, find a more cogent explanation of what's going on, and see links to all this week's entries.
And here we go: My first choice is
Bats in the Belfry by ECR Loracfirst published 1937, and now reprinted as a BL Crime Classic
The big ‘secret’ about Lorac – an incredibly prolific crime writer who published under a number of names – is that she was a woman. It seems that most readers were unaware of that at the time, and that she chose an ambiguous pseudonym in order to avoid prejudice.
As I read this I thought that if I hadn’t known, I probably would have guessed at its having a male author. It is more of an adventure/thriller book than a straight crime story, and had a masculine feel. (But whether that is a real thing, and how easy it is to spot differences, is a subject for another time.)
Where this book excelled was in its picture of London in the late 1930s – street names are given, journeys described, and you get a real feel for what it must have been like to drive around the city then (yes, the traffic was terrible). There are a number of strange buildings in the book, in particular the huge sculpture studio known as the Belfry, a most sinister spot.
The story opens with a group of upper class drones discussing a funeral, and talking about their lives. Most of the potential suspects, victims, witnesses and perps are here. It’s quite a complex plot, and on p126 a family tree is described (not charted) which we could have done with seeing earlier. And there is a lot of this kind of thing:
‘If Grenville saw Debrette at Charing Cross while I was with Rockingham in Mayfair, it lets the latter out.’I liked the description of one character’s life (by his butler, naturally):
‘He liked his comfort, sir. Good service, good food, a club, Turkish baths, swimming, fencing, motoring and all. [He] is a very pleasant gentleman to work for, appreciates good service, and is generous when he’s in funds, but if anything isn’t just so, he’ll not put up with it. If his linen sheets aren’t always the same quality, his bath water a hot as he likes it, his bath salts just so, he mentions it.’Not much in the way of clothes, though a white satin teagown is mentioned. (The picture above is not a teagown, but it is very beautiful.)
The book is a strange mixture of amateur detection and police procedural, which works surprisingly well. A lot of key information is withheld, so the reader would be doing well to solve the crime unaided, and by the end all the characters had merged somewhat. But I did think it painted a splendid and highly enjoyable picture of London life of the time.
Young woman in a white Molyneux gown, 1931, from Kristine’s photostream.
Group photo from the 1930s, same source.