Top 10 golden age detective novels

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From The Guardian:

Just how golden was the golden age of crime fiction? For some, the celebrated flowering of the detective story in the 1920s and 30s gave us enduringly popular, elegantly written novels that have yet to be bettered. The period introduced us to household names such as Christie, Sayers, Allingham and Tey, and established detective fiction as a brand through those addictively collectable green and white Penguins. For others, golden age or “cosy” crime, is a lowbrow, sanitised form of fiction; class-ridden and formulaic, and full of meddlesome British spinsters and eccentric foreigners whose lives (and deaths) were somehow less real than those developing concurrently on the hardboiled American streets.

It’s no mystery that detective stories flourished in Britain after the first world war: loss, violence and social change are at the heart of most crime novels, and there’s surely no period in our history when all three were experienced more deeply. But it took the second world war and its aftermath to bring them to maturity; many of the authors whose careers began 20 years earlier wrote their best books in the 1940s and 50s.

. . . .

The sinister sparkle of murder is still there, as is the fair-play puzzle and the uncomfortable intrusion of the past. But the order and resolution that appealed in the first wave of golden age novels are far less common in the second. These novels simmer with a restlessness that still feels urgent. They struggle with injustice and the shortcomings of the law. The innocent suffer and the culprit isn’t always caught, but the noose is a tangible presence. Murderers are more complex, and the body in the library finally leaves a stain on the carpet. These are stories that are so much more than puzzles.

. . . .

3. To Love and Be Wise by Josephine Tey (1950)
Here Tey demonstrates an extraordinary understanding of the psychology of a killer – not a crazed figure of evil, but an ordinary person, who, through extremes of love or obsession, might decide that someone no longer deserves to live. “I’ve done a lot of good solid hating in my time,” the author once admitted to a friend, “and the curious thing is that although I did nothing, the people I hated all went satisfyingly to the bad.” This book is an unsettling, ingenious reminder of what we’re all capable of.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

PG notes that he usually does not include two posts from the same source on the same day on TPV. He reassures one and all that he is not in the process of committing massive copyright violations of the rights of The Guardian and its contributors.

In his own defense, he felt a sudden, untrollable urge that was triggered by a combination of the Brontë offspring and Golden Age Detective fiction. He promises to avoid reading such items in close proximity in the future and will now begin a Guardian fast that will last for several days.

For the avoidance of doubt, PG will forgo items that appear in The Guardian, not everything that may originate in the Fortunate Isles of Britain.

1 thought on “Top 10 golden age detective novels”

  1. Over half of those books listed were written long past the Golden Age.

    War and massive social change seem to bring two things into popular media/culture. A need for justice and order and the supernatural as proof of the afterlife. The surprise TV hits right after 9/11 were the original CSI: CRIME SCENE INVESTIGATION and GHOST WHISPERER. Not so surprising when you consider the same pattern from WWI onward.

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