The Birth of the Golden Age

The expression ‘Golden Age of detective fiction’ seems to have been coined by John Strachey in an article published by The Saturday Review in 1939 where he wrote: ‘Three sorts of novels are being written in England today. First, there are the best sellers; second, there are the highbrow intellectual novels; and third, there are the detective stories.’  To add later on:

The remaining branch of English fiction, which it is worth saying a word or two about, is the third category, that of the detective novel. And here, as a steady student, I feel a little more qualified to speak. In this queer little bypath of letters, and here almost alone, there are in England the characteristic signs of vigor and achievement. This is, perhaps, the Golden Age of the English detective story writers. Here suddenly we come to a field of literature—if you can call it that—which is genuinely flourishing.
Here are a dozen or so authors at work, turning out books which you find that your friends have read and are eager to discuss. Here are books which the authors evidently enjoyed writing and the readers unaffectedly enjoy reading. I have myself little doubt that some of these detective novels are far better jobs, on any account, than are nine tenths of the more pretentious and ambitious highbrow novels. It is characteristic of the situation that a whole list of names comes into one’s mind the minute one begins to think of detective writers. There are, for example, what we may call the “old masters.” There are Sayers, Christie, and Freeman Wills Crofts; and brooding now almost silently above them, there hovers the father of the contemporary detective novel, Mr. A, C. Bentley of that still un – surpassed classic, “Trent’s Last Case.” 
. . .
It is, however, in the work of what I may call the “young masters,” the work of, for example, Marjorie Allingham, Michael Innes, and Nicholas Blake, that the most interesting and curious developments of the detective story are taking place.

And following Martin Edwards suggestion on The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books, a good place to start to become familiar with the Golden Age of detective fiction might the following novels:

  1. Trent’s Last Case by E. C. Bentley (1913)
  2. In the Night by Lord Gorell (1917)
  3. The Middle Temple Murder by J. S. Fletcher (1919)
  4. The Skeleton Key by Bernard Capes (1919)
  5. The Cask by Freeman Wills Crofts (1920)
  6. The Red House Mystery by A.A. Milne (1922)

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Except for In the Night by Lord Gorell (1917) that is out of print, and its second-hand editions are ridiculously high priced, I look forward to reading the rest of these novels soon. Stay tuned.

5 thoughts on “The Birth of the Golden Age

  1. I read Middle Temple Murder by J.S Fletcher last January. If I remember it right, it’s the first Fletcher book I read. It’s pretty interesting 🙂 It’s available on Project Gutenberg and so are few other works of Fletcher.

  2. I read one of Gorell’s detective novels 50+ years ago and it was sufficiently bad that I’ve remembered his name ever since as “one to avoid.” It’s possible, of course, that I was unlucky in my choice of Gorell novels, but . . .

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