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1-17-2017: Craft of Mystery Writing

Next Saturday, Jan. 21, 2 p.m., I’ll be a panelist on “The Craft of Mystery Writing” at the Perry Hall Branch, Baltimore County Public Library, 9685 Honeygo Blvd, Perry Hall, MD.

This event was planned a couple of months ago, but it is on the day of the Women’s March on Washington. I will be at the march in spirit and send a check to Planned Parenthood.

Back to the panel discussion, we authors will share our experiences on the craft of writing a mystery and how it has changed throughout the years. Other panelists are Michelle Markey Butler, Austin Camacho, Kate Dolan, Dick Ellwood, and Millie Mack.

My friends all know that one of my favorite things to do is sit around the table with others at any meal and discuss whatever comes up. Not partial to politics, though, especially now, but just about anything else. I’ve always bemoaned the fact that I couldn’t join Samuel Johnson, James, Boswell, Oliver Goldsmith, Sir Joshua Reynolds, and other highlights of the 18th century in their carousing at Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese in London. I also missed out on Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley, Alexander Woollcott, Robert E. Sherwood, and others of “The Vicious Circle’ at the Algonquin Round Table, but probably I wouldn’t have survived that.

So I enjoyed reading The Golden Age of Murder by Martin Edwards about “the mystery of the golden-agewriters who invented the modern detective story.” This is a history of the Detection Club of distinguished authors of detective stories from 1930 through 1949. It opens with a description by New Zealand mystery writer Ngaio Marsh, a guest at one of the club meetings in 1937. As she says, it began with a sumptuous banquet. Then the Continue reading “1-17-2017: Craft of Mystery Writing”

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The Detection Club and the Golden Age

The Calendar:
I will be exhibiting along with Millie Mack, author of the Faraday mysteries, at the Kensington, Maryland, Day of the Book on April 24. This is a delightful outdoor festival on the town’s main street which is closed to traffic for the event.

The Detection Club and the Golden Age

Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, a London pub, was supposedly the haunt of Samuel Johnson, James Boswell, Oliver Goldsmith, and other literati of the late 18th century. The Algonquin Round Table in New York City included Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley, Alexander Woollcott, Robert Sherwood and others who met regularly for lunch in the restaurant of the Algonquin Hotel. I would love to find such a regular gathering of mystery writers like, say, the Detection Club of the 30s and 40s.

The Golden Age of Murder
by Martin Edwards, author of the Lake District mysteries and a commentator on detective fiction, details the history of this elite club of outstanding mystery writers of the 30s and 40s, “the golden age” of detective fiction. Members included Dorothy L. Sayers, Agatha Christie, Anthony Berkeley, Julian Symons, Simon Brett, John Dickson Carr, and many others. Edwards’ book lists the members and the year they were elected to the club. The club’s first president was G.K. Chesterton. The last members to join the club were Michael Innes, Michael Gilbert, and Douglas G. Browne, elected in 1949.

This is a delightful book, full of interesting tidbits about the lives and personalities of the club members and guests. It opens with the impressions by Ngaio Marsh, a guest for the evening, of a meeting in 1937. The evening began with a banquet in an opulent dining room. After the meal, everyone rose and the party went to another room. There, the ritual began, with lights out, then a door opens and the Orator enters holding a taper. The rest of the ceremony involves a grinning skull and lethal weapons. For this meeting, an oath was administered to a burly man in his sixties who had been elected to preside over the club affairs. He pledged to honor the rules of the game they played:

“To do and detect all crimes by fair and reasonable means; to conceal no vital clues from the reader; to honor the King’s English…and to observe the oath of secrecy in all matters communicated to me within the brotherhood of the Club.”

Lengthy chapters describe the lives and foibles of Dorothy L. Sayers, Anthony Berkeley, Agatha Christie, Douglas and Margaret Cole, and John Dickson Carr.According to Edwards’ account, Dorothy L. Sayers spent her life hiding the fact that she’d had an illegitimate child. Cynical Anthony Berkeley, was witty and charming but loved to confound people’s expections. Agatha Christie was pleasant and likable but her thoughts were hidden.

Edwards also discusses the detective fiction of the time and the influence of politics and two world wars on the novels.

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