By way of Introduction to the Golden Age of Detective Fiction


It is generally believe that the term ‘Golden Age of Detective Fiction’ was first coined by the writer John Strachey in 1939 when referring to crime novels written between the two World Wars, approximately between 1920 and 1930. However this type of novels already existed before, at least from 1911, and its influence has spread until nowadays. There are also some scholars who believe that the introduction of the term is due to Howard Haycraft, a publishing executive, editor, scholar and author of a classic history of the mystery novel, and co-compiler of an essential reading list. (Source: Past Offences although some remarks are mine).

The most important authors in the period were British, like Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Margery Allingham, and Ngaio Marsh (who, although born in New Zealand, sets the action of her books in England). They are known as the ‘Queens of Crime’. For this reason there are many who refer to this period as the Golden Age of British Detective Fiction.

Given my current interest in Golden Age British detective novels I would like to share with you the 150 Favorite Golden Age British Detective Novels: A Very Personal Selection, by Curtis J. Evans. Paraphrasing an old Spanish saying: Maybe not every Golden Age British detective novel is on this list, but each book on the list is a Golden Age detective novel.

Further reading: The Golden Age of Murder by Martin Edwards (HarperCollins, 2015) 

y450-293 Book Description

A real-life detective story, investigating how Agatha Christie and colleagues in a mysterious literary club transformed crime fiction, writing books casting new light on unsolved murders whilst hiding clues to their authors’ darkest secrets.

This is the first book about the Detection Club, the world’s most famous and most mysterious social network of crime writers. Drawing on years of in-depth research, it reveals the astonishing story of how members such as Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers reinvented detective fiction.

Detective stories from the so-called “Golden Age” between the wars are often dismissed as cosily conventional. Nothing could be further from the truth: some explore forensic pathology and shocking serial murders, others delve into police brutality and miscarriages of justice; occasionally the innocent are hanged, or murderers get away scot-free. Their authors faced up to the Slump and the rise of Hitler during years of economic misery and political upheaval, and wrote books agonising over guilt and innocence, good and evil, and explored whether killing a fellow human being was ever justified. Though the stories included no graphic sex scenes, sexual passions of all kinds seethed just beneath the surface.

Attracting feminists, gay and lesbian writers, Socialists and Marxist sympathisers, the Detection Club authors were young, ambitious and at the cutting edge of popular culture – some had sex lives as bizarre as their mystery plots. Fascinated by real life crimes, they cracked unsolved cases and threw down challenges to Scotland Yard, using their fiction to take revenge on people who hurt them, to conduct covert relationships, and even as an outlet for homicidal fantasy. Their books anticipated not only CSI, Jack Reacher and Gone Girl, but also Lord of the Flies. The Club occupies a unique place in Britain’s cultural history, and its influence on storytelling in fiction, film and television throughout the world continues to this day.

The Golden Age of Murder rewrites the story of crime fiction with unique authority, transforming our understanding of detective stories and the brilliant but tormented men and women who wrote them.

One thought on “By way of Introduction to the Golden Age of Detective Fiction

  1. Pingback: The Golden Age of Detective Fiction outside the United Kingdom | A Crime is Afoot

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