Monday, February 10, 2020

Mystery Monday: The Golden Age of Detective Fiction

Mystery Monday: The Golden Age of Detective Fiction

Agatha Christie, Margery Allingham, Dorothy Sayers, Freeman Wills Croft, Ellery Queen, John Dickson Carr, and John Rhodes. Some of the names you recognize, many you don’t, but they are all part of a cadre of writers who published mystery fiction during the time period known as the Golden Age of Detective Fiction.

Most scholars agree the Golden Age occurred between the early 1920s and 1939, with noted crime fiction historian Julian Symons indicating that Philip Van Doren Stern’s article “The Case of the Corpse in the Blind Alley, published in 1941, “could serve as an obituary for the Golden Age.”

Classic tropes of the Golden Age fiction include dying message clues, locked rooms, red herrings, closed circles of suspects, least likely culprits, and upper-class inhabitants in a secluded English house. 

Ronald Knox, a Catholic priest who also wrote mystery fiction, created what has been referred to as the Ten Commandments of Detective Fiction:
  • The criminal must be mentioned in the early part of the story, but must not be anyone whose thoughts the reader has been allowed to know.
  • All supernatural or preternatural agencies are ruled out as a matter of course.
  • Not more than one secret room or passage is allowable.
  • No hitherto undiscovered poisons may be used, nor any appliance which will need a long scientific explanation at the end.
  • No Chinaman must figure into the story (This is a reference to common use of heavily stereotyped Asian characters in detective fiction of the time.)
  • No accident must ever help the detective, nor must he ever have an unaccountable intuition which proves to be right.
  • The detective himself must not commit the crime.
  • The detective is bound to declare any clues which he may discover.
  • The “sidekick” must not conceal from the reader any thoughts which pass through his mind: his intelligence must be slightly, but very slightly, below that of the average reader.
  • Twin brothers, and doubles generally, must not appear unless we have been duly prepared for them.

Most of Golden Age writers have faded into obscurity with their books falling out of print, but thanks to several projects by publishers and authors around the globe, these novels are making a comeback and available in digital format. “Cozy” mysteries are said to be greatly influenced by the Golden Age, but in sheer sales numbers, modern detective fiction has never approached the popularity of the Golden Age writing.

What is your favorite Golden Age novel?


In the year since arriving in London, journalist Ruth Brown has put a face on the war for her readers at home in the U.S. Thus far, juggling her career and her relationship with Detective Inspector Trevor Gelson hasn't proven too challenging. The war gets personal for Ruth when her friend Amelia is murdered, and Trevor is assigned to the case.

Life gets even more unsettling when clues indicate her best friend, Varis, is passing secrets to the enemy. Convinced Varis is innocent, Ruth must find the real traitor as the clock ticks down toward Operation Husky-the Allied invasion of Sicily. Circumstantial evidence leads Trevor to suspect her of having a part in Amelia's death, and Ruth must choose between her heart and her duty.

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