Private Notes to The Golden Age of Murder by Martin Edwards

This blog post was intended as a private note, but I thought it might be of some interest to regular or occasional readers.

20170323_155457-1(Please, do note some quotes are not literal, though I hope I have not modified its meaning)

  • The term ‘Golden Age of detective fiction’, was coined by John Strachey in 1939, to represent the kind of mystery books that were in vogue in Great Britain during the 1920s and 30s, that is to say, throughout the period comprised between the two World Wars. Though there’s no widespread agreement to determine how long it lasted, some scholars coincide in highlighting that the ‘phoney war’ not only marked the start of war, but it also served to anticipate the end of the Golden Age of detective fiction – barely nine months after John Strachey introduced the term. Nothing will ever be quite the same again. Even though Christie and her disciples continued to produce new books, and enjoy much success, long after that time, but most of the classic detective fiction appeared between the wars.
  • For Strachey, like so many of his contemporaries, detective fiction offered much-needed escape from grim reality and dread about what the future might hold. Knowing that his name appeared on a Nazi death list, he had a suicide pill prepared. If Germany invaded Britain, he expected to be tortured before being killed, and suicide seemed preferable. (page 390)
  • During the Golden Age the main market for commercial fiction was the libraries. … Roughly three-quarters of the borrowers were woman and woman’s tastes and interests influenced detective novelists in their work. This helps to explain the distance that existed between Golden Age fiction and thrillers aimed at a masculine readership. (page 308).
  • Mystery has shrouded the origins of the Detection Club. Julian Symons, a historian as well as a crime writer of distinction and former Club President, mistakenly wrote that the Club started in 1932. The Club itself continues to circulate a private list of members’ details giving the same date. The misunderstanding arouse because a formal constitution and rules were not adopted until 11 March 1932, but the Club effectively came into existence two years earlier, and its origins date back to 1928. (page 82)
  • The first dinners were hosted by Berkeley and his wife Peggy, and held at their home. … , and although there are no known records to identify the attendees, it is safe to assume they included Sayers, Christie, Douglas and Margaret Cole, Ronald Knox, Henry Wade, H. C. Bailey, and John Rhode. All of them lived either in London or within easy reach, and were members of the generation of detective novelists whose careers began after the end of the war. (page 83)
  • To begin with, many Detection Club members treated their novels like a game, and consciously tried to `play fair`with their readers. Before long, subversives like Berkeley found it was more exciting to break the rules.  (page 106).
  • Detection Club members were escapists, just as much as their readers. The Twenties and Thirties supplied plenty of reasons for people to yearn for a break from their everyday lives …. For readers the chance to read a mystery set somewhere unfamiliar added to the pleasure of discovering whodunit. (page 217). The cliché that detective novelists routinely ignored social and economic realities is a myth. The trouble was that many readers were not in the mood for realism. They wanted to be entertained by light-hearted films and plays, and novels set in fascinating places. (Pages 260-61). Information Received, the debut novel of Punshon’s policeman hero Booby Owen, which earned Sayers’ admiration contradicts the glib assumption of critics who claim that social comment is absent from Golden Age detective novels; innumerable other examples are to be found in Punshon’s work, and that of many of his colleagues. (page 284).
  • During the Golden Age, detective novelists usually kept their readers in the dark about the solution to the crime. The climax of the story was the revelation of whodunit, or occasionally how it was done. But there was another way to maintain suspense, … A writer could show readers the carrying out of an ingenious and apparently foolproof crime, and then describe how the detective solved the case – an ‘inverted’ detective story. (page 286). ‘Here the usual conditions are reversed: the reader knows everything, the detective knows nothing, and the interest focuses on the unexpected significance of trivial circumstances.’ (page 287). The appeal of the form has endured, and in the television age, the inverted stories of Columbo achieved enormous popularity. (page 288).
  • A myth has grown up that Golden Age detective fiction was an essentially British form of escapism in response to the First World War, an effete counterpart to the tough and realistic crime fiction produced in the United States…. Hammett’s first two crime novels appeared in 1929, and The Maltese Falcon followed as the Detection Club was becoming established. Yet the distinction often drawn between the two countries is simplistic. In the US, tough guys and traditionalists co-existed until the Second World War. (page 116).
  • The key difference between the two countries, according to the American critic Howard Haycraft, was the existence of the highly honourable company of the Detection Club. … Haycraft believed the Club gave British writers ‘one inestimable advantage denied to their American brethren’ – and to their colleagues in continental Europe, he might have added if crime fiction in translation had been as popular as it is today. (page 116). The Detection Club fostered a collegiate spirit which buttressed members’ determination to try out fresh ideas – and to keep going in the face of the disappointments which are part and parcel of a writer’s life. (page 117).
  • The quality of what she (Christie) wrote was mixed, but that was inevitable, partly because she was so prolific, but also because she was never afraid to take a risk and try something new. (page 154).
  • A. A. Milne reckoned that it the detective novel was a game, readers and writers needed to know the rules. When The Red House Mystery (1922) was reprinted in 1926, he set out half a dozen key points:
    1. The story should be written in good English.
    2. Love interest is undesirable.
    3. Both detective and villain should be amateurs.
    4. Scientific detection is `too easy`. 
    5. The reader should know as much as the detective.
    6. There should be a Watson: it is better for the detective ‘to watsonize’ than soliloquize. (page 113).
  • Berkeley believed firmly in distinguishing between detective fiction, thrillers and novels of psychological interest, and deplored the general term ‘mystery’. (page 135)
  • The question of when murder can be justified is tackled so often – and so inventively – in books by Detection Club members that it was surely debated over drinks in Gerrard Street. Christie was so fascinated by the notion that it inspired three of her finest plots. (page 331). The widespread consensus that Christie and company never questioned the status quo is widely mistaken (page 358). Read, for example, Five Little Pigs
  • The sunset of the Golden Age yielded the ultimate masterpiece of traditional detective fiction. And Then There Were None, published two months after the outbreak of war is Christie’s most stunning achievement. (page 398). ….. As in Murder on the Orient Express, Christie is using the classic whodunit form to explore how to secure justice for innocent victims when the conventional legal system fails to do its job. (page 399).
  • Yet during the Golden Age, writers who enjoyed and wrote detective fiction were as diverse, and as geographically scattered as Argentina’s Jorge Luis Borges, Australia’s Miles Franklin, Paul McGuire and Arthur Upfield (an Englishman who emigrated at the age of twenty), and Europeans such as Karel Čapek, Friedrich Glauser, Stanislas-André Steeman, and the creator of Maigret, Georges Simenon. (page 223).

See also Martin Edwards blog post at ‘Do You Write Under Your Own Name?’ under the title Top 10 Golden Age novels

Review: The Golden Age of Murder (2015) by Martin Edwards

Esta entrada es bilingüe, para ver la versión en castellano desplazarse hacia abajo

Harper Collins; Edición: Reprint (5 de mayo de 2016). Format: Paperback edition. First published by HarperCollinsPublishers, 2016. ISBN: 978-0-00-810598-3. 528 Pages.

y648About the Book: Detective stories of the Twenties and Thirties have long been stereotyped as cosily conventional. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The Golden Age of Murder tells for the first time the extraordinary story of British detective fiction between the two World Wars. A gripping real-life detective story, it investigates how Dorothy L. Sayers, Anthony Berkeley, Agatha Christie and their colleagues in the mysterious Detection Club transformed crime fiction. Their work cast new light on unsolved murders whilst hiding clues to their authors’ darkest secrets, and their complex and sometimes bizarre private lives.

Crime novelist and current Detection Club President Martin Edwards rewrites the history of crime fiction with unique authority, transforming our understanding of detective stories, and the brilliant but tormented men and women who wrote them.

My take: Since The Golden Age of Murder was published, I was interested on getting a copy of this book, both by the guarantee offered from the author himself as for my recent interest on the detective novels of that era. I also understood it would be an excellent reference book, but I didn’t imagine, that it would also be a very entertaining read. In fact, once I started reading it, I couldn’t put it down. It tells the story of how a group of crime novelists, mostly British, came together to form the Detection Club, shortly after the end of the First World War. A group of novelists who, thanks to their novels, managed to carry detective fiction through paths, previously unknown. A group of brilliant novelists, whose lives were not always easy in the difficult times in which they happened to live. Maybe the origin of the book, as Martin relates to us on his Introduction, can be dated back to the moment in which he was elected, by secret ballot, to join the Detection Club. Subsequently, he was invited to become the Detection Cub’s first Archivist, only to discover shortly after that there were no archives. It is perhaps this absence what explains the reasons that brought him to write this book. In any case it’s a very welcome book and necessary to better understand the development of crime fiction.

My rating: A+ (Don’t delay, get your hands on a copy of this book)

The Golden Age of Murder has been reviewed at Euro Crime, crossexaminingcrime, Mystery Fanfare, and Clothes In Books, among others.

About the author: Martin Edwards is an award-winning crime writer whose seventh and most recent Lake District Mystery is The Dungeon House. Earlier books in the series are The Coffin Trail (short-listed for the Theakston’s prize for best British crime novel of 2006), The Cipher Garden, The Arsenic Labyrinth (short-listed for the Lakeland Book of the Year award in 2008), The Serpent Pool, and The Hanging Wood. Martin is a well-known crime fiction critic, and series consultant to the British Library’s Crime Classics. His ground-breaking study of the genre between the wars, The Golden Age of Murder, has been warmly reviewed around the world. it has won the Edgar, Agatha and H.R.F. Keating awards, and is currently shortlisted for Anthony, Macavity, and CWA Dagger awards. Martin has written eight novels about lawyer Harry Devlin, the first of which, All the Lonely People, was short-listed for the CWA John Creasey Memorial Dagger for the best first crime novel of the year, The early Devlin books are now enjoying a fresh life as ebooks, with new introductions by leading authors such as Val McDermid and Frances Fyfield, as well as other new material. In addition Martin has written a stand-alone novel of psychological suspense, Take My Breath Away, and a much acclaimed novel featuring Dr Crippen, Dancing for the Hangman. The latest Devlin novel, Waterloo Sunset, appeared in 2008. He completed Bill Knox’s last book, The Lazarus Widow. He has published many short stories, including the ebooks The New Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes and Acknowledgments and other stories. ‘Test Drive’ was short-listed for the CWA Short Story Dagger in 2006, while ‘The Bookbinder’s Apprentice’ won the same Dagger in 2008. A well-known commentator on crime fiction, he has edited 28 anthologies and published diverse non-fiction books, including a study of homicide investigation, Urge to Kill. An expert on crime fiction history, he is archivist of both the Crime Writers’ Association and the Detection Club. He was elected eighth President of the Detection Club in 2015, and posts regularly to his blog, ‘Do You Write Under Your Own Name?’ You can find him as well on Twitter at @medwardsbooks and at his website: http://www.martinedwardsbooks.com/. (Source: Martin Edward’s webpage at Amazon.co.uk)

HarperCollinsPublishers publicity page

La edad de oro del asesinato, de Martin Edwards

Acerca del libro: Las historias de detectives de los años veinte y treinta han sido estereotipadas desde hace mucho tiempo como acogedoramente convencionales. Nada mas lejos de la verdad.

The Golden Age of Murder cuenta por primera vez la extraordinaria historia de la novela policial británica entre las dos guerras mundiales. Una apasionante historia real de detectives, que investiga cómo Dorothy L. Sayers, Anthony Berkeley, Agatha Christie y sus colegas en el misterioso Detection Club transformaron la ficción criminal. Su trabajo arroja nueva luz sobre asesinatos sin resolver mientras ocultan pistas sobre los secretos más oscuros de sus autores y sobre sus complejas y, a veces, extrañas vidas privadas.

El escritor de novelas de detectives y actual presidente del Detection Club, Martin Edwards, reescribe la historia de la ficción criminal con una autoridad única, transformando nuestra comprensión de las historias de detectives y los brillantes pero atormentados hombres y mujeres que los escribieron.

Mi opinión: Desde que se publicó The Golden Age of Murder, me interesó obtener una copia de este libro, tanto por la garantía ofrecida por el autor como por mi reciente interés por las novelas policíacas de esa época. También entendí que sería un excelente libro de referencia, pero no me imaginaba, que también sería una lectura muy entretenida. De hecho, una vez que empecé a leerlo, no pude dejarlo. Cuenta la historia de cómo un grupo de novelistas del crimen, en su mayoría británicos, se unieron para formar el Detection Club, poco después del final de la Primera Guerra Mundial. Un grupo de novelistas que, gracias a sus novelas, lograron llevar la ficción policíaca a través de caminos, previamente desconocidos. Un grupo de novelistas brillantes, cuyas vidas no siempre fueron fáciles en los tiempos difíciles en que vivieron. Tal vez el origen del libro, como nos relata Martin en su Introducción, pueda remontarse al momento en que fue elegido, por votación secreta, para incorporarse al Detection Club. Posteriormente, fue invitado a convertirse en el primer encargado del archivo del Detection Cub, sólo para descubrir poco después que no había ningún archivo. Es quizá esta ausencia lo que explica las razones que lo llevaron a escribir este libro. En cualquier caso, es un libro muy bienvenido y necesario para comprender mejor el desarrollo de la ficción criminal.

Mi valoración: A+ (No se demore, consiga un ejemplar de este libro)

Sobre el autor: Martin Edwards es un laureado escritor de novelas de detectives cuyo séptimo y más reciente misterio en la serie The Lake District es The Dungeon House. Los primeros libros de la serie son The Coffin Trail (seleccionado al premio Theakston a la mejor novela británica criminal de 2006), The Cipher Garden, The Arsenic Labyrinth (seleccionada al Premio Lakeland como mejor Libro del Año en el 2008), The Serpent Pool, y The Hanging Wood. Martin es un reconocido crítico de novelas negras y consultor de la serie Crime Classics de la British Library. Su estudio sobre el género entre las guerras, The Golden Age of Murder, ha sido ampliamente comentado en todo el mundo. Y ha sido galardonado con los premios Edgar, Agatha y H.R.F. Keating, y actualmente está seleccionado a los premios Anthony, Macavity y CWA Dagger. Martin ha escrito ocho novelas sobre el abogado Harry Devlin, la primeroa de ellas, All the Lonely People, fue seleccionada para el CWA John Creasey Memorial Dagger a la mejor novela criminal novel del año, los primeros libros de Devlin ahora están disfrutando de una nueva vida como libros electrónicos, con nuevas introducciones de autores como Val McDermid y Frances Fyfield, así como con la incorporación de nuevos materiales.  Además, Martin ha escrito una novela independiente de suspenso psicológico, Take My Breath Away, y una novela muy aclamada protagonizada por el Dr. Crippen, Dancing for the Hangman. La última novela de Devlin, Waterloo Sunset, apareció en el 2008. Terminó de escribir el último libro de Bill Knox, The Lazarus Widow. Ha publicado muchos cuentos, incluyendo los ebooks The New Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes y Acknowledgments and other stories. ‘Test Drive’ fue seleccionada para el CWA Short Story Dagger en el 2006, mientras que ‘The Bookbinder’s Apprentice’ ganó el mismo Dagger en el 2008. Un conocido comentarista de la novelas criminales, ha editado 28 antologías y ha publicado diversas libros de no-ficción, incluyendo un estudio sobre investigación de homicidios, Urge to Kill. Experto en historia de la novela negra, es el responsable de los archivos de la Asociación de Escritores del Crimen y del Detection Club Fue elegido octavo presidente del Detection Club en el 2015, y publica regularmente en su blog, ‘Do You Write Under Your Own Name?’ Puedes encontrarlo también en Twitter en @medwardsbooks y en su página web http://www.martinedwardsbooks.com/ (Fuente: Página de Martin Edward en Amazon.co.uk)

OT: Wim Mertens Ensemble – Struggle for Pleasure

The Belgian composer Wim Mertens (born 1953) is an international recording and performing artist who has given countless concerts, as a soloist and with his ensemble, all over Europe, North and Central America, Japan, Thailand and in Russia. He initially studied at the Conservatory of Brussels and graduated in political and social sciences at the K.U. Leuven and Musicology at the R.U. Gent. Mertens is also the author of American Minimal Music (1980), the first book to deal in depth with the school of American repetitive music. His early landmark albums are Vergessen and Struggle for Pleasure (1982), including Close Cover, still one of his classics. In 1998, Mertens became the Cultural Ambassador of Flanders. Since 1980, Mertens has composed pieces in different formats, from short, accessible songs or Lieder to magnanimous and complex three- and four-part cycles, and for different settings: from solo piano to chamber music ensembles and symphony orchestra. He often writes for unusual instrumentations: twelve piccolos, ten bass trombones, thirteen clarinets. Since his recording debut in 1980, titled For Amusement Only, an electronic composition for pinball machines, Wim Mertens has released more than 65 albums. (Source: www.wimmertens.be)

Film Notes: Land of Mine (2015), written and directed by Martin Zandvliet

DK –  DE / 100 min / Color / Nordisk Film / Amusement Park Films /K5 International Dir: Martin Zandvliet Pro: Malte Grunert, Mikael Chr. Rieks Scr: Martin Zandvliet Cin: Camilla Hjelm Knudsen, DFF Mus: Sune Martin Cast: Roland Møller, Louis Hofmann, Mikkel Boe Følsgaard, Laura Bro, Joel Basman, Oskar Bökelmann, Emil Buschow, Oskar Buschow, Leon Seidel, Karl Alexander Seidel, Maximilian Beck, August Carter Synopsis: Few films detail the immediate aftermath of conflict and occupation from the Second World War. After six years of war and terror the lines between right and wrong had been eradicated. Land of Mine, the new film from Danish writer/director Martin Zandvliet, exposes the previously hidden story of Denmark’s darkest hour. In the days following the surrender of Nazi Germany in May 1945, German POWs held in Denmark were put to work by the Allied Forces. With minimal or no training in defusing explosives, they were sent to remove in excess of two million of their own landmines from the Danish west coast. During this process, more than half of them were killed or severely wounded. Zandvliet sheds light on this historical tragedy as the entry point to a story that involves love, hate, revenge and reconciliation. The young German POWs Sebastian, Helmut, Ludwig, twins Ernst and Werner, and Wilhelm have confusion, fear and defeat in their eyes. Scornful of the Germans for their five-year occupation of his country, and with the intent on punishing what is left of the Nazi regime, the bullish Sergeant Rasmussen (Roland Møller) marches his squad out on the dunes each day to prod for mines. This seemingly endless task quickly becomes carnage; and even Rasmussen grows conflicted in his feelings and intent toward his young prisoners. Land of Mine is about the aftermath of war; but more so, about humanity. Zandvliet finds equally compelling material for his tale of comradeship, survival, and unexpected friendships. It questions the existence of the inherent evil that could exist in us all. But is it ever possible to show sympathy for those who represented the Nazi terror? (Source: Press kit) Release Dates: 10 September 2015 (Toronto International Film Festival), 3 December 2015 (Denmark) 10 March 2017 (Spain) (Original title: ‎‎ Under sandet) Spanish title: ‎‎ Land of Mine (Bajo la arena) IMDb Rating: 7.8

MV5BMjA0MzQzNjM1Ml5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNjM5MjU5NjE@._V1_SY999_CR0,0,674,999_AL_Begoña and I have had the opportunity to see Land of Mine recently, an historical drama film that was premiered in the Platform section of the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival, and was selected and nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film category at the 89th Academy Awards. What, as any follower of A Crime is Afoot knows, is generally the film selection I’m most interested in, every year. For my taste this is an important film that tackles an issue to which it has not been paid enough attention in the past. Maybe because it was not the proper time, or for lack of adequate historical distance to treat it with certain level of objectivity. In any case, it has seemed to me that it was now a very appropriate time to address it, when the notion of the European Union is being questioning by certain sectors of the population, without taking full account that it is precisely now when we are enjoying the longest period of peace in Europe’s history.

The Hollywood Reporter Film Review

Given its interest, I have copied and pasted below, the following information from the film  press kit

Director’s Statement

My intention was to reveal a story based on a historical subject matter that is rather shameful for Denmark. Most historians have so far avoided the subject, perhaps understandably so.

I was not assigning blame or pointing fingers; it was interesting to make a movie that doesn’t always look at the Germans like monsters. It’s the story of a military truck filled with young German boys, who were sacrificed in the aftermath of the Second World War. However, in the end, it is really a movie about humans. It takes you on a journey from hate to forgiveness. My intention was to create a relevant story and let the audience experience the power of fear, hope, dreams, friendships and the struggle for survival through this handful of characters.

The British offer of German POWs for demining operations placed the Danish government in a political dilemma. Declining the offer would have been a very unpopular decision both in the eyes of the Danish public and the surrounding allied nations. Denmark as a nation still had a somewhat blemished reputation following the war. And the British were the unspoiled heroes – the liberators of Denmark. Nevertheless, by going along with forcing young German POWs to demine the Danish coastline, it could be argued that Denmark committed a war crime.

I wanted this realistic drama to be set in an idyllic, beautiful universe distraught by rough concrete bunkers and daily mine detonations. The summer, the sand, the dunes, the warm weather and the water were a constant reminder of the idyllic life that once was, and the life that would once more rise out of the ashes. Along with the thousands of mines, explosions, death and sorrow, these elements hold us in the clutch of the aftermath of war.

Working with my wife, cinematographer Camilla Hjelm Knudsen, we were heavily influenced by the look of films from the 60s. It was about creating the right mix of poetry and darkness. The setting needed to be as beautiful as possible to cope with the horror you are also watching unfold on screen.

Most of the film takes place in daylight in contrast to the darkness shown through our characters. I am inspired by people such as David and Albert Maysles. The way the Maysles brothers filmed their subjects was so vulnerable and sensuous that you could not help feeling the presence of their characters. It is a beautiful and rare thing when that happens. Intellectual analysis never kicks in. This only happens when you are fully engaged with the human beings you are watching and in the feeling of the scene.

The idea was to create a sense of life. Not that I wanted the camera to draw attention to itself, but I did want the audience to constantly be able to follow the actors. Characters have always interested me more than plot.

We were lucky enough to have amazing casting directors who helped us avoid an ‘actors look’. We cast all the boys for all the roles – no one knew which role they got and were selected for. I chose the ones that I felt were the most natural for the roles. These boys were new actors, amateurs if you will. The nice thing about that is you can model and mould them to what you need, craft their performance to what you are looking for. This was even the case for the male lead role as it was Roland’s first leading role in a film.

A general consensus exists among filmmakers that people have to be beautiful, in a sense where beauty means having no flaws. But I have always thought that each human being is most interesting, when you can see the human being’s history. It is okay to know somebody’s angst, see his scars and feel his demons. I was not looking to simply display a lot of ugliness, but I do think that the ugliness tells us more about who we are as human beings than anything else. It is a very humane film that not only explores the beauty of darkness, but also tries to find out who these German boys were. We share their hopes and pray for their continued survival through this nightmare. We must believe that they once more can become human beings even though we disapprove of the violent regime of which they were a part. In a way we ask the question – “Is it even possible to show sympathy for individuals who represent the terror of the Nazi regime?”

They say that a great drama largely depends on the magnitude of the bad guy. As far as I am concerned, it is therefore the man who forces them to their deaths who is the true representative of the film and of the hate. Along with the boys, we therefore follow their keeper, the sergeant Carl. For Carl, the monsters transform into human beings.

For me, Land of Mine tells a human story, which is a largely unknown to the majority of Danes. It has been kept out of sight; conveniently forgotten; repressed. It is a film about revenge and forgiveness, about a group of boys forced to do penance on behalf of an entire nation.

Research Behind the Film

The Geneva Convention of 1929 forbids forcing Prisoners of War to carry out hard labour or dangerous work. However, there is evidence that British and Danish commands deliberately changed the wording of the text from “prisoners of war” to “voluntarily surrendered enemy personnel” in order to sidestep the rules of the convention. Many of the German soldiers ordered to defuse more than two million mines along the Danish coastline were mere boys – only 15-18 years of age.

To this day, the events surrounding the demining of the Danish beaches are considered taboo in not only modern Danish history, but also European post-war history. The five-month demining process claimed more human lives than the entire length of German occupation in Denmark.

The idea of using German prisoners of war to carry out the dangerous demining task came from British command, but was carried out with no objections from the Danish administration. The Danish Brigade was in charge of supervising and handling the operation.

Historical facts:

  • From 1942 to 1944 Nazi Germany built the so-called Atlantic Wall in anticipation of an Allied invasion from Great Britain – an extensive system of coastal defense and fortifications along the coast of continental Europe and Scandinavia.
  • Landmines were planted along great swathes of the West Coast of Denmark. There where more landmines per square meter on the Danish west coast than any other location along the entire European coast. Hitler was convinced that the Allied invasion would come via the Danish west coast since it is the shortest route to Berlin.
  • After the capitulation of Nazi Germany, the British liberation forces offered the Danish government the opportunity to enlist German POWs to defuse mines along the length of the Danish Western coastline.
  • The German POWs were neither educated nor equipped for this task and many belonged to the so-called Volkssturm, a national militia set up by Hitler towards the end of the war to conscript those not already serving for the German forces. Many were very young or old. The youngest were 13 years old.
  • To force German POWs to defuse mines was a violation of the 1929 Convention relating to the Treatment of Prisoners of War prior to the amendment to the Geneva Conventions of 1949. By calling the German POWs ‘voluntarily surrendered enemy personnel’ British and Danish commands bypassed the rules of the Convention.
  • The work began on Saturday, May, 5 1945 and was completed on Thursday, October 1945.
  • According to historian Thomas Tram Pedersen, the exact number of the losses will never be known due to the chaos of the first months of peace. There are discrepancies between the Danish and German records.
  • After the war more than 2,000 German POW’s were forced to remove over 1.5 million landmines from the west coast of Denmark.
  • The relationship between the German POWs and the local population was poor – the prize for five years of occupation under Nazi rule. There was no proper accommodation provided and food was constantly scarce.
  • In 64 countries around the world, there are an estimated 110 million undetonated landmines still lodged in the ground.
  • Since 1975, landmines have killed or maimed more than one million people.
  • On average, 20 people die every day due to landmine blasts.
  • Even with training, mine disposal experts expect that for every 5,000 mines cleared, one worker will be killed and two workers will be injured by accidental explosions.
  • The only way to deactivate a landmine is by individual removal at a cost of US$ 300– 1000 per mine according to the United Nations.

About the Production

“We were focused on two practical paths throughout our development of the entire production framework. We wanted to make sure the film could be realized in a credible fashion, but at the same time, avoid most of the cumbersome production issues of a period film. This was something we took into consideration from the very beginning. Our approach was to use as few locations as possible, thus avoiding the big challenges regarding the historical setting,” explains producer Mikael Rieks.

The producers worked with the Oksbøl camp (NATO) under the Danish armed forces, where the events historically took place. “They were all completely on board and very positive about the project. From the get-go, we had nothing, but fantastic support for the story,” says Mikael Rieks about their collaboration with the Royal Danish Army. In their extensive research of the history of the west coast of Denmark, the location scouts only found a few possible locations – in an area with only few holiday homes and no wildlife preservation. Adding to this challenge was the fact that the beaches on the west coast are littered with old, worn-down German concrete bunkers and ‘pillboxes’, most of which have keeled over or are half submerged under water.

In addition, the producers spoke to several mine-clearing businesses around Europe. The Skallingen peninsula had in recent years undergone a complete sweep for mines. This operation was carried out by a Danish demining company, which proved very helpful in creating replica mines as well as providing a lot of military and technical equipment from the period such as minesweepers, military trucks, and jeeps.

The VFX were a combination of SFX and CGI, which required a great deal of preparation, also on location – explosions and stunts were fully storyboarded to ensure the team made the right choices. The fact that the production was working out of the Oksbøl Camp was an advantage in this regard. Thanks to their access to army experts on explosives and mines, combined with the achievements of visual effects team, stunt coordinators and CGI consultants, Land of Mine has a natural and authentic feel.

For a large part of the film, the spoken language is German. This was a challenging aspect relating to many facets of the production. Sound and editing were just two of these aspects. Director Martin Zandvliet took some advanced German lessons every week during preproduction. A vocal coach supervised the dialogue in German, but also the dialects of the boys. “It was important for the story that the boys did not come from the same region in Germany. The differences in dialect/local tongue was especially important for Sebastian and Helmut who incidentally both came from Hamburg but spoke in character very differently because one had a rich family background and the other came from a working class family,” explains German producer Malte Grunert.

The film was shot in six weeks. For most of the shoot, the story was told using a handheld steady camera.

Martin Zandvliet, born in 1971 in Fredericia (Denmark), started his film career as an editor, working on documentaries. His first film as a director, Angels of Brooklyn, won the Danish Film Award for Best Long Documentary and was selected for various festivals including Toronto and Nyon. Following several shorts as a writer-director, Zandvliet directed his first feature film in 2009, the acclaimed Applause starring Paprika Steen, and produced by Mikael Rieks, who also produced Land of Mine. His second feature film was A Funny Man starring Nikolaj Lie Kaas. Zandvliet will next direct an action film about the Kursk submarine disaster for Luc Besson’s EuropaCorp.

Review: Dumb Witness, 1937 (Hercule Poirot #14) by Agatha Christie

Esta entrada es bilingüe, para ver la versión en castellano desplazarse hacia abajo

Harper Agatha Christie Signature Edition, 2002. Format: Paperback Edition. First published in Great Britain by Collins in 1937. ISBN: 978-0-00-712079-6. 416 pages. Dumb Witness was first published in the US as a Saturday Evening Post serial titled Poirot Loses a Client, and later in the UK as a serialisation named Mystery at Littlegreen House.

Over at Past Offences the attention of Crimes of the Century this month is focused on the year #1937, a year on which several of Agatha Christie’s novels came to light, namely Dumb Witness and Death on the Nile, not to mention a collection of Hercule Poirot short stories under the title of Murder in the Mews. Time permitting, I look forward to reading and reviewing the three books. Stay tuned.

Dumb-WitnessSynopsis: Everyone blamed Emily’s accident on a rubber ball left on the stairs by her frisky terrier. But the more she thought about her fall, the more convinced she became that one of her relatives was trying to kill her. On April 17th she wrote her suspicions in a letter to Hercule Poirot. Mysteriously he didn’t receive the letter until June 28th… by which time Emily was already dead…

More about this story: Dumb Witness allowed Agatha Christie to indulge in her love of dogs. She had always had a dog since a young age and was incredibly fond of them, and Bob is directly inspired by her own pet. The book is actually dedicated to Agatha Christie’s own wire-haired terrier Peter; “A dog in a thousand“. This story also contains the penultimate appearance of Hastings, with several references to earlier cases including Murder on the Orient Express and Death in the Clouds. It was first published in the UK in 1937, however in 2004 John Curran discovered an early version of the story titled The Incident of the Dog’s Ball. This short story, lost for many years, appeared in 2004, along with The Capture of Cerberus, inside 73 notebooks recovered at Greenway, Christie’s family home in Devon, when the archive at the National Trust property was being established. The Mystery of the Dog’s Ball was eventually reworked into the novel Dumb Witness, but unlike other Christie short stories-turned-novels it remained unpublished. The other story, The Capture of Cerberus, was written to complete The Labours of Hercules, a collection which followed the 12 cases Poirot chose to end his career. Christie eventually rewrote the story with the same title for that collection. Both short stories were republished  in John Curran’s Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks: Fifty Years Of Mysteries, in 2009. The Incident of the Dog’s Ball was also published by The Strand Magazine in their tenth anniversary issue of the revived magazine in 2009. 

My take: When Hercule Poirot received a very unusual letter signed by one such Mrs or Miss  Arundell, the first thing to drew his attention was that it was dated on 17 April, and today was 28 of June. The letter had taken more than two months to reach him. Consequently, without thinking it twice, he decided to head over to Market Basing together with his faithful friend Captain Hastings. Once there, they find out that Miss Emily Arundell had passed away on 1 May, barely thirteen days after having written that letter. And, even though it seemed likely that she had died of natural causes and nothing make suspect the opposite, it was also true certain questions remain unanswered. Besides the delay of the letter. What was it that worried Mis Arundell enough to have written that letter? And, why had she decided to change completely her testament on 21 April? If we add to this the fact that Emily Arundell’s close relatives, had been staying with her just before that day over Eastern Bank Holiday, and that precisely then, Miss Arundell had suffered a fall down the stairs that can well have been an attempted murder; Then, we shouldn’t be surprised if Poirot decides to take matters into his own hands and investigate on his own account. Suffice to add that the story is narrated in first person by Hastings himself, and it is his penultimate appearance together with Poirot, prior to Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case.

Although there are certain issues that are not well detailed, mainly towards the end, the story as a whole is nicely crafted, it is well written,  and it can be read with enough interest. From what I understand, Dumb Witness was very well received by the public in general and was also highly acclaimed by the literary critics of the time. For today’s taste, it might be somewhat out-of-date, but nevertheless it reflects nicely the era in which it was published. I will not include it among Christie’s bests, but it is a very entertaining and enjoyable read anyway. Perhaps, in its favour it can be noted that its subject has been repeated on countless of times but, in all likelihood, it was rather innovative when first published. It is also important to highlight that each character has their own reasons for committing the crime, if it can be determined that it’s in fact a crime. However, there’s only one character with the required capacity to carry it out, and this is what remains to be clarified.

My rating: B (I liked it)

About the author: Agatha Christie was born Agatha Mary Clarissa Miller on 15 September, 1890, in Torquay, Devon, in the southwest part of England. The youngest of three siblings, she was educated at home by her mother, who encouraged her daughter to write. As a child, Christie enjoyed fantasy play and creating characters, and, when she was 16, moved to Paris for a time to study vocals and piano. In 1914, she wed Colonel Archibald Christie, a Royal Flying Corps pilot, and took up nursing during World War I. She published her first book, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, in 1920; the story introduced readers to one of Christie’s most famous characters—Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. In 1926, Christie released The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, a hit which was later marked as a genre classic and one of the author’s all-time favourites. She dealt with tumult that same year, however, as her mother died and her husband revealed that he was in a relationship with another woman. Traumatized by the revelation, Christie disappeared only to be discovered by authorities several days later at a Harrogate hotel, registered under the name of her husband’s mistress. Christie would recover, with her and Archibald divorcing in 1928. In 1930, she married archaeology professor Max Mallowan, with whom she travelled on several expeditions, later recounting her trips in the 1946 memoir Come, Tell Me How You Live. The year of her new nuptials also saw the release of Murder at the Vicarage, which became another classic and introduced readers to Miss Jane Marple. Poirot and Marple are Christie’s most well-known detectives, with the two featured in dozens of novels and short stories. Other notable Christie characters include Tuppence and Tommy Beresford, Colonel Race, Parker Pyne and Ariadne Oliver. Writing well into her later years, Christie wrote more than 70 detective novels as well as short fiction. Though she also wrote romance novels under the name Mary Westmacott, Christie’s success as an author of sleuth stories has earned her titles like the “Queen of Crime” and the “Queen of Mystery.” Christie can also be considered a queen of all publishing genres as she is one of the top-selling authors in history, with her combined works selling more than 2 billion copies worldwide. Christie was a renowned playwright as well, with works like The Hollow (1951) and Verdict (1958). Her play The Mousetrap opened in 1952 at the Ambassador Theatre and—at more than 8,800 showings during 21 years—holds the record for the longest unbroken run in a London theatre. Additionally, several of Christie’s works have become popular movies, including Murder on the Orient Express (1974) and Death on the Nile (1978). Christie was made a dame in 1971. In 1974, she made her last public appearance for the opening night of the play version of Murder on the Orient Express. Christie died on 12 January, 1976.

Dumb Witness has been reviewed at Books Please, Joyfully Retired, A Library is the hospital of the mind…, and at Mysteries in Paradise, among others.

Harper Collins UK publicity page

Harper Collins US publicity page

Agatha Christie Official Website

Notes On Dumb Witness

audiobooks

El testigo mudo (1937) de Agatha Christie

Sinopsis: Todo el mundo echó la culpa del accidente de Emily al balón de goma que su travieso terrier se había dejado en las escaleras. Pero conforme pensaba más en su caída, estaba más convencida de que uno de sus parientes estaba intentando matarla. El 17 de abril escribió sus sospechas en una carta a Hercule Poirot. Misteriosamente no recibió la carta hasta el 28 de junio … cuando Emily ya estaba muerta …

Más sobre esta historia: El testigo mudo le permitió a Agatha Christie poder expresar su amor por los perros. Ella siempre había tenido un perro desde muy joven y era increíblemente aficionada a ellos, y Bob está directamente inspirado en su propia mascota. El libro está realmente dedicado a Peter, el propio terrier de pelo duro de Agatha Christie; “Un perro como ninguno”. Esta historia también contiene la penúltima aparición de Hastings, con varias referencias a casos anteriores, entre ellos Asesinato en el Oriente Express y Muerte en las nubes. Fue publicado por primera vez en el Reino Unido en 1937, sin embargo en 2004 John Curran descubrió una primera versión de la historia titulada El incidente de la pelota del perro. Este cuento, perdido durante muchos años, apareció en 2004, junto con La captura de Cerberus, entre 73 libretas recuperadas en Greenway, la casa familiar de Christie en Devon, cuando se estaba organizando el archivo propiedad del National Trust. El misterio de la pelota del perro fue eventualmente reelaborado en la novela El testigo mudo, pero a diferencia de otros relatos breves de Christie transformados en novelas permaneció inédito. La otra historia, La captura de Cerberus, fue escrita para completar Las labores de Hercules, una colección de los 12 casos con los que Poirot decidió poner fin a su carrera. Christie finalmente reescribió la historia con el mismo título para esa colección. Ambos cuentos fueron reeditados en los Cuadernos Secretos de Agatha Christie: Cincuenta Años de Misterios , de John Curran. El incidente de la pelota del perro también fue publicado por The Strand Magazine en su edición`para commemorar el décimo aniversario de la revista en el 2009.

Mi opinión: Cuando Hercule Poirot recibió una carta muy inusual firmada por una tal señora o señorita Arundell, lo primero que llamó su atención fue que estaba fechada el 17 de abril y hoy era el 28 de junio. La carta había tardado más de dos meses en llegar. Consecuentemente, sin pensarlo dos veces, decidió dirigirse a Market Basing junto con su fiel amigo el Capitán Hastings. Una vez allí, descubren que la señorita Emily Arundell había fallecido el 1 de mayo, apenas trece días después de haber escrito esa carta. Y aunque parecía probable que hubiera muerto de causas naturales y nada hiciera sospechar lo contrario, también era cierto que ciertas interrogantes quedaban sin respuesta. Además del retraso de la carta. ¿Qué era lo que preocupaba a Mis Arundell lo suficiente como para haber escrito esa carta? ¿Y por qué había decidido cambiar completamente su testamento el 21 de abril? Si añadimos a esto el hecho de que los parientes cercanos de Emily Arundell, se habían quedado con ella justo antes de ese día con ocasión del Lunes de Pascua, y que precisamente entonces, la señorita Arundell había sufrido una caída por las escaleras que bien podría haber sido un intento de asesinato; Entonces, no debemos sorprendernos si Poirot decide tomar el asunto en sus propias manos e investigar por su propia cuenta. Basta agregar que la historia está narrada en primera persona por el propio Hastings, y es su penúltima aparición junto con Poirot, antes de Telón: El último caso de Poirot.

Aunque hay ciertas cuestiones que no están bien detalladas, principalmente hacia el final, la historia en su conjunto está muy bien elaborada, está bien escrita, y se puede leer con suficiente interés. Por lo que tengo entiendo, El testigo mudo fue muy bien recibido por el público en general y también fue muy aclamado por la crítica literaria de la época. Para el gusto de hoy, puede resultar un poco anticuada, pero sin embargo refleja muy bien la época en que se publicó. No lo incluiré entre los mejores de Christie, pero de todos modos es una lectura bastante entretenida y agradable. Quizás, a su favor, se puede señalar que su tema se ha repetido en innumerables ocasiones pero, casi con toda probabilidad, fue bastante innovador cuando se publicó por primera vez. También hay que resaltar que cada personaje tiene sus propias razones para haber cometido el crimen, si se puede determinar que es de hecho un crimen. Sin embargo, sólo hay uno con la capacidad necesaria para llevarlo a cabo, y esto es lo que queda por aclarar.

Mi valoración: B (Me gustó)

Sobre el Autor: Agtha Christie nació el 15 de septiembre de 1891 en Torquay (Gran Bretaña). Hija menor del matrimonio de Fred Miller y Clara Boehmer. De niña tuvo un carácter tímido y retraído, y rechazaba sus muñecas para jugar con amigos imaginarios. Su padre murió cuando ella tenía once años, dejando a su mujer e hijos en bancarrota. Durante la I Guerra Mundial trabajó como enfermera en un hospital, de donde sacó la inspiración para escribir una historia policial cuya víctima moría envenenada. La novela fue El misterioso caso de Styles (1920), y con ella inaguró su carrera como escritora. Sus relatos se caracterizan por los sorprendentes desenlaces y por la creación de dos originales detectives: Hercules Poirot y Miss Marple. Poirot es el héroe de la mayor parte de sus novelas, entre las que destacan El asesinato de Rogelio Ackroyd (1926) y Telón (1975), donde se produce la muerte del detective. Se casó el 24 de diciembre de 1914 con Archibald Christie, pero se divorciaron en 1928 cuando la abandonó para irse con su secretaria. Ésto, unido a la muerte de su madre, le causó una gran crisis nerviosa que dio lugar a una amnesia. En una noche de diciembre del año 1926, apareció su coche abandonado cerca de la carretera, pero no había rastro de ella. Sobre el suceso se hicieron muchas especulaciones. Apareció once días más tarde en un hotel de la playa registrada con el apellido de la amante de su marido. Al no saber quién era publicó una carta en un periódico para ver si alguien la reconocía, pero como firmó con otro apellido nadie lo hizo. Afortunadamente su familia la encontró y pudo recuperarse de este golpe con tratamiento psiquiátrico. Dos años después, durante un viaje por Oriente Próximo, se encontró con el prestigioso arqueólogo inglés Max Mallowan. Se unieron en matrimonio ese año, y desde entonces acompañó a su marido en sus visitas anuales a Irak y Siria. Utilizó estos viajes como material para Asesinato en Mesopotamia (1930), Muerte en el Nilo (1937), y Cita con la muerte (1938). Entre su obras teatrales destacan La ratonera, representada en Londres ininterrumpidamente desde 1952, y Testigo de cargo (1953; llevada al cine en 1957 por Billy Wilder y protagonizada por Charles Laughton, Marlene Dietrich y Tyrone Power. Escribió además novelas románticas bajo el seudónimo de Mary Westmacott. Sus historias han sido llevadas al cine y la televisión, especialmente las protagonizadas por Hercules Poirot y Miss Marple. En 1971 fue condecorada con la Orden del Imperio Británico. Falleció en el año 1976.